When I was teaching a recent HDI Support Center Manager course, I was hit with the reality once again on the number of managers that overlook the importance of creating or maintaining Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). One of the most critical elements in support is the management of an SOP manual. This manual lists all the tasks that are essential for a support center’s success. A solid SOP will clarify at what time a procedure is done and who is responsible. The SOP manual helps with the completion of routine tasks and is designed to increase performance, maximize efficiency, and safeguard the quality of support.
One of the most critical elements in support is the management of an SOP manual.
One thing to remember about SOPs is they don’t describe how to do the job (technical skills); they describe the support center’s rules that are in place to do the job (procedural guidance). For example, a technician going onsite to troubleshoot a problem for a customer requires both technical skills and procedural guidance. Here’s an example of a procedure upon arrival at the customer’s location:
- Knock and introduce yourself.
- Ask the customer if it’s a good time to work on the issue.
- Ask the customer if there are any documents that need to be saved before working on the issue.
- Have the customer give an explanation and example of the problem reported.
That’s procedural. After following the procedure, the technician then starts to troubleshoot using a variety of structured problem-solving techniques. That’s technical.
Many support center managers proclaim SOPs have had a major impact on the success of their teams and helped to expedite the maturity level of their support centers. In my own experience in managing and directing support organizations, the SOPs were not only a critical success factor in maintaining the quality of service level management (SLM), but also maintaining consistency between employees and departments.
Should you have a SOP manual in place? The answer is a very certain YES!
Let’s look at specific examples that we discussed during the HDI Support Center Manager course on how to quantify SOPs and measure outcomes.
Ensure Business Continuity
One common challenge when managing a support team is when a key staff member resigns, is on leave, or is away from the office for a period of time. Without an SOP manual, the responsibilities of that individual and their work comes to a halt until the employee returns. Many support organizations have backed themselves up to a corner by having only one individual that can complete a certain task. This has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and the image of the support center.
The delay could not only have an impact on productivity, but also on the image of support and customer satisfaction. When nonattendance or truancy occurs, another employee can perform the tasks by referring to the SOP manual. Staff members can not only step up and take over the urgent tasks, but have a clear understanding on performing the tasks correctly the first time.
Achieve Business Goals
In the support environment, many support managers have tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on service level management. Although SLM is very important, organizations also need to focus on efficiency, productivity, and utilization of staff. It’s important to find measurable improvements and to be able to show the value of support and how it aligns with the businesses goals. Without functional SOPs it’s hard to have a realistic measurement because of the diversity of procedures individuals have created on their own.
Leadership’s responsibility is to make sure the goal of the organization is clearly defined and communicated to the employees. SOPs need to be clearly aligned with the organizational goals. Some examples of being aligned with business goals and helping the organization achieve their goals are:
- Prepare for company growth
- Eliminate waste
- Better utilization of staff
- Navigate change
- Work faster
- Improve quality
Reduce Training Costs and Empower New Employees
How often has a new employee started with an organization or an existing staff member in a new position only to find they’re on their own to learn the ropes? This situation seems to be a common one in support environments today. Do they just define some of the roles and responsibilities themselves? I have!
Another common situation is when a new employee is getting training from multiple sources. They might learn multiple ways of performing specific tasks, only encouraging them to choose or create their own way of doing the task the way that works for them. When a support center has a manual in place, it provides consistency and helps to create a feeling of empowerment to give the new employee a feeling of control.
When SOPs are the foundation of training, employees learn that, when in doubt, refer to the manual. By referring to this document, the new employee will know exactly what is expected of them and any time constraints involved. For instance, if a supervisor is running late to work, you can ask your new employee to run a morning report for you to take to a meeting. By referring to the document, your new employee will know exactly how to run the reports and, in doing so, will boost their confidence. A well written and researched SOP can literally become a lifeline to new employees and help existing employees perform tasks that are rarely done to understand how things work.
Another critical area of support and service level management is a focus on consistency in the services provided. Consistency builds professionalism, from answering the phone to the escalation of an incident. Some common things like answering the phone with a standard greeting, escalating a ticket, and following up with a customer are areas that need procedural guidance.
The image of support is impacted by consistency within support operations. When a customer calls to get support and one employee says, “we don’t support that,” and the previous week another employee helped with that product, the customer gets upset because of the inconsistency in support. I find that many employees believe they are performing duties procedurally, but they are only looking at their own performance.
In nearly two decades of consulting and teaching in the support center industry, I find that asking a group of employees to explain the differences in setting priorities reveals confusion and inconsistencies in their beliefs. When they discover these inconsistencies exist, they understand the benefits of SOPs to provide a best practice to follow. When support is consistent, you can allocate efforts on strategic objectives and delivering quality service and contribute to the maturity level of support.
Improve Employee Morale and Retention
A manager in my support center manager course gave the class a specific example of an employee that had recently been out of the office for an extended period of time. Upon returning, the employee found that they were backlogged on their responsibilities because no one understood the procedure of getting some specific tasks done, causing frustration and stress. The employee walked into the manager’s office and said, “I just can’t deal with this anymore. I spent my whole vacation thinking about work because I knew nothing was getting done.” The employee resigned, causing an impact on productivity and morale. The manager shared that she knew this was an issue but was consumed with dealing with other aspects of support.
The manager then called for a meeting to discuss the lack of SOPs within the support environment, and the team focused on getting the SOPs back up and running again. She proclaimed in class, “The impact was clear.” Within a few months, she observed more communication, accountability, and teamwork. Also, a supervisor retuning from maternity leave said, “This is the first time I haven’t been overwhelmed coming back to work.” Many students in class committed to revisiting their SOPs or creating them.
The role of management in support is a very demanding position, and it’s easy to forget about some basics like SOPs. But the benefits for business continuity and achieving goals and the impact on training and employee morale is why support centers take time to make sure SOPs are maintained and followed by all.
Randy Celaya is the president of The Coaching Bridge, where he teaches advanced communication, coaching, and facilitation skills. Randy is a certified executive coach and instructor and is certified to teach all courses HDI offers, specializing in knowledge management and leadership skills. He has 20 years of support center industry experience and has worked with support centers around the world to develop, coach, and train professionals in customer support, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, team building, and problem-solving skills. Randy is also a seasoned event speaker who has delivered keynotes at help desk and call center events around the world. In 2007, Randy was asked to join the National Facilitator Database (NFDB), reserved for speakers who are among the best in the industry! Connect with Randy on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @RandyCelaya, and like his Facebook page.