Scale is the key to sustained success for any business, but far too many struggle with striking the right balance between proactively hiring too many people too soon and building a bench that goes largely underutilized, or overburdening and overwhelming existing team members forced to compensate for the drastic disparity between headcount supply and business demand.
While any business unit, level or function can be susceptible to employee overload and worker burnout, customer service teams in particular tend to be the biggest victims of success for any high growth company, forced to consistently operate over internal capacity as recruiting consistently acts more as a lagging than leading indicator of growth.
High Growth Hiring: The Limits of Doing More With Less.
Given the mantra of “less is more” is more or less ingrained in the culture of many rapidly growing organizations, the overburdened and overwhelmed front line support teams at these employers are forced to put on a happy face, so to speak, when speaking to customers – and consistently provide reliable service while never letting the cracks show.
Perpetually strained at the seams, the expectation is that support teams suffer in silence.
Customers could care less how many issues they’ve got piled up in front of them, or how many open tickets they happen to have on their plate.
They want their issue resolved as quickly as possible, their ticket closed right now, and not treating every customer like a top priority can have a big impact on a business’ bottom line.
This creates a tremendous amount of pressure on both sides for customer service and support professionals.
These frontline workers are trapped between being held accountable for maximum efficiency and efficacy from the company they work for and the customers they support, creating tangible tensions and no-win situations for those intermediaries caught in the firing line between dealing with the ever increasing volume of inquires and the inability of their organization to hire enough hands to effectively meet such seemingly unlimited demands with such a limited supply of service staff or support resources?
As with most hiring managers or anyone responsible for managing a P&L, customer service and support leaders know that their functions, while fundamentally important, also represent prominent cost centers, a significant line item whose ROI can be difficult to manage or measure, much less justify allocating the budget required to recruit and retain more service staff.
Unfortunately, most companies realize the critical importance of effectively scaling a support function too late, when turnover spikes, customer satisfaction slips and existing staff seem on edge and visibly stressed out. By the time they start recruiting, it’s often already too late to turn the talent tides, a revolving door leading to recruiting becoming too backed up with backfills to strategically add the necessary staff.
Unless this pattern is broken, this vicious short term cycle can doom any organization’s ability to survive (and thrive)over the long term.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are some ways you can make sure that any organization can use to effectively scale a customer service or support team to deal with the business demands of today – and tomorrow.
Data In the Forecast: Doing The Math On High Growth Hiring.
In business today, that ancient Zen proverb, “awareness is the greatest agent of change,” remains as relevant an aphorism as ever, particularly for companies undergoing the growing pains that so often come with rapid growth.
For customer support and service leaders to proactively take action and preempt team burnout, it’s imperative these line managers align their expectations with front line reality.
Leaders should get an accurate understanding into the team’s current capacity, and understanding exactly how hiring new employees will help with specific team objectives or broader business outcomes.
Many support and service staff are managed primarily by a metric called “average handling time,” which represents something of a baseline for functional leaders to measure and manage both departmental and individual performance.
This critical benchmark is determined by the average duration of customer calls, and includes not only the time staff actually spend interacting with a caller or resolving their issues, but also the hold time and subsequent time required to do any administrative tasks or internal follow up related to that call.
Average handling time, obviously, isn’t particularly effective as a standalone metric, since it ignores a host of extenuating circumstances and external factors out of the company’s control. It does, however, help support managers keep track of whether current support staff aligns with demand, and how to better utilize and allocate existing resources and staff.
But while it’s a good baseline for seeing how many hours are being worked and how current resources are being allotted, AHT plays only a small part when it comes to forecasting growth requirements for future employees or providing meaningful metrics for measuring future performance outcomes.
Instead of considering changing things like processes and policies to increase the efficiency of their existing team, support managers and service leaders should consider a much broader range of factors before deciding that growing the team is the only answer and moving forward to making hires.
The Sweet Spot for Support: Taking the Equations Out of the Equation.
To make sure you’ve got the right resources for scaling a support team the right way, it’s essential to look beyond ticket time and at statistics that have nothing to do with this baseline, but are just as important when it comes to finding the perfect balance between making too many hires too fast and not making enough in time to successfully support business growth.
For instance, consider the following non-ticket variables for scaling a support team when formulating any forecast:
- How many total days off does your support team currently have for paid time off for things like vacation, illness, training or personal development?
- How many hours does your team or support staff currently commit to meetings each week?
- How much time do you give your staff to work on projects or processes unrelated to the transactional task of closing tickets?
- How does your team’s efficiency stack up to the competition? Remember that on average, approximately 39% of support employees spend about an hour a week on non-work tasks – which is a pretty good baseline to keep in mind.
This data should be analyzed in context, and tracked and aligned against associated customer growth statistics. It’s possible to determine whether a company’s current customer base, average annual client acquisition and average monthly churn, as well as the number of expected incoming inquiries and conversations will occur each month, the amount of man hours required to resolve these requests, and whether or not your support team is sufficiently staffed, or if it’s time to staff up for sustained, scaleable customer service success.
By positioning these seemingly nuanced data points against the bigger business picture,you’ll preempt burnout and propel productivity by periodically and proactively keeping the pulse of your workers.
While data driven recruiting and predictive analytics might seem challenging for those hiring managers and support leaders who don’t have a great grasp on statistics, but you don’t have to know a lot about math to make the math add up – the good news is there are also a ton of tools for taking the equations out of the equation.
At the end of the day, the goal of successfully scaling a support function is to keep customers happy. And the best way to do that is by keeping your employees happy, too – and there’s no better way to do that than by making sure everyone has the resources they need to succeed in providing world class customer support and client service that ensures growing businesses keep growing.
About the Author: Susanna James is a content marketer at Kayako, the customer service software provider. Her expertise lie in helping tech companies reach bigger audiences through awesome content.
You can find Susanna over at the Kayako blog where you can get the latest tips and insight on delivering great customer support.
Weekly news and industry insights delivered straight to your inbox.