August 11, 2020

Making the most of our software tools

Using tools to increase our effectiveness is a human impulse dating back to the Stone Age. The software tools we use today may look quite different from those makeshift stone hammers, but the goal is the same: to complete a given task in the most efficient way possible.

For support teams, the number and types of tools available has dramatically increased over the last decade. This introduces a two-fold challenge: selecting the tool which will have the highest impact for your team and getting the most out of the tools already at your disposal. If you needed to chop down a tree, you wouldn’t use a hammer if you had an axe lying next to it and you wouldn’t chop it down with a dull axe if you could save time by sharpening the blade first.

Likewise, support teams are faced with choices between tools everyday. Ticketing, scheduling, training, forecasting, team performance—all come with their own choice between adopting a dedicated tool or crafting your own solution to the task. Tasks which require significant levels of collaboration and metrics in need of real-time responsiveness (breakages, spikes in support volume, etc.) should be done in software tools dedicated to the specific task. Choosing the right tool comes down to your team’s specific needs and use case. Ask questions upfront to make sure that the tool you’re investing in is solving the problem you have.

The issue with spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are useful for ad hoc analysis and for less time-sensitive data like weekly reviews. But they can burn time and money with their upkeep and through the inaccuracies which occur when pushed into more time-sensitive use cases which require manual updates, like intraday reporting or complex scheduling, for example.

This is not to mention the eventual switching cost; we’ve seen spreadsheets that overload Google Sheets and leave teams scrambling for ad hoc fixes. Don’t wait for this happen to your behemoth spreadsheet; make the switch to a dedicated software tool before it breaks down. Bending ad hoc tools beyond their usefulness and underinvesting in the tools chosen to optimize workflows can not only cost the team financially but can be demoralizing and lead to a distrust of future process optimizations.

Tools are investments—in time and money

Even after you’ve selected a dedicated tool, underinvesting in it may be limiting your team’s effectiveness. Choosing to use a scheduling tool, for example, also means that leadership needs to understand the fundamental tradeoff between service level and cost. And your team needs to be bought in to the value of structured schedules; they need to understand the importance of service level and response time targets and need to know what steps they can take to react to the changes that occur throughout the day.

When thinking about getting the most out of the tools your team uses, think holistically about the time required to make the best use of a given tool and consider whether your team has any dependencies on other teams or external partners in order to implement and use it successfully. Different channels and data flows will need to be integrated and team members will need to learn the ins and outs of the tool in order to maximize its effectiveness.

Choosing to use a training tool means that someone needs to create the training material, keep it up to date and deliver trainings at dedicated times to the team. Getting value from a customer satisfaction tool relies on trust between support and engineering teams, and a product team committed to responding to support feedback. Tools are only as effective as the effort put into ensuring their effectiveness.

In making these decisions, support leaders should recognize that the work isn’t done when a tool is implemented. Setting realistic timelines which include ramp-up time and managing expectations from all stakeholders involved ensures a smooth transition in this regard.

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