The FT Word – September 2003

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the September 2003 issue of the FT Word. Please forward it to colleagues you think may enjoy it.

In this month’s issue

·         Defining a support strategy

·         Creative support packages (thanks to Staci Cummings for suggesting this topic)

Defining a Support Strategy

Want to get out of the rut of manic recoveries from customer escalations, endless bickering with the QA group about critical bugs, and heart stopping suggestions by the CFO to outsource support? Put on your thinking cap and think ahead: be strategic. Here are 7 steps to getting it done

1. Make it a priority

You don’t need loads of time to think productively about strategy: a few hours a month will do. So carve out time out of your schedule for strategic thinking and don’t put if off.

2. Involve the team

Strategic thinking is best done with the entire support management team: more people generate more ideas, and early involvement facilitates buy-in too.

3. Look at the forest, not the trees (and not the branches in the trees!)

If you’ve been dealing with details for too long, you’ll need to seriously readjust your focus upward and outward. Think 1-2 years’ out, not 1-2 months (that’s the trees) or 1-2 days (that’s the branches on the trees). Think about how the support group fits into the overall strategy of the company, not how you will staff a particular project (trees) or how you will schedule the staff (branches).

Make it a habit to question the way things are done today, even if they work fine. You always had an East Coast center and a West Coast center: is it still a good idea? You’ve always delivered free support for the first 90 days: is that still competitive in your industry? You may not change anything as a result of the audit, but keep the discipline of regular questioning.

4. Be a copycat

Don’t try to be original at all costs. Instead, gather good ideas by reading the support press (including the FT Word), attending support conferences, and observing customer service in action whenever you are the customer. Identify and implement those best practices that fit your needs.

5. Look at the whole picture

Yes, you can follow a structured process to define strategy. Here’s your checklist. Start at the top and work your way down. (There is a reason why metrics come last.)

  • Goals for support: profits, customer satisfaction, customer feedback

  • Packaging, marketing, and selling support

  • Support processes for case resolution, knowledge management, and change management

  • Staffing, including outsourcing, structuring the organization, hiring, training, and performance management

  • Support tools

  • Facilities

  • Metrics

6. Be practical

A cool idea with no clear implementation path is worthless. Tie each strategic idea to clear, quantifiable goals. Look at the forest first but then figure out how the trees will make the forest you want.

7. Talk about it

Don’t be shy about the strategy: you will need to explain it and sell it over and over again, both inside and outside the support operation. Find good metaphors to translate the strategy into attractive stories for the listeners. And brush up on your presentation skills. Audiences warm up to ideas and to change much better when the presenter can win them over.

More details on support strategy can be found in the new booklet, Managing Support Strategically.

Creative Support Packages

Want to spice up your support packages? Let’s review the basics first.

Are your support packages clearly defined? Support is intangible, so you need to inject some reality through a formal definition (whether or not you sell support). Support packages should be posted on the web and appropriate collateral available so all purchasers and users of support know what to expect.

Does each package include an SLA (service-level agreement)? At a minimum, define response time commitments for new requests.

Are all features listed? For instance, I find that many enterprise software companies include bug fixes and new releases together with support, but they don’t always list those valuable features in the support package.

If you want to get fancy, try the following

  • Add tiered packages. One size does not always fit all. Some customers need and will pay for 24×7 support, for instance. Even with a small team, you should be able to pay for the additional work hours and make a profit. And on the other hand a very bare-bone, self-service only package may be just the ticket for low-end customers.

  • Add options. For instance, if you restrict the number of support contacts you should allow customers to “buy up” if they want more

  • Add proactive support. Support packages usually do pretty well for reactive support (the customer calls, we respond) but typically include no proactive support (we tell the customer about new features or problems ahead of time). Many newer knowledge base systems allow easy automatic notifications so you can start there — and charge for it perhaps.

  • Offer named contacts. Customers like talking to the same support staffer for all issues, and it speeds up resolution too. You can typically charge a nice premium for this service.

  • Add non-support benefits. Bundling training credits, consulting days, attendance to the users’ group, and similar items into support packages is popular with customers. The only problem is that tracking each item is difficult in most companies. If you have good accounting and tracking systems, go for it

One last note: don’t go overboard. Too many packages with too many options are confusing to you and your customers. With multiple packages, define clear benefits and target audiences for each, and when possible arrange them in a progression from barest to fullest.

See more support packaging ideas in the 10 Commandments of Support Pricing booklet

FT Works in the News

SSPAnews published an article I wrote entitled 6 Golden Rules for thinking Strategically about Support You can read it at

I will be teaching two classes at San Jose State University this Fall: a one-day class on Customer Service Best Practices (10/16) and a 3-day class on selecting and implementing support tools (12/1-3). More information at and, respectively.

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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