To help answer this question imagine you supply a product to the market. When people want to contact support they send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email ends up in a staff members inbox where each support email is manually opened and answered.
Overtime your product becomes extremely successful but as we all know more sales can also mean more support.
In a very short while the staff member manually processing the support emails cannot keep up. Emails are lost, accidently deleted or not answered. Even worse the staff member goes on holiday and forgets to allocate the support email processing to another person. By the time the staff member comes back her inbox is full and the last few days worth of support calls have bounced back due to “mailbox full” errors.
A Support System
If all the support emails were managed by a help ticket system then the bulk of these issues would never have occurred.
In our business we use a help ticket system that does a whole heap of stuff including:
- Processing all support emails sent to us by sorting each email into an existing support ticket or creating a new support ticket automatically.
- Alerting staff to the support emails. This can be a group of people or even one person.
- The system provides a web based application in which staff can view support tickets, send emails, accept attachments, re-assign support tickets to other staff members.
So when a staff member goes on leave or is too busy to monitor the support system another person can easily be delegated to take over. The system even provides reports on which clients are using support the most, and what staff members are processing the most support tickets.
By implementing the help ticket system we believe that we have reduced the effort and cost to manage support calls by as much as 70%!
My Definition of a System
A system is one or more detailed processes where every step of the process is defined and the application or person using those processes performs each step every time the process is executed.
Therefore in order for a system to be beneficial to a business the processes must be very detailed in regards to the tasks that make up the process. The application or person executing those processes must have limited or no scope to deviate from the defined processes or “forget”.
This is why I would rather use a piece of software to manage a process than a person. Software does not get sick, or forget, or can’t be bothered or tries to find a short cut.
People are important so don’t get the idea that I would like to get rid of all my staff. People are vital for the front of office functions like communicating with clients, innovating, making the office fun. However for the backend processes that are vital for your business I would recommend you try and find software that can either perform all the tasks within a process or at least control the flow and execution of the process.
Managing support calls using software is one great example of not having to rely on people to provide consistency of experience to your clients.
At the very least if you don’t want to replace people with software or can’t every process in your business should be documented in detail. Every step, every variance, every person involved in the process must be documented in an operations manual.
The operations manual is a valuable asset in your business. If one staff member leaves then the next person can read the operations manuals that involves that role. This reduces training, mistakes and increases the speed in which the new person can take over.
If you want to sell your business and show the buyer that every process in your business is documented then you are far more attractive than a business where the staff have all the processes in their head. If one or more critical people leave and all the processes are in their head then you are in deep trouble.
The E-Myth Revisited book talks about the enormous benefits of using operations manuals in a business and I for one have seen the benefits.