How to Determine the Size of your Support Team

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When you’re launching a startup, especially if you’re in the exciting IoT space, one of the last things on your mind is support. It’s not as fun as the other stuff: developing breakthrough technologies. Getting press on Mashable. Getting your first 100 users.

But support? That’s boring, right?

Well, support is essential, as we discuss in this post. It means the difference between fast growth and faltering on the line.  It also must be scaled well if your goal is to significantly scale the number of users you have and do it in a way that provides the best customer experience possible.

So ok, you’re thinking about support, and you’re going to organize and staff your support team.

How do you know how to size your team? How do you know what level of support you need at your particular stage of growth? What type of support do you need? Should you have multilevel support?  Does it include other specific touch-points, such as product setup or new user onboarding?  The questions are many.

You may already have a support manager on staff with plenty of experience sizing support teams. She may have already taken the first stab at sizing your team, based on her experience and knowledge, and may just need to verify with a third party.

Or you may have an operations person who is not as experienced. They may need the help of a third party or a blog post like this.

Well if you’re confused as a lot of our initial customers were, read on. We’ve developed this succinct guide to help you with how to size and configure your initial support team.

1. Your Growth Stage

Where you’re at in your growth trajectory determines a lot. You may be at the beta stage, with a hundred or so beta users. The volume is low, so the need for a large team or a highly structured operation isn’t there yet. But you still need to professionalize your support.

Put some tools in place. Get some basic resources to support your first users. At this stage, you need to emphasize learning. Learn and document issues in your ticketing system.  Feed back to engineering.  This is also a great opportunity to build your knowledge base or an FAQ, or your core “how to” tutorial blog posts.

For an early stage company it’s not so much about the size of your team (a hundred users just requires a support person or two), or even volumes or coverage. Focus instead on taking the first steps to create a professional support infrastructure and process: evaluating and setting up some good tools, putting some basic processes in place (for example to watch the incoming queue and assign tickets to individuals), document issues and escalate them as needed, and operate with some basic service level commitments to your customers, e.g. 4-hour e-mail response time, for example.

Just because you’re small, that’s no excuse not to have professional support.

If you are at the stage where your user base is or will be growing fast, then you should really worry about a few important considerations to size your initial team and grow it.  So let’s move on to what those are, shall we?

2. Touch-points in the Customer Journey

We recommend thinking of support from a Customer Success perspective.  That is, accompanying your customer with services throughout the customer journey, from the time they order your product to the time they’re -hopefully- ready to upgrade.  That is what we call Customer Journey Support.

In the context of IoT DIY (Do-It-Yourself) products, this means that you have an opportunity to engage with your customer during certain key touch-points.  Will you be providing order support? Will you be helping customers setup the product and connect with other devices in their network?  Can you help provide an assisted or recorded walkthrough on the product’s features?  Will you help your customer figure out how/when you upgrade?

These questions raise the prospect of either having a multi-functional team, or if you’re a more mature company, possibly having different teams handle different services.

Consider which of these services make sense for your company, and as you go through the rest of this guide, apply the criteria to the various journey support services you want to make available.

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.

3. Volume and Coverage

The first thing you should consider to size a team are your current and projected support volumes, as well as the expected productivity of your support staff (we’ll get to the latter a little later).  Some questions to ask yourself and perhaps others in your team are:

  • What are our support volumes today?
  • Are they e-mails, phone calls, chat requests, scheduled on-boarding sessions, or others?
  • What is my average handle time for the various channels, 15, 30 minutes? more?
  • How do we expect these volumes to grow, based on our product launch plans, marketing plans, etc.?
  • Do we expect to automate some of the support through FAQs, online guides, in-product help or chatbots?
  • What do we need our daily/hourly coverage to be? Where are our customers, geographically?

The answer to these questions will allow you to do some fairly simple math to figure out the expected productivity of your agents and project some current and future capacity needs.  You should work with at least 12 months of data.

Regarding coverage, almost everybody neglects it, but it’s a really important consideration. Going back to the example of the company with only a hundred users. Suppose you chose to offer support from 8am to 5pm, five days a week. Fine. You just need two resources. Max.

But what if you’re product is being sold globally, an extended support schedule or even 24/7 support may be a necessity. Your coverage for the same 100 users is completely different. You need at least five resources.

Are things starting to get real now?

4. Your Support Channels and SLAs

volume-and-coverage

Ok, good. So we’ve covered coverage (see what I did there?). But what about channels? We referred to those briefly above with regards to handle times.  But the more basic question is, as you scale customer support, how are you going to deliver it?

If you’re diving straight into phone support, then you need somebody who’s going answer the phones within 15 or 20 seconds of the phone ringing. You also need agents that are trained in handling phone support, including great tone of voice, a great attitude, and other phone service skills.

If you’re starting out with email, you have a little leeway. The expected response times for email may be four hours or more. You’ve got some breathing room. The pressure isn’t too high.

If you’ve decided you’re going to provide social media support – or support via chat – then you pretty much need to respond instantaneously.

Different channels, different resource commitments.  The E-mail channel will allow you to use your resources more flexibly and still meet your response and resolution time commitments.  The more synchronous channels (namely phone, chat, social) will require that you provide for greater redundancy and provide more human resources at any given time.

5. Handle Times and Shrinkage

Going back to handle times, we’re not talking about response times – the time it takes for somebody to actually respond to your support request – we’re talking about the time it takes your reps to handle the support request until the effective resolution of it in your customer’s mind.

If your handle time is 10 minutes, then your support people can handle a lot more cases than if your handle time is an hour.  Obvious, right?

What about shrinkage? Not the grocery store shrinkage, but the productivity kind. When we say “support resources,” we’re talking about human beings. Nobody is “on” 8 hours a day. Maybe they’re productive 85% of the time. Or maybe only 80%. Know your numbers, and size your team accordingly.

If a dedicated support agent has 8 hours in the day and you assume some shrinkage, then again, some simple math will help you figure out how many cases they can handle per day.

6. Scheduling

Consider your scheduling too. You need some overlap. No resources should start and stop at 12 o’clock. Who would be manning the phones during that crucial 5 minute period between shift changes?  What if there’s a longer than 5-minute exchange?  What about issues that need to be handed off for the next agent to continue to handle?

Make sure that as you size your team and schedules, you build overlap into your shifts, which will also affect the amount of human resource you need to consider.

Conclusion – Your Next Steps

My best recommendation is to use a spreadsheet to figure out, based on average handle times, how many issues a resource can handle. And if you know your volumes, you know how many resources to assign.

For example, if a resource can handle 100 issues a month, and you have 1000 issues a month, just divide B by A, this will give you an idea of how many you need.  Go from there to factor in the rest of the considerations we have mentioned.

A good outsourcing partner will help you think through this process not only when you start, but also as your team scales both in terms of size and capabilities (new channels, new services, and new touch points).

Want to know how to get started with IoT support so you can grow your business the right way? Read our complete guide on Growing Your IoT Business Through the Customer Journey Support Model

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