HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and support insights. For Episode 24, I interviewed Ben Brennan, founder and CEO of QSTAC, on the topics of metrics and customer experience (CX) relevance to IT and technical support. Although I’m sure you will find these excerpts enlightening, do listen to the entire podcast when you can.
RA: You're best known for QSTAC, which I pronounced “cue stack.” So maybe you can tell us a little bit about that and what it is and what it does.
BB: It is pronounced “cue stack,” and it's actually an acronym for the five dimensions that we that we researched and found that were most predictive of success. So, it's an acronym for Quality, Speed, Technical Knowledge, Approachability, and Communication. The name came from when I was doing presentations. I couldn't remember what those five were so I made the acronym just so I could remember it. And, you know, a couple of trademarks and patents later, it’s the name of my company so we're sticking with it for now. But QSTAC is essentially a tool that customer centric IT support teams can use to actually quantify the customer experience along those five dimensions. It gives you a nice numeric score that really reflects your customer experience or the customer experience of interacting with your IT team. The cool part about it is it actually works and it's super hyper accurate.
It actually came as a result of me not being really satisfied with Net Promoter Score (NPS®); we didn't really feel like that was as useful to really transform IT teams. CSAT (customer satisfaction) was kind of the industry standard when we came up with QSTAC. But we did a bunch of studies, and while it (CSAT) is super helpful for some things, it wasn't as reliable or accurate as we wanted it to be for really measuring the overall customer experience, particularly for, you know, teams striving for world class.
It's actually…how I learned about HDI. My manager at the time was…talking about HDI and she said, “Listen, HDI has this wealth of information all these white papers all this research,” and I logged in for the first time, and it was amazing. So that's why I'm kind of indebted to HDI forever. Because a lot of people don't even know this, I guess, but they have so much research available and so many white papers that you can download and you can really get scholastic about your work, and it was a huge reason we were able to make QSTAC in the first place.
So, we made what we think is a really, really good way to quantify the customer experience. Ping your end users once a quarter this little 30-second quick survey. But the information comes in, it goes through our algorithms, it gives you scores for those five dimensions, and then it gives you super actionable open ended feedback…and really basically it does the work for you, of telling you how to improve your scores.
And then the next quarter you find out if you did great or if some of your stuff didn't land and so just a tool…that you can use to hopefully get better.
I used to be a psychotherapist and so I did tons of school, tons of math, tons of science. I wanted something that was really mathematical, you know, a scientifically sound way to measure customer experience and so it ended up being transformational at Box and Yahoo and my other company—so much so that I left my cushy gig as an IT director and now doing it full time so we're hoping that other companies will have the same success.
RA: Interesting that…you have a background of psychotherapy, and I easily—having done IT support for a long time—I can tie that together very nicely.
BB: The crossover skills were incredible. I didn't actually see that at the time. But once I got an idea, I'm like, “Wow that really came in handy.” I think everyone should have a little psychology training.
RA: One of the things that you talk about when you talk about QSTAC is “mind-blowing IT support.” Why is customer experience important to, say, an internal service desk?
BB: So, the customer experience for me is really the most important thing and it really depends on how you define success for your team. So, if you're a…managed service provider that really is focused on the bottom line, your company's goal might be to reduce cost or have low cost per ticket. So, in that case, customer experience, maybe is not that important if you see yourself as a cost center; but if you see yourself as an innovation center that wants to provide value, then success is more customer centric. For my teams, it's always about not how can we be a good team, but how can we be the most valuable to the people we're there to serve. And so, in that customer centric mindset, mind-blowing IT is the best thing you could do, right.
I have a calculator that we can do for the size of the company versus what's 1% more productivity, how many millions of dollars that does. But better productivity just literally can impact positively the bottom line, by providing millions of dollars’ worth of value.
What does productivity have to do with customer experience? You know, that's a good question. But my wife for instance is a physician, dual-boarded, very busy, super way smarter than me, obviously the brains and looks of our relationship. She got a new job about a year ago, and a couple of weeks ago, (I won't say the hospital but) she was on the phone with IT for 30 minutes, four times in one week, still didn't get her issue resolved. I mean, it was driving me crazy, you know, no self-help documentation, no anything.
And not only did it take away two hours that she could be with patients or that she could be doing research, it also caused her so much frustration she was like, “Ben, if we lived in a different state, like a bigger state with more hospitals, I'd be looking for another job.” It caused so much pain…If you're not providing a good experience, it can be really traumatic to people who are trying to get important stuff done.
I was thinking about that today. I was reading the New York Times…Morgan Stanley just announced this morning that they're buying E*TRADE for $13 billion. That's a lot of money. I remember when E*TRADE came out, and guess who they hired? They hired a bunch of traditional investment bankers who weren't happy with the job at their company. Now Morgan Stanley is probably buying back a bunch of those employees that they lost because of bad employee experience for $13 billion. To me, that's why mind-blowing support is so important. You know, if you create that killer, killer experience, people are going to come talk to you more; you create a good relationship, you're going to be able to make them more productive.
RA: Computers have been for me a way to get things done; they haven't been an end unto itself. I'm not trained in computer science, because I looked at it as a way to accomplish things, and so that's always been my view about support and IT in general. It's a way for people to get things done.
There's a little bit of math that I do. Let's take a 10-minute email outage. People use email about 30% of the time that you're working. In a company of 30,000 people, a 10-minute email outage cuts productivity to the tune of 187 and a half days of work. [30,000 people x 10 minutes = 300,000 minutes of outage. 30% of 300,000 minutes = 90,000 minutes or 1,500 hours or 187.5 eight-hour days.]
It's an amazing stat. The experience of those people having a failure of information technology is enormous. If that technology fails and then they don't have a satisfactory experience getting back what they were missing, it's amazingly devastating, the consequences that can happen. So, it's really, really important for us to understand that the reason that we do this stuff is because people need it to get their work done. It's really important to have that great experience. Mind-blowing support is important because it helps people get back to work, or continue their work or progress in their work, whatever it happens to be. So, why is this approach different from gathering and paying attention to the metrics that we've always paid attention to? What is it about this that makes it a little bit different?
BB: I think both of us are, you know, not your typical IT people; [we] are very human centric. Most of our traditional metrics that we used were IT centric and efficiency based, right? So, if I think of the metrics that I hear people talk about mostly it's, you know, first touch resolution or ticket deflection, or stuff that sounds really good. I loved how you were talking about, like, the kind of the Total Cost of Ownership approach to outages. If you want to talk about the value to the company…measuring tickets doesn't really matter.
You know my favorite example is when we [were at] Twitter…I was like the third IT employee [and] we were figuring out everything from scratch, and we're gonna do metrics for the first time, so we started having a contest, who can do the most tickets right as a way to see who's most productive. And every week the intern would win because he would go around and add a bunch of monitors and keyboards and do a ticket for each one. Meanwhile the sysadmin that was, you know, solving a huge root cause issue that affected thousands of people did three tickets.
These efficiency metrics that measure our efficiency, but they don't really measure the impact to the customer experience. So, for me, it's important to measure everything, but I always focus most importantly…our success metric is customer experience. It turns out if your customer experience is awesome, chances are you're being efficient and doing all the other stuff right.
If your customer experience is awesome, chances are you're being efficient and doing all the other stuff right.
Ben Brennan is the founder of QSTAC, Inc. and the author of Badass IT Support. His irreverent style, sincere passion, and contagious enthusiasm for customer-centric IT has proven a powerful combination. The result has been a decade of awards, accolades, and best-in-industry customer experience benchmarks for his IT teams at Twitter, Box, Yahoo, and most recently Verizon Media, where he was Senior IT Director. Now, with his new company QSTAC, Ben is taking the same proprietary tools and methods that fueled those previous successes and making them available to all, empowering any team to define, measure, and deliver a world-class customer experience.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as Group Principal Analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.