Cutting backlogs: The Key to a great Customer Experience


For the first time in the last five years, we didn’t see a huge amount of requests to help dig out of backlogs. That means one of two things: (1) our article from 2019 is working, or (2) your systems are helping you to become more proactive.


If you’re here, it’s likely you have a backlog, think one is coming or you’re trying to get ahead of one. Either way, I have answers.


What is a backlog?

A backlog is an influx of work that’s built over time. These things are sneaky. One day you’re 10 tickets behind, the following day, 30 and by the end of the week over 100 tickets behind. Your employees are burned out and you’re fresh out of ideas. How did you get here?


I’m no mathematician, but once you know that you can’t handle what’s coming your way each day, you’re headed for trouble. How would you know? You’ll have to measure the number of tickets created each day and why.


I’ll tell you how to know a backlog is coming and how to prevent them moving forward.


Here we go….


How to know if you’re heading for towards a backlog

You’ll know if you’re heading to Backlog City if your workload is greater than your capacity. Right now that makes no sense, but give me 2 more minutes, and I’ll make it plain.


There are two things you will need to know if to see where you’re going.


1. Know how many tickets are created daily (measuring workload)

Most people spend exactly zero minutes thinking about the number of tickets coming in each day, and here is where the problem lies. There are only so many hours in a day. You will have to estimate (guess, predict and yes, assume) how much work needs to be done day in and day out. That will also come to be known as your forecast.


In larger companies, this is handled by the Workforce Management team. They usually handle forecasting, calculating headcount, scheduling, reporting, tracking and analysis. If you work in a small company and you’re a CX leader, they think this should be you… and you may not have even known this role existed.


I don’t want to bore you with preaching workforce management, but it’s key and critical to the success of your customer experience and your employees. It is the one thing that will move you from fire fighting to fire prevention. WFM will help you to get the right people, in the right place, at the right time.


Once you know how much work is coming in, you will need to figure out how many people you need to do the work.


2. Calculate your headcount requirements

When trying to figure out how many people you’ll need to do the work, you will need to know how long it takes to do the work. This is known as handle time. You can do an old school time study, or if your CRM is fancy enough, run a report to see (on average) how long it takes to resolve a customer issue.

Once you know that, you’ll do some back of the napkin math. Yes, there are far more sophisticated ways to do this math, but if you’re in a conundrum, this will help. Simply multiply your forecast by your handle time. This will give you your workload. I prefer to work with hours, so if you’re working in minutes, divide by 60 and if you're working with seconds, divide by 3,600.


Ok, so we know how many hours of work need to get done each day.


3. Calculate your capacity

But, how many people do you have working with you today? Whatever that number is multiply that by 7.5 (let’s assume you give your team breaks) if they work a full day. If not, add up all the hours in your day. This is your capacity.


If your workload is greater than your capacity, you’re going to hit a backlog, if you haven't already.



How do you reduce a backlog

To reduce a backlog, you will need to make up for the difference between your workload and capacity by way of additional support from other departments or overtime from your current team, as short term solutions.


Longer term solutions will include understanding what’s driving the volume and working strategically and cross functionally to get ahead of future spikes by way of self service, better communication and training or testing of customer impacting changes with the customer service team to reduce volume.



Backlog prevention

The best way to prevent a backlog is with workforce management and communication. Know your workload. Know your capacity and open the lines of communication with the business to avoid being in this situation.


Backlogs can be very expensive. You’ll pay the cost of training additional resources, the cost of the bad customer experience and the cost of worn out employees.


Keep your eye on your metrics and simply avoid them altogether.