The FT Word – August 2004

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the August 2004 issue of the FT Word. Please forward it to your colleagues.

In this month’s issue

· 24×7 solutions for small support groups

· e-learning ideas

24×7 Solutions for Small Support Groups

Thanks to Bill Posner for suggesting this topic.

Delivering 24×7 support is always a challenge, but it’s especially tough with a small support team. Here are some ideas for small teams (that can come in handy for bigger teams, too.)

Idea #1: expand the pool of potential duty people as much as you can

With a small team, you pretty much have to assign staff to carry the pager off hours. It’s best not to force people to be on duty more than once a month at the most. If you can expand your roster to 13 people or more, the frequency drops down to less than once a quarter, a schedule which is typically painless.

If your pool of support reps is very small, see if you can seduce some development engineers to participate. With a large enough roster, scheduling becomes much easier.

Idea #2: schedule regular tours of duty

A weekly schedule seems to work best. Start the tours of duty on Mondays, swapping pagers or cell phones that day. Assign weeks well in advance and make each person on the roster responsible for finding a replacement if they cannot work a particular week.

Idea #3: gate customer access to off-hours support

When you work with pagers, it’s a good idea to set up a special number for off-hours emergencies, leaving the regular number to handle daytime issues (and to take messages off-hours). You can also have your online case-tracking system page out but it’s easier to funnel all requests through the phone for off-hours support.

I like to have the off-hours line take a message, then page out to the person on duty. I find that having customers leave a message gives you a tangible record of the request, and the paging out system works very reliably with most phone systems. I also find that pagers are more reliable than cell phones. They tend to work when cell phones don’t and their batteries don’t run out as quickly.

Some people prefer to use an answering service to ensure that customers talk to a real person. It can be difficult to find an answering service that pages out reliably: be sure to get references and don’t hesitate to switch if you encounter performance problems.

Idea #4: pay for off-hours duty

Extra pay by itself won’t magically build your off-hours roster since most eligible workers make a decent living already, but it will help. The typical rate is around $300 per week if there are few calls. With lots of calls, you may want to increase it.

Idea #5: provide tools for off-hours duty

A dedicated laptop is a must if you expect calls to be logged. And even with a pager, you will want everyone to have access to a cell phone to return calls. Swap the equipment at the start of each duty week.

Idea #6: minimize abuses

There are always some customers who have a different concept of what constitutes a support emergency. Encourage the person on duty to *gently* push back on customers who abuse the system, but to handle the case anyway if the customer is insistent. Then, on the next business day, the support manager should call the customer, restate the policy, and request that the customer abide by it. In most cases that will take care of the problem. Sometimes a couple of conversations will be required.

Idea #7: keep leveraging resources

If you happen to have staff, even non-support staff, located in a different time zone than headquarters, see if you can use them off-hours to minimize off-hours tours of duty. As you grow, keep looking for opportunities to expand the off-hours roster. In particular, consider off-hours needs when planning your overseas expansion. If you have significant off-hours volume, it may make sense to set up a support team in Asia or Europe even if the local volume is modest. Despite the challenges of Follow-the-Sun systems, they are much better than traditional pager setups.

E-learning Ideas from the Experts

Have you been thinking of using e-learning for your support team? E-learning, whether through a standalone computer-based training program or via webinars or other instructor-assisted methods, is a good match for support teams who often have schedule challenges and are very comfortable with the technology. Here are some ideas to ponder.

Getting Started

· Start small and build up

· Add an e-learning component to an existing class to get people used to it.

· Mix and match e-learning with other learning options

Remember Basic Training Principles

The basics of training work just the same for e-learning:

· Not every problem can be cured by training. If the problem is a tool problem, or a management problem, fix it! Don’t train around it

· Start by defining what attendees will be able to *do* after attending the training

· Use subject-matter experts and QA with actual attendees

Exploit the Unique Features of E-Learning

· Don’t just convert existing courseware to e-learning. You need to rearchitect (or end up with a boring “page-turner”

· Keep modules short, no more than an hour each

· Use visuals to inform, not just to decorate

· Use many different kinds of interactive exercises; aim to have something interactive on most every screen

· Use non-linear structure

Program Smartly

· Design the entire program and test it before programming it

· Program to the least-capable machine and network connection

· Make it easy to navigate the program

· Restrict options: more than 5 or so is overwhelming to the learner

For the Online Instructor

· Use an energetic voice

· Speak slowly

· Practice: minor fumbling that is acceptable in person becomes unbearable online

· Start on time

· Use polls and other interactive methods

· Multitask well or use a helper so you can use polls and chatting features.

Want to learn more about e-learning? Email me for the URL to a long (interesting!) e-learning manual by Elliott Massie.

FT Works in the News

Interested in CRM technology? I will be teaching Selecting and Implementing CRM Systems at San Jose State University on October 11-13. You will leave the workshop with a project plan! Please contact me for more information.

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Measuring the ROI of Online Support: It’s hard but rewarding. SSPA News 8/3/04 [ ask me for a copy if you are not an SSPA member.]

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

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