How Schwab Transformed its On-Call Support: Page 2

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After analyzing the support calls, it turned out that the majority of calls did not require a developer to fix the issue. The first thing Wan did was offload these systems administration support duties to more appropriate groups, such as having operations staff reboot servers. More pivotal was the decision to offshore the after-hours first level support to India.

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But offshoring can have many challenges, so Wan made a special effort to fully involve the team. “The developers wanted to be hands-on in picking the offshore team, because they knew higher quality candidates would translate into less support work for them in the long run,” says Wan. “The developers conducted the interviews and then trained the new team, even making one trip to India. We then brought the entire offshore team to the States for more training and team assimilation.”

The developers entered a weekly rotation of providing second level support. They were already being compensated an additional 10% of salary for every week they were officially assigned on-call duties. Wan made some more subtle changes as well. “Frankly, I wanted to treat them with more humanity,” says Wan. “We arranged for telecommuting to give them more work/life balance. This way if they were working on a problem through the night, they didn’t have to worry about getting up early to commute to the office.”

But what if someone gets caught in a bad cycle of support calls and puts in significant extra time? “You can reward them with comp time or in special cases the reward can be financial,” said Wan.

Lavine chimed in with a good point. “You have to be careful not to create a downward spiral by creating incentives for heroics. If you see these bad support cycles continuing month over month, then there is a process problem that needs to be addressed and you really want to reward people for fixing the process, not the individual problems. You ideally want to encourage sound testing, deployment and support processes that reduce the calls and their severity.”

The team also spent a significant amount of time to build a support process around a Service Level Agreement, so that the business side was confident that support issues would be resolved quickly. This helps prevent circumvention of the process, because if a business person doesn’t trust the process, they pick up the phone and call the subject matter expert who may or may not be on call. Next page: Being Kind to Developers

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