The FT Word – September 2006

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the September 2006 issue of the FT Word. Thank you for sharing it with your colleagues to continue to spread best practices in support.

Topics for this month:

  • the support process and Follow-The-Sun – how to make the most of a powerful idea
  • a great read: Beyond Reason – with interesting lessons for negotiating with escalated customers
  • a special Back-To-School offer for the readers of the newsletter: give your entire staff 22 proven techniques to increase customer satisfaction and productivity and save 50% on the regular price – a one time offer [now gone]

The Support Process and Follow-The-Sun

Thank you to Ram Ramadas for suggesting this topic.

The idea behind the Follow-The-Sun model is simple: use support centers around the world in a coordinated manner to provide support to customers around the clock without having to mandate expensive and unpopular shift work, by directing all requests to the center that currently enjoys daytime hours (with or without sun!) If you’re thinking of moving to FTS you may be curious to know what process changes are required for a successful implementation. If you are already using FTS, here are some ideas to make it even more successful.

1. You don’t need a full FTS model to reap benefits

The standard FTS model is to use three centers: one in Europe, one in the Americas, and one in Asia. If you look at a globe or a world map you will notice that the three regions’ business hours nicely cover a 24-hour day. However, you can reap at least some of the same benefits of FTS with a partial setup.

Alternative 1: two centers. If you have a center in Europe and on the West Coast of the United States, the European center can cover their business hours and the US center can cover 9am to midnight. If your centers are on the West Coast of the US and in India, the 11.5-hour time difference allows each center to cover a 12-hour shift with slightly extended business hours. It’s typically much easier to find (and retain!) staff to work daytime and evening shifts than the dreaded graveyard (night) shift.

Alternative 2: business days only. This is handy when some centers are too small to sustain dedicated weekend staff. For instance, with a large US center and small European and Asian centers you can do FTS from Sunday evening through Friday afternoon with regular weekday shifts and use pagers for the weekend.

2. Choose your FTS flavor

The FTS model channels all new requests (electronic or phone-based) to the center on duty at the time the request is made. Traditionally, the model also hands off high-priority cases (P1s) to the next center at the end of each center’s shift. There are at least two other possibilities for handing off open issues, however, which may be better suited to your situation.

Alternative 1: All open cases move to the next support center. This strategy is excellent if you expect to be able to resolve the open issues during the next shift, even if you cannot work directly with the customers, who presumably will be asleep or at least out of the office. In high-complexity support environment this alternative is not recommended since the next shift may not be able to make much progress without contact with the customers.

Alternative 2: Special cases move to the next support center. Typically this is done for cases that need reproduction or other lengthy testing process that does not require customer input (hence avoids the pitfalls of alternative #1 above.) The ownership of the cases is unchanged and the nest morning the owner can look forward to a completed test case so resolution can be swift. This works well in high-complexity environments, at least from a customer’s perspective. (The repro work can be tedious and boring, however, leading to turnover in the remote center doing the reproductions.)

3. Set up the channel changes for new cases

For new cases, you need to make sure that the phone and electronic channels are properly turned over to the next region at each shift change. This looks terribly easy but could take time as you must work with the phone companies – not to mention the mental gymnastics and adjustments required each fall and each spring as daylight savings times don’t always match around the world…

4. Define routine handoffs

Routine handoffs include the following types of cases:

  • new cases that came in during the shift, but have not yet received a response (the famous “came in as 5:58 and we close at 6” category)
  • cases that were opened and resolved during the shift but need some final TLC that will occur in the home region.
  • cases that must transfer under your specific rules but do not involve an active customer, such as repro cases and cases that require research

There’s no need to mandate an elaborate process for the routine handoffs. Just make sure that your tracking system will properly queue them up. For repro and research cases a good approach is to use subcases if your tracking system supports them so the ownership of the main case does not change.

5. Define live handoffs

Any case that is being worked actively with a customer, or is at a delicate stage, should either be completed by the center handling it or be handed off live. Weigh the overhead of the handoff versus the effort required to complete the work. For high-complexity environment it’s often worth it to work to completion. If you find yourself doing live handoffs on more than a handful of cases each day review your handoff policy: FTS handoffs are even worse than regular handoffs and should be avoided whenever possible.

6. Train, train, train

FTS means that support staff around the world will be working with customers from around the world. Consistency is important, as is sensitivity to multicultural issues. I have trained many support groups outside the US and I’m no longer surprised when they report dreading American customers – too pushy. We’re not really that bad, are we? Get everyone to a level of comfort with international customers.

7. Measure your success

Bad metrics can sink FTS. Common errors include:

  • failing to account for FTS case work (this is a cause of violent resentment in smaller centers, not to mention severe understaffing)
  • measuring customer satisfaction by customer’s region, not the region where the work was done
  • weak or non-existent handoff monitoring, including no mechanism for spotting multiple handoffs of the same case

FTS is a wonderful idea, bringing both increased efficiency and customer and staff satisfaction. Make sure you are doing it right. You can find more details on FTS in the FT Works booklet One Big, Happy, Multicultural Family? Managing the Global Support Operation. See here.

A Great Read – Beyond Reason

Whether you have read the classic book about negotiating, Getting to Yes, and its popular sequel, Getting Past No you will enjoy Beyond Reason, a new book by Roger Fisher, co-author of Getting to Yes. Beyond Reason tackles the important issue of managing emotions during negotiations, which I thought was wonderfully applicable to the many small negotiations we hold with our customers, not to mention with our staff and friends of family. Here are some key points I noted from the book:

  • Emotions are incredibly powerful and can be leveraged both to wreck negotiations and to make them succeed despite all odds.
  • Try as you might, you cannot and should not ignore your own emotions during negotiations since they affect your body, mind, and behavior (and suppressing emotions also affects body, mind, and behavior)
  • You can’t manipulate other people’s emotions (of course!) but you can and should foster positive emotions by taking simple steps such as getting to know them and showing appreciation for who they are and what they stand for; searching for and highlighting common ground (a la we went to the same high school), recognizing their status, and respecting their autonomy (by making proposals, not demands)

Skilled support professionals tend to have a good instinctual mastery of these points – now you know why you always try to find common ground when talking with customers. The book includes interesting examples from many different realms that illustrate the power of creating a strong emotional connection with someone when trying to accomplish a common goal, be it world peace or resolving a lowly support case.

FT Works in the News

I will be presenting with David Kay, the co-author of Collective Wisdom, at the Knova User’s Conference in San Francisco, CA, on September 25th. Our topic will be Learning KM Practices the Hard Easy Way: 10 Mistakes Others Have Made (So You Don’t Have To). It should be a fun point/counterpoint session.

Take advantage of our Back-To-School special. We have packaged the popular Don’t Play Go Get a Rock: A complete Guide for Flawless Technical Support Skills booklets in packs of 10 at a 50% discount so you can distribute it to your entire staff. The booklet contains 22 proven techniques to increase customer satisfaction and productivity – the same techniques presented in the Technical Support Skills workshop which has helped hundreds of attendees improve their customer handling skills ever since it was launched in 1998.

To take advantage of this one-time offer (this month only) click 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

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