Monthly Archives: August 2011

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.

What Can We Learn From a British Sandwich Chain?

This past Sunday, The New York Times published an interesting and well written story about Pret A Manger, a chain of British sandwich shop with a few stores in the UK and apparently exceptional customer service. As I was reading the story, the parallels to managing enterprise customer support teams were interesting and obvious, especially their focus on people.

Most interesting, at least to me, was the intensive focus on teamwork and attitude. From team interviews to training, measurement and compensation, the entire system is focused towards the overall performance of the store, as opposed to the individual performance of single employees.

Here are some additional points I found interesting:

  1. Regular inspection of the operation, but also that of the competition – easier in retail than it is in enterprise software, but still doable (think about using your IT department, asking customers and your friends and acquaintances)

  2. Understanding customers’ demands and keeping in mind they may change between markets, learning the market and adapting quickly are mandatory

  3. Set up your operation and adapt staffing levels to the changes in volume. This may sound trivial, but if it is, why do we wait in line or put on hold in so many places?

So, where have did you find interesting lessons and inspiration?