Many of my colleagues write, document, and talk about metrics in the service and support industry in which we live. Yes, metrics are important. But what I want to share with you is one of my experiences that taught me to think about the right metrics to use. When coming up with metrics, you need to make sure they make sense to every stakeholder they affect, not just your team.
In one of my past career lives, I worked for an organization that provided outsourced IT services to K-12 school districts. Because we were the outsider at every school district, it was important for us to be cost effective and provide quality support. But where we failed was always delivering effective quality support.
My company understood it was important to keep the customer happy. My role was to be the onsite IT director for the school districts assigned to me. It was my job to make sure I took care of their technology needs and met their expectations.
We had a service desk located at our company headquarters that was able to immediately respond to calls. My team’s role was to handle incidents and requests onsite and in person. We were able to respond very quickly to each and every ticket. We may have been a small company spread across the country but our leadership team talked at the beginning and end of each day.
The Good? We met our Service Level Agreements (SLAs) every day. What were they? Basically three things: resolve 60 percent of all tickets in one business day, 90 percent of all tickets in three business days, and the last 10 percent within five business days.
These SLAs were part of our goals, and the company compensated us with a nice bonus each quarter if we met them. Since every region was tied to this common goal, no one wanted to be the location that cost the entire organization their bonus. And, hey, I am a pay for performance kind of guy, so this sounded like a nice challenge.
I am sure some of you can guess where this is going. While we met our SLAs every day, month, and quarter for the time I was there, it came at a cost. I spent a lot of my day monitoring the queue, contacting technicians at all of my sites, running and analyzing daily reports, and helping to meet the customers’ expectations while trying to keep our SLAs in site. Sound like a lot? This was only 10 percent of my job responsibilities and by far the easiest.
While we met our SLAs every day, month, and quarter, it came at a cost.
What we did not really pay much attention to was how many of those tickets got reopened. My team spent a lot of time working on re-opened tickets in addition to all new incoming tickets. It made our numbers look really good if you ignored the fact the reopen rate was above 30 percent.
One of the favorite parts of my job was meeting with the teachers and staff to see how things were going. But after my first six months, this started to become something I loathed. These formal and informal meetings started to become a complaining session about my team and company and I couldn’t blame them. The quote I often heard the most was something like “All your company cares about is how many tickets you close and how fast you close them. You don’t care about actually fixing anything.”
WOW, what the…
Because I was the IT director for three school districts in two different states, it was hard for me to monitor things that closely. But I knew it was something I would have to do. When I started looking deeper into tickets,I found the customers were right. My teams would work on a ticket, document what they did, and resolve them. Because these were schools, most of our work on teachers’ systems were either first thing in the morning or after they left. There was no time to verify with them that what we did actually worked, at least not with the methods and processes we were using.
So I decided to meet with my team to resolve this. But the power of money won out no matter what I said. Everyone wanted their bonus and felt that it did not matter because we had a five-year contract. They had bills to pay and were not really interested in the long-term relationship, especially one that was already becoming toxic. Since I only spent an average of one day a week at each location, I could not really seem to enforce any change to their routine. Plus, our CEO and CIO were constantly sending the teams congratulatory emails about the numbers.
The ugly part of this story was that each of my three school districts took us to court to get out of their contracts early. Since we all were associated with being the bad IT company, we all lost our jobs without any notice. My company lost several million dollar contracts in a little over a year. School districts in this area are close knit since they really are not competitors. They talked at meetings and conferences and this resulted in my company not getting another contract in the region.
The moral of this story is to listen to ALL of your stakeholders. Sound cliché? You bet. But it is super important. Metrics may be important to you, but you need to pick ones that make sense and have realistic SLAs. It may look good on paper, but if it makes for a bad relationship with your customers, don’t use it. As my good friend Ben Brennan, author of Bad Ass IT Support, will tell you, “If it doesn’t result in mind blowing customer satisfaction, then it is meaningless.” You want to blow their mind with awesome support they can count on, not let them blow your mind with how much you suck.
Thomas Wilk is an IT manager at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has become a performance improvement leader, helping employees find their way along their career path. As a mentor to managers, he helps them develop leadership skills so they can better engage with their staff. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and is currently working towards a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in the Public Management program. To see more from Tom, visit
his YouTube channel , and follow him on Twitter @spiller150.