One of your responsibilities as a CS/CX leader is to ensure that your team is always able to meet the needs of your organization and to provide a level of support that your customers can depend on. You worked hard and reached the golden ratio: perfect efficiency that accounts for paid time off (PTO), ongoing projects, emergencies, and maybe even extra wiggle room for your team members to continue growing personally and professionally. Wonderful! So, you can walk away and let it run itself, right?
This is one of those projects that, while mostly on the back burner of your mind, should never be forgotten. True, most of what makes up the team and how it operates day-to-day won’t change. However, there are many changing variables to consider – including some you may have considered a constant up until now. Ever watched your company get reorganized and have the expectations for your team rewritten drastically? Good stuff.
I know that forecasting for ideal coverage may seem like clairvoyance – but it doesn’t have to be.
You may have been doing this for a while – with trial and error – and it does help if you’re familiar with your team’s history and maybe also watched or even helped it grow. It also helps if your company has a clear long-term growth path.
However, even without those advantages – perhaps you just took over the team as an outside hire or, poof, you were dropped into the leadership role – there are a number of things that should help you prepare for what’s to come. Remember though, all of your calculations are only *best guesses* and you need to remain agile when facing unexpected circumstances.
Here are some past, present, and future conditions that can affect how you forecast your team’s growth. Instead of detailing every single scenario, you’ll see lots of questions and some suggestions that should help you with that task. If you’re interested in learning more about the specifics, I’ll be happy to help! If you haven’t yet, join the SD community where you’ll find a lot of additional support for this task – even the moral kind :)
First, look at what’s outside/above your team. Zoom out from your role; take a 50k ft view: Your needs and calculations will be very dependent on the status and goals of your company. Is your company rapidly growing or is it in an established stage with not a lot of variance in yearly expansion? What is the company’s overall goal and how is that affecting expectations towards your team?
Even if the company’s status is pretty much leveled, you may still face your own directional change. What might you need to do to speed up response times? Ramp up your hiring? Improve established processes?
Agent Vs Users
Then, there is the question of metrics. When calculating staffing needs, do you rely on an agent-per-customer ratio to determine your team size? It’s a reasonable approach – and it can work for many organizations – as long as you consider that your company’s products and services may change down the line, which then could involve different support expectations. For example, when you start offering a higher-revenue product, you could end up committing to an extra channel or extended service hours. Use product SLAs as your guideline to properly staff all your shifts.
Cost Vs Revenue
Another reasonable approach is measuring support cost against company revenue. Be vigilant about the rate at which you hire, especially if your company growth stabilized after a period of rapid expansion. It’s a good idea to look for other ways to provide support rather than keep growing your team at the same rate.
When it comes to team distribution: do you have a large pool of people that constantly context switch or do you break down into smaller groups corresponding to specific products or support channels? Do those groups and channels feed into each other on a preset advancement path based on your job architecture, or do you hire directly into them? And, it can be a mix of those two? Just because you promote internally, it doesn’t mean you should completely dismiss outside hires, and vice versa.
OK, another biggie: coverage hours! Do you offer support M-F 9-5 or 24/7? In all your channels or just some of them? Or perhaps you’re you progressing from one coverage type to a different one? Is your team geographically distributed or located in the same time zone? All those parameters will create different needs.
And let’s not forget about self-help! The rate by which you rely on and push customers towards knowledge base articles and other documentation, videos, and tools, will determine the reduction in your incoming requests. This new status quo presents a fork in the road: Calculate the team needs based on the new incoming levels, or continue with the same hiring rate and change the way you’re using your team’s time.
You can use this to reduce wait times, create specialized teams, and offer growth opportunities to the individual team members. Additionally, supplementing the above self-help options with AI and machine learning may also vastly alter your calculations! While customers still need the human touch, many situations can be resolved using automation.
One of the murkiest and most seemingly uncontrollable factors is team churn. Before you throw your hands in the air and ‘I JUST CAN’T WITH THIS’, you need to understand that team attrition is natural, and there is only so much you can do. Maybe this wasn’t the right fit for them (and try to catch that early) or they grow more quickly than you can find a place for them (more on that later), or because, you know, life happens.
Take Care of Your Team
Ok, refer back to ‘seemingly’. There are definitely measures you can take to keep team churn at bay: have good hiring and feedback processes, set clear expectations and help your team members reach it, create growth paths within the team, and in general, take care of your team’s needs.
While you’re at it, ask your HR team to help you calculate your historical rate including voluntary and involuntary exits, and don’t forget to include moves among different teams within your company. You may be surprised how consistent this rate is throughout the years.
New Hire Expectations
Now that we have the exits out of the way, let’s talk about the opposite group: the newbies. You should be familiar with how long it takes to get new team members up to speed and performing at an appropriate level. This will help you schedule the proactive hiring cycle. While you’re at it, you should also calculate your new hire ROI. Why? Because if your hires churn out of the team too quickly, that will affect your forecasted life cycle.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect to see your people trickle out of your team, and not always when it’s convenient for your staffing needs, especially if your company has a strong culture of internal promotion. Consider the mutual benefit and don’t be a blocker, and definitely have a transition plan ready!
And it’s not just other teams in your company who will dip into your pool! Depending on the age and size of your support team, you will want to consider adding managerial and operational roles: aka the team ‘who supports support within support’.
Efficiency + Growth Path
Eventually, these specializations will contribute to higher team efficiency, even if they initially cut into your ‘ticketing’ numbers and affect your forecasting. They will also provide an in-team growth path and thus reduce some of the aforementioned attrition.
That’s a lot of balls to juggle! In all, that’s just over a dozen variables to consider when forecasting for growth. It may seem overwhelming at first look, but remember, you may not have to deal with all of them, and definitely not all at once. However, some of them should definitely be higher on your list in order to not get lost in the details.
Start with a strong understanding of your company’s presents status and its growth trajectory; be very aware of the expectations for your own team and how those contribute to company goals today as well as years down the road.
Having access to historical data and sound analysis tools ensures you’re ready to lay down the foundation for your forecasting. Additional parameters can be added based on the size and age of your team, which will be unique to your situation and needs. Don’t forget the other teams that can help you: HR and Finance are both invaluable resources!
Asking the right questions – from yourself and from those in charge above you – and remaining agile in the face of sudden changes in direction will give you a solid footing and help remove that layer of mist, so you no longer feel you need a sixth sense to figure out how to properly forecast for support coverage.
Andrea presented this material as a 5-minute lightning talk at Support Driven Leadership Summit in Boston. Her slides are available in the Leadership Summit slides on Slideshare.
Andrea Silas is VP of Technical Support at DreamHost, where her main focus is customer success by providing support 24/7, through various channels and multiple languages. She has been part of creating and constantly scaling a team to handle a growing and increasingly connected multi-country customer base to align customer service with the company’s brand and contribute to reputation management.