In a recent HDI chat on Twitter, we discussed considerations for staffing during heavy vacation periods, such as summertime. Several times, communications came up, in the context of notification of any staffing shortages or other considerations. Let’s start there, but then talk a bit more broadly about communications.
Who Are the Stakeholders?
The word stakeholders is used heavily in the service and support industry, and we may not always understand what or who it means. The simple definition Google finds is, “a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business.”
Let’s consider who the stakeholders are from the point of view of the support center:
- Management, both inside and outside of the business unit the support center is part of, because other areas will be affected by any impact on SLA and normal business operations.
- Customers and/or end users who require the services offered, because they may experience longer response times, time to resolve, and even unavailability of certain services.
- Other units of IT (if it is an IT support center or service desk), since they depend on support to handle a large part of the communication with customers or end users and need to know if there is impact on resolution time.
- Product support and customer service (if it is technical support for products and services), so that they are aware of possible delays and can communicate with customers without making inaccurate estimates of the time it will take to get a particular issue addressed.
Methods of Communication
The way we communicate to stakeholders about possible changes in service levels is important. We want to make sure we maximize the visibility of the communication but don’t want to interrupt or distract people unnecessarily.
There are two types of communication that are relevant here:
- Regular communication, which can consist of a newsletter or web post that is transmitted or updated on a regular schedule, say monthly.
- Targeted communication, which is aimed at a particular segment of the stakeholder population, or revolves around a particular occasion or event, such as being short-staffed on a particular day or during a particular week.
Continuing from the example of staff time off, we might plan both types of communication.
Regular communication. We could post on our intranet site or include in our newsletter something like this: We are entering vacation season. We know from our scheduling that we will be about 10 percent short on staff for the next 6 weeks. During this time, expect slightly longer wait times when contacting the support center. If there are unexpected changes to the schedule resulting in a higher impact, you will be notified by email. Please check this page <link> on our intranet site for any changes which will be posted by 10 AM on Monday mornings. Thank you for your patience.
Targeted communication. This may be via email or other direct communication method used in the organization. It is sent specifically to affected parts of the organization, or at specific periods, or both. For example: During the heavy vacation season of June 15 through July 30, we will be short-staffed in the support center, particularly affecting the time to respond to contacts about application support for products X and Y. Other general support services will remain as usual. Targeted communication methods may also include outgoing announcements on the telephone, auto-responders on email, and posts on your intranet or social media sites (or both).
There may be, of course, occasions that call for special communications, such as major incidents. Every support center should have a thorough plan for these special communications, including:
- The person or persons responsible for determining when the plan is put into effect
- The available and acceptable methods of communication for this type of occurrence
- Contingency plans
- What if the chosen method of communication is unavailable?
- What if the person who is responsible to declare the need for special communications cannot be reached?
Although it should go without saying, internal communication within the support center is also critical. No one should be trying to transfer calls to someone who is on vacation, for example, or promising support within a certain timeframe when it can’t be delivered. Communication skills are extremely important at every level within the support center.
The importance of getting the right information to the right people at the right time cannot be overstated. Business must continue, and the people involved in making it run need to have good information at all times.