Tackling Annual Planning for Support Teams

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 7 min read

Annual planning doesn’t need to be something that you look towards every year with dread.

Annual planning, especially for support teams, can take a back seat to other, more pressing issues. When you’ve got a ton of tickets coming into the queue, your team needs to take vacations, and you have customer insights that you need to follow up on, it may feel overwhelming to take time out of your day to figure out how the future looks. How can you think about the future when you still need to get through the here and now?

Companies that spend energy on driving their customer experience report revenues 4-8% higher than their competitors. There is value in taking time out of your day now to create a brighter future.

The strategy that we’ll be talking about today is beneficial because it can be broken into segments, thus making it perfect for busy support professionals without bountiful time to spare. You’ll learn a few different techniques that you can use to think about strategy and evaluate what is essential for your team and you as their leader.

You don’t need to do each of these steps in the same day, let alone the same week. At the end of this blog post, you will have the tools needed to create a well-researched, organized, and fleshed-out annual plan to carry you through to success in the next fiscal year.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can apply this to planning outside of support, at a company-wide level, or even in your personal life.

careerDive into your data

The first thing you need to do before taking any steps into the future is to figure out where you are in the present. Look at the data around your support team’s performance, customer journey, and the metrics of any customer-facing groups and content. Just like if you were building a bridge, you’d want to have a view of the landscape: where are your metaphorical dips, mountains, and swamps? A few pieces of data to start with are:

  • How much volume are you doing each day? How many customers are reaching out?
  • What channels are most and least popular, and how much volume are you receiving through each of them?
  • What’s the average value of your customers that use your support team?
  • What’s the range of the value of customers using your support team?
  • What is your NPS score?
  • What is your CSAT score?
  • What are the top three causes of negative reviews from your customers?
  • What are the top three things that your customers love about your product? Your services?
  • What does your customer journey look like, and which touchpoints do your customer support team have involvement in?

Reviewing all of this should give you a holistic view of how your team performs and what opportunities you have. Having all of these data points fresh in your mind will help during the next step because it will give you a bit of reality to which to attach all of your dreams.

careerMake a wishlist

How often do you let yourself daydream? It might not be something that you’ve allowed yourself to do professionally for a long time, but for this strategy, it’s critical. In an ideal world, where restraints like salary, hiring budgets, engineering hours, and software contracts didn’t exist, what would your support team look like?

If your team could have any number of roles on it, could use any channels, could invest in any software, where would it be in a year? Let your imagination run wild. Write down everything that comes to mind, even if it seems silly or unrealistic. Do you think your team would perform better if they had cupcakes delivered to them every day? Write it down. You won’t use everything in your annual plan, so let yourself get as creative as you want to. If you ever did a “free write” in a college or high school writing class, this is exactly like that.

If it feels helpful to you, feel free to set a timer, but we’ve always preferred to just go until the tank is empty.

Ask your team

Unless you are working on a one-person team, you will not be the only individual that this plan affects. Ask the other members of your team what they care about or think is necessary. Try to give them time to think about it and provide you with insights. If you ask them off the cuff and expect for them to have an answer right away, you might not get as many meaningful or impactful responses.

Asking is important for another reason outside of making sure that you’ve considered everyone’s perspectives. When asked what the most important thing a manager or a company could do that would help them be successful was, most respondents cited that receiving recognition was the most valuable. When you ask your team what they think, you show them that you recognize and value their opinions. Get them involved in this process to help your team feel valued and have the most detailed plan you can get.

annual planningBreak it down

You’ve hopefully got a pretty sizeable list between your wishlist and the wishlists of your team members. Start to break them down into buckets. For instance, anything related to chat support could be in one bucket, and anything related to support tooling or operations in another. There is no limit to the number of buckets you can have; just make sure that they are clear and make sense for your team.

After you’ve broken all of your items into buckets, start to break them down into time-needs too. For instance, will the project take three months, one year, three years, or a lifetime to complete? Despite this blog post just being about the immediate annual planning, you can still keep your three year and lifetime lists for future planning activities.

Circle four from the three-month list and one from the one year list that you think would be the most impactful for your team as it currently stands. Some teams choose to do this in a theme and only select items from, for example, the chat support bucket.

Here are a few other ways to break it down:

  • An item from four different buckets, and one year-long project that encompasses all of them
  • Every item from the same bucket
  • Every item from a different bucket
  • Eight various three-month projects and no annual project
  • Three various annual projects and no three-month projects

Pick something that works well for your team’s structure and how your company currently handles initiative execution. Try to ask for additional feedback for your team before you nail anything down.

annual planningMindmap

For each of these different initiatives, set a timeline. For instance, if you chose four three-month projects, assign them to each of the separate quarters of the fiscal year, and then put your annual plan for completion at the end of the year.

Once you’ve set a timeline, you’re going to do another deep brainstorm.

For each initiative, write down all of the steps you must take and the tasks you must complete to get you to the end goal. The more detailed, the better.

For instance, if one of your annual plans was to switch off of your helpdesk, you might have a list that looked like:

  • Create a list of must-have features and nice-to-have features
  • Create a list of items that we don’t currently have and would like
  • Count how many users we have and how many admins we need
  • Create a list of tags and workflows that we currently have
  • Evaluate whether we’d want to separate documentation or keep it tied into our helpdesk
  • Evaluate integrations
  • Understand options for historical data
  • Sign a contract
  • Move over users
  • Move over workflows and tags
  • Move over historical data
  • Transition 25% of volume
  • Transition 50% of volume
  • Transition 100% of volume
  • Cancel our plan with our original helpdesk.
  • Evaluate success and savings
  • Write post-mortem for the project

Ideally, the list should be even more detailed than that. After you’ve created one for the first initiative, move through all the rest. Then, add due dates for each of those steps within the timeline you set at the beginning of this step.

So, for instance, if this initiative was your annual plan, you might set the list to look like this:

  • 1/15: Create a list of must-have features and nice-to-have features
  • 1/15: Create a list of items that we don’t currently have and would like
  • 2/10: Count how many users we have and how many admins we need
  • 2/21: Create a list of tags and workflows that we currently have
  • 3/10: Evaluate whether we’d want to separate documentation or keep it tied into our helpdesk
  • 3/21: Evaluate integrations
  • 4/10: Understand options for historical data
  • 4/21: Sign a contract
  • 5/15: Move over users
  • 5/21: Move over workflows and tags
  • 6/15: Move over historical data
  • 7/15: Transition 25% of volume
  • 8/15: Transition 50% of volume
  • 9/15: Transition 100% of volume
  • 10/21: Cancel our plan with our original helpdesk.
  • 11/15: Evaluate success and savings
  • 12/10: Write post-mortem for the project

It’s okay if you don’t live up to every deadline that you set for your team, but having something set in stone can be a helpful motivator for moving forward on projects. If setting individual dates is too stringent, try setting the due date as a percentage through the quarter or period you’ve given yourself to complete it.

From there, create a Google Doc or easily-accessible visual aid that shows the initiatives, the deadlines, and who will be responsible for accomplishing them.

Voila. You’ve created an annual plan.

annual planning
Keep going

That felt pretty good, right? The annual planning is mostly done now—it’s all upkeep from here.

Each month, go back to the document or visualization you created and evaluate how you are doing against your plans. If you are missing targets, it may mean that you set your goals too high. If you’re zooming past everything you set, it may mean that there’s extra room to add on.

It’s okay when things change, but each time you go through and change something, evaluate why you are doing so. How does the change impact the rest of your goals? What needs to shift to accommodate these changes? As you get into the swing of things and have done a few rounds of shifts and evaluations, it will become second nature—you’ll be a planning machine!

annual planningYou did it!

Following these six steps, you’ve created a well-planned, realistic, ever-evolving annual plan that fits the needs of you, your team, and your company.

You broke down each step to make the overall process less overwhelming and make the individual initiatives much more custom-tailored to your team’s needs. Annual planning doesn’t need to be something that you look towards every year with dread. Instead, evaluate what works and what doesn’t and couch your plans in reality; you’ll look forward with excitement rather than fear to the times you get to daydream.


How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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