I just don’t have enough headcount. What do I do?



Few FT Works clients complain that their headcount is too high! But some run with truly lean staff, and experience predictable woes: no room to innovate, lots of customer escalations, and painful turnover. Here are 8 suggestions you can use, grouped around three key ideas: get more, stem the load, and get more out of your staff.

Idea #1: Get Better at Asking

Create a staffing model. Asking for “more headcount” does not cut it. Use existing metrics to define a reasonable customer to support engineer ratio. In properly-staffed support organizations, support engineers are expected to engage in support actitivites about about 75% of the time. The remaining 25% includes vacation, holidays, training, projects, etc.

Get ammunition. Benchmark your request against the rest of the industry. You can get numbers from your favorite support professional association (or hire FT Works to present your case!)

Cultivate allies. Other teams likely see your struggle, and may suffer as a result of uncontrolled escalations and dissatisfied customers. Sales, Engineering, Customer Success may be willing to second your requests for additional funds.

Create premium offerings (and make sure you can hire to staff for them). It’s usually much easier to add staff if there is a revenue stream, so you can take some load off the pool of (non-premium) support engineers while providing the service they need to more demanding , deeper-pocket customers.


Idea #2: Minimize the Support Load

Advocate for improvements in the underlying product or service. Support teams are hard-pressed to overcome the damage of a poorly thought-out or buggy feature. Keep your voice-of-customer efforts going even during staffing crises.

Invest in customer onboarding. If the support load relates directly to poorly-trained customers, offer training options. Convince the sales team to sell training, if appropriate. (And training is tightly linked to product design. Perhaps the real issue is point #1, above.)

Push self-service and community support. 1:1 assisted support is expensive. Self-service and community support require an initial investment, but are much cheaper over time. Stingy CFOs can often be persuaded to fund self-service initiatives even when staffing requests are off the table.


Idea #3: Be Smart with the Staff You Do Have

Be kind to your staff. If your support engineers are leaving for doubled salaries, there’s not much you can do to stem the flow. But creating a sense of community and showing genuine, personal appreciation goes a long way. (And get rid of non-performers, please. They destroy morale.)

Relocate. Talking to my friends in the San Francisco Bay Area and other high-cost locales: there are other areas of the US, and overseas, where competent support engineers can be hired for much more affordable salaries. It’s definitely worth investigating for larger teams.


What are you doing to cope with tight budgets?


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