Wednesday, 20 May 2009 00:00

The Technical Support Project

Written by Randy Miller

How to Create a Winning Team. Part 1.

I have been manager of technical support at my company, Journyx, for seven years, and as such, I can say that creating a winning team was one of the most significant projects I have ever had to complete. When I started, we had disgruntled customers in all different directions, but no more. I learned a lot along the way, and in retrospect, I see things that should have been done sooner, as well as things that shouldn't have been done at all. Consequently, in this three-part series I will outline effective methods for change and improvement within your technical support department.

Communication and Planning

You might compare technical support to a team of jugglers. It requires a lot of communication and teamwork to be able to handle flying bowling balls, knives, flaming batons and pianos. For instance, you will need to know when a baton or knife is heading your way, or who will be able to catch the piano. There are three big processes to put in place in order to facilitate the communication required to do this juggling.

  • Decide on 3-5 levels of case severity and decide on service requirements for each (how quickly you intend to respond and fix). If you already have priorities defined in your maintenance contracts, try to use them. Discuss the plan with your team and make sure they understand that top priority cases must be addressed first, so someone must pay attention to incoming cases and prioritize them immediately.
  • If you find that you don't have the time to fix a problem so the customer never sees it, an alternative is to publish the solution in order to allow them to solve problems themselves. If you don't have the time to provide all of the necessary technical details, you can write up a rough version and copy-and-paste.

In order to make this work, you need to document the problem and solution whenever you come across an issue that you haven't seen before. Do it while you still have all of the test sites in front of you. Eventually, if management allows it, you might want to publish the problems and solutions in a public knowledge base. At our company, this has proved infinitely valuable for us. Our first knowledge base was a text document on a shared network drive, but now we have help desk software with a knowledge base feature.

Software companies, take note: You need developers within your technical support team. Asking the development team for bug patches frustrates both sides. Developers don't want to stop working on their new, fun codes, and you probably resent that, when you ask for a low-level design change, they give you a better error message. Having your own developer eliminates this conflict, and he/she will find and fix things you didn't even know were broken.

Repeat after Me

Having the right attitude is integral towards a successful tech support team, so try to encourage the following values among your people:

  • I am responsible for getting this fixed, and for documenting the problem and its solution.
  • I understand that people are frustrated and angry, but I won't take their anger personally.
  • I will empathize with the frustration that my customers feel, and tell them that I understand and share their feelings. I will calm them down with my words and manner.
  • I will not accept abuse.
  • I will not blame the customer.

Leading them by example goes a long way, so take them to lunch and tell stories about how you handled various situations. Answer a few calls in front of them. Let them see you embracing the right attitude and putting team values into practice, and they will follow suit.

Baby Steps

Redesigning your team involves creating a game plan for progress. You do this by setting short-, medium- and long-term goals for future improvement. Your current state can be easily ascertained by asking yourself the following questions: How many cases does tech support receive each week? How many are handled by other departments? How many customer complaints reach the executive team?

Once you understand where you are, then you can decide where you're going. Short-term goals might be to get permission to go about rebuilding your tech support team, choosing the tools you will use to accomplish this, and putting them in place. Medium-term goals can be to handle all calls within the team and resolve problems before customers become too angry. Finally, a long-term goal can be to reduce support costs. You can do this by reducing costs per product line, product launch, customer and customer attribute (e.g. market, size, industry, salesperson, title of primary contact, etc.).

Customer data becomes viscerally important when you use it to make important decisions for your company. For example, pairing customer attribute data with data on

income per customer will show you that some types of customers are more expensive to support than others. This is useful information for senior management to have when they are making decisions about such issues as product direction and pricing.

Are We There Yet?

By implementing a help desk tool, you will be able to see how well you are doing against your goals. The right tool will run reports on the number of cases opened and closed per day, week, and month and the amount of time spent on each. When you need more advanced reports, you can do one of three things:

  1. Duplicate CRM and accounting data in your help desk
  2. Merge the CRM, accounting and help desk data
  3. Connect your help desk to your CRM and/or accounting system

As your number of cases goes up, you will need to hire more employees. Look out for Part 2 of the series soon, in which I will discuss hiring the right people for your improved support team.


Randy Miller has 11 years of customer-focused experience in sales and services delivery. Prior to joining Journyx in 1999 as the first Timesheet-specific sales rep, Randy spent five years in the Corporate Sales and Retail Management divisions of leading electronics retailer CompUSA. Since then Randy has held many different positions at Journyx, including: Sales Engineer, Trainer, Consultant, Product Manager, Support Team Manager, and Implementation Manager for Enterprise Accounts. Randy has personally managed development and implementation efforts for many of the company's largest customers and is a co-holder of several Journyx patents. Randy was named Director of Services in 2005. Randy can be reached at randy@journyx.com.

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