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Customer service is a stressful job. You spend your day putting out fires, handling a never-ending stream of customer requests, and submitting bugs to the development team. It’s easy to let that stress win out over your better judgment when you’re looking at reports and deciding how to grow your team.

Scaling a service team poses many challenges, one of which is simply knowing when it’s time to bring on a new hire. Generally speaking, customer service is not a function that companies throw gobs of money at, so when you’re asking for additional headcount, you need to make a strong case. As tempting as it sounds, shouting, “We’re totally swamped!” and collapsing on your boss’s floor is not going to get you the budget you need.

Instead, take a data-driven approach to understand past performance and future expectations. It’s a sanity check for you, and it’s much more defensible in a budget meeting. Every team is different, but there are a few methods and metrics that will give you a good sense of whether you’re treading water or actually drowning.

Compare Inflows and Outflows

By looking at the rate at which cases flow into and out of your backlog, you can determine whether you need another person handling cases. First, calculate what your team can handle. The daily outflow is equal to the number of cases closed per rep per day. If your 3-person team closed 750 tickets last quarter, you’re outflow rate is 3.9 (64 business days in Q3). Then, compare that to the daily inflow, or number of cases submitted per rep per day. If 850 tickets came in over the same period, that’s 4.4 cases per rep coming in each day, or 1.5 cases per day that didn’t get handled.

Screenshot 2015-04-15 14.38.54

What does this mean for next quarter? Adding another person to the team would give you the capacity to handle 1,000 tickets/quarter. Do you need to be ready for 1,000 tickets? Let’s say your case submissions are increasing by 8% monthly. You should be expecting almost 1,100 tickets, so start writing that job description!

Compare Incident Rate and Pipeline

Since customers are the source of all cases, you can also look at customer growth as a signal for case volume. The incident rate is equal to the number of cases per customer for a given time period. If you had 120 customers active in Q3, and the pipeline suggests 10 new deals in Q4, that translates to about 915 cases.

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Granted, new customers are more likely to submit cases, but that new hire isn’t looking like a slam dunk, so maybe it’s time to think about how to squeeze a little more efficiency out of the existing team.

Check the Backlog

Your case backlog can be a phenomenal source of truth, and it’s another way to assess your hiring needs. You can look to see what percentage of your backlog is cases that have not yet been acknowledged or assigned by anyone on the customer service team. If the rate at which unacknowledged cases pile up exceeds the daily inflow rate for a rep, it’s probably time to add another person to handle all the cases that are falling through the cracks.

customer service case inventory

 

Ultimately, the timing of a hire is dependent on a number of variables—like when there’s room in the budget, or how long it takes to find a qualified candidate. Some teams wait until absolutely necessary to make a service hire, and others try to stay slightly ahead of demand. Either way, taking a data-driven approach helps you keep tabs on your team’s performance and gives you the proof you need when it’s time to pull the trigger.

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