The FT Word – July 2012

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the July 2012 edition of the FT Word. Feel free to forward it to your colleagues. (They can get their own subscription.)

Today marks the start of year 15 for FT Works, which was established on July 1st, 1998. This reminds me of sending kids to college and wondering how on earth they grew up so fast… Thanks to all of you for being a part of the journey to this milestone.

This month is all about employee engagement — which is so important for support organizations since it determines whether we can get any traction on customer engagement. Our topics:

  • How do we get employee to engage?
  • Employee surveys — one way to measure engagement
  • A preview of future events: Third Tuesday Forum on September 18th and an open-registration workshop in November

Employee Engagement — How do we get there?

What is an engaged employee? Someone who cares deeply about the work and is committed to the organization and to improving both his or her contribution and the overall output of the organization. In other words, an engaged employee is gold! Specifically for support organization, an absolute requirement to get engaged customers (customers who care passionately about your products and brand) is to start with an engaged team. You need a few more things besides an engaged team, but you certainly need an engaged team — so what do you do to get an engaged team?

1. Engagement happens

Engagement occurs when the culture nurtures it. And you cannot “create a culture”. The culture happens as a result of many other decisions such as how work is organized, how rewards are distributed, and what happens day to day. If you want to change the culture, you need to attend to all these “details” that make up the work environment.

Bottom line: you cannot force the team to engage — you can create an environment that fosters an engaged team

2. Managers set the tone

Many times if there is an engagement issue it starts with the managers. Interestingly, not necessarily at the top, since the support executive may be well aware of engagement issues and conduct business in an enlightened manner, but the crucial group is that of the first-line managers and team leads. If they are more interested in metrics than people, or they need to rely on layers of rules rather than common sense, or just love exercising absolute power, the game is lost.

For an engaged culture, you need managers who are (a) comfortable with flexible leadership rather than dictatorial power, which in my mind is mostly built-in and not easily trainable and (b) skilled at coaching and developing, which can absolutely be trained and developed, although native talent is always good. Take a sober assessment of the management team and determine whether weaknesses can be improved. Sometimes you will need to start over.

Bottom line: to change the culture, change the managers

3. Hire for a good fit

Studies show that only about a third of employees are truly engaged, but I believe that the proportion can be much higher (and, unfortunately, much lower) depending on how well you hire and treat team members. Let’s focus on hiring first. Would you hire someone who doesn’t like to talk with customers if she has great technical skills? Would you hire someone who can’t work well with interruptions if he is affordable? Would you hire someone who really wants a development job but will do support “for a short while”? Then you just hired three dis-engaged employees. Clarify what’s required for a passionate support rep and hire to the whole profile, not just the technical skills.

Bottom line: hire for passion as much as for technical skills

4. Remove all ridiculous rituals, rules, scripts

This point should be blindingly obvious but I still find layers of frustrating and sometimes insulting rules and regulations when I talk to support engineers. Does it really matter that everyone picks up the phone in exactly the same way? Do you really need for all shifts to start on the hour? Do you really need to have managers approve all exceptions, even if the engineer has been on staff longer than the manager? Does it make sense to mandate that all cases be updated each day when there could be a great reason why the customer does not need a contact for a week?

Let people use their brains. Trust and verify (and coach if needed) rather than constrict behaviors. After all, every action in a support organization is tracked in a system of some kind, so it’s really quite easy to tell how people spend their time!

Bottom line: guidelines are good, but let good judgment prevail

5. Make sure the metrics match the talk

We are all about engaging with the customer and delivering a perfect experience, but the only metric we care about is cases solved per day. Really? If you are serious about engagement the metrics should celebrate innovation and contributions to customer satisfaction, not how many widgets got off the assembly lines.

Another common issue is to measure on too-short a timeframe. If you are serious about doing the extra mile for customers there will be days when Jane Engineer did not close a single case, because she spent an entire day working — but not yet resolving — a single customer issue. So it would be pointless to show just that one day of metrics. Choose a reasonably long horizon.

Bottom line: measure engagement, not activity (yes, it’s hard!)

6. Focus on work-life balance

People like their jobs much more if they can choose when to work. (I know, I have 100% control on how much and when I work and as a result I work a lot and very happily!) In a support organization there are many constraints to work schedules and work requirements but within the constraints there can be quite a bit of freedom. For instance, team members should be able to trade shifts amongst themselves without involving a manager. Team members in good standing should be able to work from home at least part of the time. And although you cannot plan for specific emergencies you should be able to schedule just a few extra people so no one has to stay late unexpectedly.

Bottom line: manage to “work hard, play hard”

7. The customer is not always right

When a customer complains about a team member, don’t automatically blame that person. Customers can be wrong! Of course they are customers and need to be treated with respect but put your team first. Don’t allow customers to rampage. And if a team member really messed up, plead guilty but show respect, always.

Bottom line: put your team first when talking with customers

8. Put the spotlight on support

A little public recognition goes a long way. Support organizations are often left out of corporate celebrations, but you can change that. Ideally, the president of the company should hand out an award once in a while to a support engineer for wonderful contributions (note to a support engineer, not a manager!) But if that won’t happen in your lifetime seize the day and hand out a support award to someone who helped out: a developer who saved the day on an escalation, a sales rep who sold 12 premium support contracts, the IT network administrator who helped you out of a jam. Giving is fun, and it increases the

Bottom line: tell the whole world how great support is; it’s good for everyone’s morale

Need help with employee engagement? We offer a complete suite of customizable offerings, from management workshops to metrics and dashboard streamlining to implementation assistanceContact me to discuss your requirements.

Employee Surveys

Thank you to Gordon White for suggesting this topic.

If you are serious about employee engagement, it would be good to measure it, wouldn’t it? I must say, immodestly, that I can usually tell the level of engagement by just walking through a support center. Are people friendly? Do they greet me (the outsider) or just carry on? Are there dreary motivational posters on the wall (a very bad sign!)? Are attentive tones wafting out of cubes? Does the support VP know the names of individual engineers (an excellent sign)? Are personal comments mixed in with the business discussions? You see where I’m going — but perhaps you want a more numbers-driven approach. For that, an employee survey is good.

You may have to work with a survey driven by HR, in which case I may not recommend doing your own, for fear of survey fatigue. But if you are running your own survey, consider the following points.

1. What will you do as a result of the survey?

Only ask if you will take action. At a minimum, you need to publish the results, and taking actions on said results is best. If you don’t have the energy or desire to take action, don’t bother to run the survey in the first place.

2. Take pains to make the survey anonymous

I’m convinced that many employee surveys yield overly rosy results because people are (rightly) worried that reporting any level of concern will result in disciplinary action or at least active resentment from their direct supervisor. Do all you can to ensure that the respondents cannot be tracked.

3. Keep it short

Just like any other survey, employee surveys tend to be way too long, which depresses the return rate and yields less reliable results. It’s fine to ask a couple of specific questions about a recent initiative, perhaps (if you will do something about the results!) but I like this six-question format:

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with your job overall?
  • How satisfied are you with your direct supervisor?
  • How satisfied are you with the performance of the Support executive team?
  • How satisfied are you with the tracking tools and other support tools?
  • How satisfied are you about the company as a whole?
  • What’s the one thing you would like to see changed to improve your job satisfaction?

4. Ask for comments

Tallying comments is work but should be manageable for most organizations.

5. Promptly analyze the results

Here’s a good culture lesson: if the employee survey is important, the results will be shared within a couple of weeks, at most.

6. Implement solutions

Here’s another culture lesson: if you believe in employee engagement you should deal with issues promptly and openly. The team hates the new tracking system? Let’s make some changes. Manager X is hated and feared? Let’s have an open discussion about how to change the situation? New hires feel lost during the first few weeks? Let the team suggest how to implement a buddy system or other approach.

We do surveys! If you need help implementing a survey, conducting a completely anonymous survey, or analyzing results, please contact me

FT Works in the News

Congratulations to the Best Support Websites of 2012

The Association of Support Professionals (ASP) has published the list of the winners for its 2012 10 Best Web Support Sites of the year. I’m happy to see FT Works customers on the list: Cisco Systems, Informatica, Quest Software, Red Hat, and Yahoo . Congratulations to the winners and all who participated! I enjoy serving a judge and seeing all the innovative approaches year after year (although I do not get to judge entries by my own customers, of course!)

Third Tuesday Forum – September 18th with Brad Smith

The Third Tuesday Forum is on summer hiatus and will resume with a very special guest on Tuesday, September 18th. Brad Smith will join us to discuss industry trends at a new San Francisco location, graciously provided to us by Atlassian (thank you!).

You can read more here and register Space is limited so we can bring you an interactive experience – guaranteed to be PowerPoint-free.

Soft Skills Training Workshop – November, 2012

Here’s a rare chance to attend an open-enrollment workshop for support engineers and support reps, focused on working harmoniously with customers throughout the issue resolution process. Yes, it’s part of employee engagement, to keep with this month’s theme!

We are planning a session in November in the South Bay of the San Francisco area, probably in Santa Clara (exact date TBD based on participants’ wishes). If you are interested, please  let me know your timing preferences and I will add you to the waiting list. Space is strictly limited to the first 20 registrations.

And if you’d like us to schedule an open-registration workshop in another location, please let me know.

The full description of the workshop is here.

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

About FT Works

FT Works helps technology companies create and improve their support operations. Areas of expertise include designing support offerings, creating hiring plans to recruit the right people quickly, training support staff to deliver effective support, defining and implementing support processes, selecting support tools, designing effective metrics, and support center audits. See more details at

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