For most of my career in customer service, I’ve worked in production environments. Olin Chlor-Alkali, a chemical company that makes chlorine for use in a variety of industries, Amazon.com, and even a brief stint at Volkswagen. In my time at these institutions, I’ve learned a great deal about lean manufacturing (a process by which you remove waste from a process without sacrificing productivity) and I’ve also learned how to apply the methodologies I’ve learned to systems aside from manufacturing.
Our support queues are like assembly lines. A ticket or conversation comes down our assembly line, we interact with that ticket by adding documentation, bugfixes, clarification, and more, and then we send that ticket on to the next “process” or to it’s resolution.
This doesn’t mean that we take a mechanical, inhumane approach to helping our users. In fact, if we practice some of these methodologies in our own companies and queues, we can likely provide even better support for our users in the end (remember, lean manufacturing is eliminating waste WITHOUT impacting quality/productivity).
So, what kind of waste does lean manufacturing eliminate? For our purpose the biggest waste we’re looking to eliminate is TIME.
Once we look at our support queue as a production line, we can start looking at and thinking about our processes a different way. When I worked at Amazon, there was a massive emphasis on saving time or costs on even the most menial tasks. Think about it…if you can save a penny per package (or a few seconds per package before it leaves your warehouse), that’s tens of thousands of dollars in savings for a business that moves a million packages a week!
Our support queues are the same way. At the WP Ninjas, we see around 2,200 support interactions a month. On average, we spend around 5 minutes per new conversation, meaning we spend about 183.3 hours per month in support.
At $12/hr, that means our support costs us $2200/mo, or around a dollar per ticket. That means that every minute we shave off of our support process saves us $0.20. If successful in saving that minute, we would save $440 PER MONTH. This adds up. Support is a not-insignificant cost of doing business, and lowering your volume or increasing your efficiency can save big even for smaller organizations.
I call the idea of applying these lean manufacturing methods to your support queue practicing “Sustainable Support,” and I’ve been a champion of it for quite some time. Below is a talk I gave in 2015 at WordCamp Atlanta on the topic. If you have some spare time, definitely check it out! If you don’t have time for the video, check back here soon…I’ll be tackling some of these ideas in the coming weeks.
Sustainable Support – Creating Happiness for Your Users Without Sacrificing Your Own