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Checklist: 7x24 tech support.

What's involved in providing 7x24 support (round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week staffing)? The Puget Sound Technical Support Consortium recently held a brainstorming session on this question, says Consortium organizer Nancy Truitt Pierce, and found that 7x24 support can be surprisingly complicated. "We also found that the 7x24 model turns out to be more expensive than expected, with fewer advantages than we anticipated."

* Can you afford on-site staffing? "One of our members did an analysis that showed you need to multiply an existing staffing plan by 2.85 to cover a seven-day rotation with breaks, training, and escalation needs." says Truitt Pierce. "This was partly due to dramatically higher absenteeism (68% for shifts that worked after 9:00pm)."

* What kind of hidden overhead is involved? The cost of keeping the building open at night may not be trivial, Truitt Pierce points out. Parking, meals, security, and equipment maintenance all have to be factored into the cost equation.

* What's the true cost of on-call staffing? Rather than staff a support center during off hours, Truitt Pierce says it's often possible to forward calls to an "on-call" employee at home. "If you do this," she notes, "do you pay for a home office and a PC? An extra analog phone line? This is relatively inexpensive but other employees may feel they should get similar privileges."

* How do you maintain good team communication? "Miscommunications and misunderstandings are common among multi-shift operations," Truitt Pierce points out. One common problem: scheduling department meetings to include off-shift staff. "If you constantly ask late shift workers to come in for day meetings and training, you quickly get into morale and fairness issues."

* What about escalation procedures for tough calls? Since off-shifts typically operate with a skeleton staff, says Truitt Pierce, first-level support reps don't have access to specialists when a call has to be escalated. Alternatively, you can set up expectations with the customer to do initial triage, `but if we get to point X, you may have to wait until Monday.'"

* How do you measure performance? "If call volumes are low, then call-handling efficiency may not be the key measure," Truitt Pierce notes. "And defining customer expectations for level of service, response time, and problem resolution time is important."

* Is this something customers really want? Since many requests for 7x24 support come from sales and marketing departments, Truitt Pierce says, it's often a good idea to make sure the demand is genuine. "What's the total number of customers requesting 24 hour support? What's the competition doing? And does the customer see a difference between weekend and weekday support?"
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; staffing 24 hours per day, 7 days per week
Date:Sep 29, 1996
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