While delivering a recent Virtual HDI Support Center Director course, a student asked what advice I would give a director who’s struggling with running support. That was a great question that turned into a productive conversation with all the directors in class. Afterwards, someone said, “We need to share this information with others.” I asked the directors what their biggest takeaways were, and here are their top five.
#1: Learn to Run Support Like a Business
What does it cost to run your business? Our business is support; we need to understand the cost of running our business. I learned this lesson while managing a support center early in my career. I spent years communicating in management meetings the problems with support such as last week there was a rollout, nobody informed support, and we had hundreds of calls because something changed in the customers environment. Does that sound familiar? Or, I have a customer on the phone that was told if they had any questions about XYZ, to give support a call, and we have no information about XYZ. What are situations like this costing the company? How is it impacting our image?
What is the cost of doing support? Here are a few considerations: salaries, equipment, test lab, furniture, maintenance contracts, research and development, and so on. With this information, we can calculate our cost per call and incident and use that information to communicate the impact of situations that occur.
Once I had learned about running support like a business, instead of complaining about all the calls, I informed management of the cost. One day I was in a change management meeting where the director of finance was attending, and I shared the cost of a situation that happened. After everyone left the meeting, he asked me to explain how the cost was calculated. I explained to him how I figured out the cost, and after about a minute of silence, he said, “Now I know what you do.” It was at that point I realized I needed to focus and communicate the business impact of support, not the problems.
Don’t forget about business impacts outside of support, such as the CRM tool is down, and the sales team is not able to access the tool to make calls for six hours. What’s the cost to the business? This is commonly referred to as down-time cost. If the average sales person generates $1,600 an hour in business, multiply that by 6 hours, and now we are looking at $9,600. But wait! We have 28 sales account managers. Get the picture? This is what we need to communicate to upper management so they understand how situations like this impact the business.
#2: Build Strategic Relationships
In any business, from being an elementary school teacher to running a major corporation, relationship building is key. You have probably heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I tend to disagree with that saying; In my experience, it’s what and who you know.
I’m very grateful that, prior to stating my own company in 2006, I worked for 5 companies in the span of 30 years and have never had to look for a job after my first support job. People I had worked with before called me with opportunities. I know it’s because of relationship building.
When running the business of support, get to know key players in all areas of the business: HR, finance, operations, marketing, etc. This strategy is important because there will be times that you will need advice, resources, or support. Take time to evaluate the relationships you have established in your organization, and ask yourself these questions:
- Have I invested time in building relationships with other leaders?
- Does every department understand the value of support?
- Do I feel like there’s someone in every department that has my back?
- Do I have a mentor in my company?
Everyone knows the importance of creating strong relationships within your teams to accomplish goals. Don’t forget the value of relationships outside of your team. If you’re strategic in building relationships, not only will it help your department, but it will help people understand your skills and abilities for future opportunities.
#3: A Vision Without Strategy Is a Hallucination
I’ve had many instances in my career and as a business associate with HDI where I often hear, “The vision for my support center is.” Then I ask the student what their strategy is for fulfilling that vision. Is it aligned with the corporate vision? I get that look that I see when I catch my nephew getting caught taking cookies from the cookie jar. That quick, think-of-something-to-say look. I spent many years in the beginning of my career hallucinating; I knew what I wanted to achieve, but I didn’t have a strategy in place.
Through trial and error, I have learned that it’s important to not only to build a strategy, but make sure it aligns with the strategy of the organization. Develop a strategic plan for support that provides the framework for success of the vision. Strategy is a method or plan for meeting support goals. Typically, the strategy will answer the questions:
- How do we plan on achieving our goals?
- What methodologies, best practices, or frameworks will we utilize to accomplish our goals and objectives?
Methodologies and frameworks that can help you achieve your goals include service level management, knowledge management, ITIL, and quality assurance.
As a leader, it’s important to research and understand what strategies are in alignment to your support organization needs. Once the strategy is determined, communicating the strategy and goals to everyone is key.
#4: Standard Operating Procedures Are Important
One of the biggest frustrations that I hear when consulting and teaching certification courses is the lack of standard operating procedures (SOPs). Employees want to know what’s expected of them and how to achieve desired results. A new employee recently shared with me, “I have trained with multiple employees and all had a different explanation on how to establish the priority of a call.” That is a perfect example why we need SOPs.
SOPs provide a documented collection of procedures to provide directions to service and support professionals on how to deliver a consistent service that meets the customer’s needs. This may include procedures that are automated, such as workflows based on escalations, and automated approvals or procedures that must be carried out by support professionals. SOPs should be categorized from broad to specific starting with jobs and proceeding through tasks, steps, and sub steps.
Creating an SOPs can be very time consuming, but long term it is well worth the investment and brings important benefits:
- Role clarification. It’s important that individuals understand what their roles and responsibilities are.
- Consistency throughout support. Consistency builds professionalism. Support will not be perceived as professional if there is inconsistency in the delivery of service.
- Decreased training time. Whether you have a new employee or an existing employee in a new role, SOPs layout specific steps in order to achieve the desired results.
- Improved morale. When employees understand the requirements of their position and are given feedback on performance, morale will improve with no guess work in performance.
#5: Quality Assurance Is Essential
In today’s workplace, statistics show that about 80% of employees are followers. What does that mean? If there’s no accountability or direction, many employees will not follow guidelines. This is why quality assurance is essential.
Quality assurance is systematic way of ensuring that all activities necessary to design, develop, and implement services that satisfy the requirements of the organization and of customers take place as required. Whereas SOPs are created to aid in training and consistency with service, quality assurance ensures procedures are being followed.
One area where quality assurance is critical is incident monitoring. We can identify areas for improvement within the process of handling the incident from cradle to grave.
When conducting quality assurance, it’s important to make sure employees understand that quality assurance is for identifying individual and team training needs. Also, it helps in the validation of what is being done right. The last thing we want to do is have employees disengage because feedback on the quality audit is only focused on the negative. The results of the quality audits are a great opportunity to coach employees to their peak performance and acknowledge and reward improvements.
Remember, quality assurance is not a project. It doesn’t have an end date. When quality assurance is conducted regularly, its perceived as an important part of maintaining consistency and improves employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
It’s easy to lose focus with the increasing demands on the support infrastructure. Focusing on key areas such as running support like a business, building strategic relationships, establishing clear strategy, and ensuring consistency and quality will not only improve employee morale and create a positive image, but help to maintain momentum needed to fulfill your support center’s vision.