Plan-Measure-Improve and get 1 to do the work of 3

After a period of rapid growth and putting people into the wrong roles our company was sick. Customers were leaving us due to declining satisfaction, we had low productivity and our top line was shrinking as was our team. We could not just blame the economy and we had to take action to turn it around.

Do you know any businesses like that?

Combo was not a terrible business, it may have even been an OK business, but it was not the great business we wanted it to be. We were experiencing some issues and needed to improve before our company imploded. Today we can say we succeeded with a focus on strategy, technology, values and an approach to getting the right people on our team.

Hiring and offshoring

Some of our key issues were with hiring the right team members and the people we were hiring were expensive. We had decided that offshore resources would reduce the burden. The initial idea was to let them deliver back office services, however, due to cost and availability they were placed on logging in-bound calls to reduce the load on our “overburdened staff”. Our poor reporting on staff activity and utilisation and poor tracking of delivery against our SLAs (service level agreements) SLAs with clients did not help.

To overcome these issues we started with a review of who we wanted Combo to be as a business, the organisations values. We talked about quality of service, integrity, responsibility, local community and so forth but we were not meeting our stated objectives. We had slipped in the face of business pressures.

Individual accountability

Taking the company objectives and breaking them down into team and individual objectives was a powerful step. We needed to improve our certification so we set training objectives for each technician. We needed to track progress against objectives so we set up a review system using We now perform three reviews each year against objectives for the trimester and enjoy keeping score. The objectives came from our strategic plan for the year and the focus for that period. Customer satisfaction was one of the objectives and so on. We also managed to align the scores with the company profit share scheme to drive incentives with the plan. Our company health index was then derived from the sum of the individual scores.

Over several cycles the system improved and reflected the results we were achieving. Team performance could now be measured, managed and improved.

Aligning with core values

It took a well-orchestrated alignment exercise to convince the management team it was in their interests to move on, this created an opportunity to adjust the team. With careful profiling we selected a new individual who was aligned to our values to take on the role of the previous two managers. We then re-built our technical team. The deployment of iDashboards to display key metrics for each of our job functions, and in the process, gamify the help desk leading to our staff willingly competing to drive better statistics on their call resolution metrics. Initially the iDashboards displayed marketing information to demonstrate to our clients how thoroughly we monitored their issues. As we improved the charts on the iDashboard for relevance and importance, they motivated the team to focus on the key components of service delivery.

One of the best mechanisms we discovered almost by accident. With each IT job ticket completed clients are asked five questions. Completion of the surveys is not compulsory but plenty get filled in. The client scores 1 to 5 where 1 is completely failed to meet expectations and 5 is went above and beyond. Each score of 3 or below resets a counter on our iDashboard the counter tracks “Days since last negative feedback”. It is not about who caused the reset, nor do we point fingers or blame, yet somehow people always have a sense of who scored the negative result. As the days since last negative feedback number grows to a large number of days it becomes a topic of conversation that motivates great customer service.

Triple the output

With a focus on company Values, and iDashboards, plus a whole lot of focused effort on team culture, customer service and ongoing education, I am delighted to say we turned the company around. Combo was able to show statistically that one local, well managed, well-educated and motivated local resource was capable of resolving triple the number of IT tickets with improved customer satisfaction than one offshore contracted person.

If only more local companies went to the effort and put these sort of systems in place. Focused on education and company culture, perhaps we could get back to growing the Australian economy and our future as the smart lucky country.

We are here to help you with the advice and platforms to bring about this sort of transformation in your business from an IT perspective. We would also be happy to introduce you to our mentors who helped us along the way. We know that the success of our clients is our success too.

Strategic Planning is the first step towards success

Each year about March it is time to write the business plan for the next financial year. By the beginning of the 4th quarter we should have our strategic plans firmed up so we can start to plan the activities and then by the end of the quarter have our budgets in place.

A good planning session should start with strategy, creating direction, allowing the creation og clear objectives leading to selection of tactics. IT will be just one of the components and the high level strategy will inform the investments and the tactics.

This may sound pompous if you have a break/fix mentality of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This break/fix style of management will lead to an abundance of tactical work to repair faults but cannot lead to any strategic business advantage. A typical result of this approach is that the IT budget is spent on work and people who are entirely reactive, exhausting a budget that would be better spent on innovation that reduced the reactive workload. Unfortunately break/fix is often seen as a way to reduce spending in a business, the result is often quite the opposite. Modern IT innovations are now underpinning improved work processes that lead to significant cost savings not just in the IT department but across all aspects of the business.

Recently Telstra implemented Yammer into its business and the CEO David Thodey used the tool to ask the staff what part of their business function could be improved to reduce duplicated effort or to improve customer service. No surprise lots of people communicated back ideas on how to make the business better. Do you have a communication tool like that in your business? When did you last ask your staff what they find time-consuming and frustrating about their jobs or your IT systems? What might they say should be changed to make their jobs more enjoyable, quicker or easier? What if they told you? Could you drive the cost of business down and have happier employees working more productively for you?

Your challenge as a business owner is to attract the best employees who help you expand your business, work productively and look after your customers so the revenue and margins keep expanding or the quality or capability of your product or service improves. My challenge to you is to look at how putting an IT strategy in place for the next three years can help you towards this outcome. People do better with the right support and systems. IT underpins many aspects of your business which is why the strategic approach makes sense.

Recently I met with an innovative entrepreneur who has built a new application set for his mobile team in the field that not only increases the productivity of his people by 40% to 100%, it also improves the flow of data back to the head office so that tracking and reporting can be done and better decisions can be made. In testing with his team, his more motivated staff were getting amazing results and one of the less inspired team members asked, “If I can get my tasks done this fast, how will I stay busy the rest of my day?”

The tools this company is using today makes them a leader in a competitive services industry. It is anticipated that with this round of application improvements they will be in a position to reduce their sale price by 20% while increasing their profit by 15 to 20%. This strategic approach to business IT systems is driving significant competitive advantage. Their competitor, a solo service bloke who was once able to compete on price will question where his business went and the larger more strategic business will own the industry. This may be currently happening in your industry, would you know?

What is the potential in your business of harnessing strategic advantage via IT systems before your competitors do? Or on the flip side, what impact would it have on your business if your competitors deploy some kind of strategic leap? Would it cost you to either catch up or back out of your uncompetitive business?

Has your industry already been revolutionised by technology leaving you stubbornly holding on to your declining market share with the clients you have a good enough relationship with to hold your competitor at bay?

In the IT services industry it will not surprise you that innovation like this keeps occurring and that our services need to keep changing to be useful and competitive. It is only the use of current technologies and ongoing internal process improvement we are able to drive the following changes in our business:

Our records of support tickets handled over the last 100 days as at June 2013 vs June 2014:

  • Quick resolve tickets: 15 minutes reduced to 7 minutes per ticket
  • Medium resolve tickets: 30 minutes reduced to 15 minutes
  • Slow resolve tickets: 68 minutes reduced to 38 minutes
  • The number of tickets overall and in each category changed by less than 5%, so the total time spent resolving tickets reduced by over 40%.

The impact on our business has been to reduce staff stress levels, increase resource availability for project-based services, increase focus on education and time committed to education and exams and most importantly to improve customer perception of our customer service. This in turn has led to an improved net promoter score and a stronger tendency to refer us to new prospects. It has also enabled us to expand the company more efficiently.
So with this in mind, would a little of our IT strategy make sense as a part of your business plan for next financial year?