Category Archives: Metrics

How Old Is Your Case Load?

One metric that every support manager seems to use is the the average life of closed cases. We all look at this metric regularly and are happy to see it go down, believing that we have done a good job. But, did we?

From my experience, there are two metrics that go hand in hand, first is the time it took us to close cases, and the second is the age of our currently open case inventory. Let’s call the first ‘Case Life’ and the second ‘Case Age’.

Why, you ask, should we look at both?

These two metrics complement each other. Imagine that we walk into a new organization with poor follow-up processes and therefore many cases in the backlog. What will those two numbers show?

Most likely, we’ll see that case life is relatively short, since the organization is able to process and close simple cases. Case age, on the other hand, will be long and increasing, showing the organization’s lack of discipline and inability to follow-up.

Now, imagine the organization embarks on a massive improvement effort, begins to follow-up and closes long-running cases. What will happen then?

Exactly, case life will increase, representing the backlog being closed, whereas case age will decrease, representing the organization’s increased ability to follow-up and control its backlog.

In other words, case age is a representation of the health of your support operation that every support manager should consider. First, it is a leading indicator, representing the current challenges facing the team. Second, it is actionable, allowing you to address problems as they occur.

Terminology comment: There are two terms I did not use in this post, first is resolution time and the other is average. There is a long debate in most support departments about when to close a case. I wrote about it in the past, and do not want to get into it again here. I will write in the future about representative numbers and the reason why using average or mean is not always the best way to represent support workload.

Benchmarking, why not?

I was going to write a benchmarking post, and then discovered that it was written for me already.  So, back to the drawing board – I will try to add to an already well written article.

Consulting clients, and  some of my bosses (mainly those with marketing background) when I was in the corporate world, keep asking “what’s the industry benchmark?” or “how are we doing against IBM / Oracle / HP / CA / new-competitor-de-jour?”.  My answer was always and remains “I don’t know, I don’t care, and neither should you”.  Here’s why:

  • You never know what you are benchmarking against.  Customer support, unlike finance, has no GAAP equivalent, and the results are not audited.
  • Suppose you knew the benchmark and the way it is measured, now what?  Your decisions will remain the same with or without this information
Here is what I always advise clients:
  • Ask your customers what other vendors are doing that they like, or don’t like.  Understand the differences between your organization and other industry participants.  Know your capabilities and the boundaries your company will not let you cross 
  • Study the industry’s practices and achievements, adapt, emulate and copy shamelessly what makes sense for your operation and your customers like.  Avoid everything else (“IBM / Oracle / HP / CA / new-competitor-de-jour are doing it this way” is not good enough reason to implement anything, but a very good reason to study it
  • Know your own performance and always work improve the parameters that matter to your customers, your employees and your management
  • Customer satisfaction is NOT a benchmark, it is the feedback loop confirming that your customers appreciate the efforts you are making to improve

Last, have faith in what you do and be aware of the gap between cause and effect.  So, not everything you do will immediately manifest itself in the metrics, and certainly not in customer satisfaction results.

What’s your experience with benchmarking?

Backlog and “Why Can’t I Close This Case?”

How to define and measure backlog, together with its sister question, when to close a case, seem to always trigger high passions in team meetings.  I thought I’d share my experiences here and ask for sharing of readers’ experiences.

I always viewed backlog as all cases that have not been closed.  And the size of the backlog represents the total impact to customer value as a result of support cases.

With that said, we need to think of backlog from several perspectives:

Operationally, backlog can be broken into several groups:

  • What we are working on or is waiting for us
  • Cases for which we are waiting for someone else internally to respond (specialist knowledge, R&D, marketing)
  • We are waiting for the customer to respond either with information or confirmation that a fix we have given worked

When measuring backlog, we must be able to distinguish between the three groups and analyze it separately for improved performance.

For example: support managers do not usually concern themselves with cases waiting for the customer to produce information.  Not until the customer complains, at least.  However, examining these cases more closely may reveal the need to develop guidelines or tools that will help customers produce diagnostic information quickly and with minimal effort.  I am sure you can think of additional examples.

So, back to the original question “I have given a fix, why can’t I close the case?”  “Because a case is not a vehicle for support workload, it is a representation of diminished customer value and the experience associated with solving the problem.  Therefore we do not close the case until customer value has been restored”

Metrics for Using Social Media in Customer Support

This post started life as a response the TSIA forums (registration required, free).

Setting up a social media support forum and trying to measure its effectiveness is an interesting challenge. Expecting it to reduce the volume of incoming cases is a long term proposition that has to be managed carefully before you have any chances of success at all.

Consider that in order for the forum to become a successful support tool, you will have to create traffic, first browsers and then contributors.  In the mean time it will be up to your staff to encourage the traffic, respond to questions and keep the forum alive.  Therefore in the first period of its life, measuring volume of traffic, repeat visitors, time spent, number of responders from outside your organization is exactly the right thing to do.  You want to make sure there is interest and value to the visitors, regardless of the reduction in case volume you experience.

Eventually, you’d want to think about measuring the impact the social media initiative has on your incoming workload – now the main effect you are hoping for is reduced number of cases. This can be manifested in either of these two ways:

  1. Fewer new cases
  2. New cases are better documented and therefore more efficiently managed and resolved

The main challenge in directly measuring the impact your social media initiative (or knowledge base, or anything else designed to reduce case load) is that you can’t measure the things that did not happen. In other words, there are multiple reasons a customer did not open a case, for example: no problem happened due to improved product quality based on support feedback, they are phasing your product out due to reduced quality and are not interested in investing time in resolving minor problems, your knowledge management initiative is highly effective and the customer found a solution there, and so on.

What you can do is deduce the effectiveness based on several other measurements, for example:

  1. How does your workload develop based on your revenues, if you are growing revenues and reducing workload you are likely doing something right
  2. Ask your customers when they open a new case whether or not they have tried to use the website / forum / whatever and failed to find a solution
  3. Measure the number of visitors to the site that open a new case within 24 / 48 hours after their visit
  4. Ask your customers how useful they think the tool is during customer survey
  5. Measure the value to your organization through the content and information you were able to retrieve from the forum into your own systems and processes

There is an excellent book you may want to look at, it’s called Collective Wisdom, written by Françoise Tourniaire and David Kay, they have section discussing metrics for Knowledge Management initiatives which applies equally well to an social initiative.  Also, there have been several valuable discussions on John Ragsdale’s blog,Esteban Kolsky’s blog, and the eVergance blog (which seems to have been deserted).

Was this post useful for you?  What’s your experiences in implementing and measuring social media initiatives in support organizations?

Getting started, or why managing customer support is like going on a road trip

Customer Support is a heavily regimented, process-oriented operation that easily lends itself to measurement.  Consequently, many of the questions surrounding changes to the organization revolve around metrics, with the two most frequent being “what should I measure?” and “what goals should I set?”  However, the answers to are very much context dependent.

With this post we will define the basic environmental parameters that help with the understanding of the context in which the customer support organization operates

My favorite analogy for managing customer support organizations is driving a car.  Before embarking on any trip in our car, however long or short it may be, we have four variables we need to know:

  1. Destination – Where do we want to be and when do we need to be there?
  2. The capabilities of the car – Can it do what we expect of it?  How long will it go on a single tank of gas?
  3. The rules of the road and obligations we made – How fast can we go?  Did we promise to stop somewhere to visit a friend?
  4. Environmental patterns and user behavior – When is rush hour?  Will we be driving on the busiest driving weekend of the year?  Will we get stuck behind heavy, slow commercial traffic?

Let’s see how these variables apply to the support world:

Destination – What do we want the organization to accomplish, and by when? Reduce costs?  Increase support revenue?  Increase product penetration?  Increase customer retention and maintenance renewals?  Do not forget that the objectives of the customer support organization cannot be disconnected from the overall corporate strategy and level of maturity.  Several writers address the different objectives of customer support organizations based on the maturity of the company they are part of.  For an excellent discussion see Thomas Lah’s book, Bridging the Services Chasm

Organizational Capabilities – What can we realistically expect from our organization?  A start-up company’s support organization will be radically different to that of a mature corporation in culture, motivational drivers, management capabilities, available resources and ability to accept change.  In fact, one of the recurring themes in several consulting engagements was the need to transform an organization from a hero-based culture of a start-up company to a more process oriented operation that can leverage the resources available to a larger corporation

Rules and Obligations – what are the existing obligations we have, what can we change and what not?  Take time to understand the existing contracts your company has with its customers and resellers, as well as any regulations that may impact you in the various locations you operate at, ranging from data retention and privacy policies to employee compensation.  A failure to follow those can get you and your company in deep trouble very quickly

Environmental Patterns and User Behavior – Are there any specific sensitivities or patterns we need to be aware of?  For example, specific seasonal behavior (we are all familiar with end-of-year lock down on one hand, and end-of-quarter sales rush on the other), industry specific patterns, or anything else that impacts the organizations ability to provide service or customers’ attitude towards it

Was this post helpful for you?  Do you have different experiences?  Start by adding a comment below.