Microspeak: The funnel


In the Customer Service and Support part of Microsoft, you will often see the term funnel. Here are some citations:

Effectively and efficiently solve issues by driving levers across the entire funnel.

Putting the Fun in Funnel.

Strengthening the front of the funnel.

The funnel is a way of viewing customer support engagements. For some reason, the funnel diagram is always drawn on its side with the mouth (the fat part) on the left and the stem (the narrow part) on the right. The width of the funnel represents the volume of customers at that stage of the support process, and the progress through the funnel represents how much time the customer has spent working on a solution.

At the mouth of the funnel are the customers who turn to built-in product help, online help, forums, Knowledge Base articles, blog entries, training materials, and similar resources. A significant percentage of customers get the help they need via self-help, where the solution to their problem existed even before they asked the question; they just had to find it.

The funnel narrows, and the customer picks up the phone or otherwise initiates a support incident. A support technician helps the customer via email, live chat, phone call, whatever. Another percentage of customers get their problem solved at this stage. It took longer, but the problem did get solved.

At the stem of the funnel are the customers whose problems remain unresolved, and now things get bad. The problem takes days to resolve, multiple engineers get involved, and maybe even a site visit is called for.

There is a concerted effort to improve the support resources at the front of the funnel. Of course, there are efforts to improve the support process at all of the stages, but the front of the funnel is a particular area of focus, since that’s where everybody starts out, and that’s where most users get their solutions. The term front of the funnel is in such heavy use it even gets its own acronym: FoF. Is it pronounced foff? Beats me.

Comments (11)
  1. Barbie says:

    Putting the Fun in Funnel… Do you pour it in ? Does it stick ?

    I wish I were a Microsoft support engineer. They have all the fun!

    </jest>

    BTW, a quick image search on funnel shows that a wide use on the web is for … sales and marketing!

  2. Stephen Griffin says:

    Is it pronounced foff?

    Yes – that's exactly how we pronounce it here. While we tend to make fun of it ourselves, it does provide a good metaphor for how cases get handled, and how our resources should be allocated. The FoF model is what justifies the time I get to spend blogging and developing support tools.

  3. DWalker59 says:

    "Driving levers across the entire funnel"?  That's one of the strangest phrases I have heard in a while.  

    The Act contact management system (called ACT! by its creators) uses a "sales funnel" model, with large numbers of prospects at varying levels of committment at the top, and the smaller number of closed sales presumably fall through the narrow end.  It's kind of like an inverted pyramid, I suppose.  I have never encountered a funnel on its side for any kind of metaphor…

  4. Maurits says:

    The term "sales funnel" is also in common use outside Microsoft.

  5. Chad says:

    I've always thought it was funny that the Microsoft support funnel is drawn sideways. Wouldn't the support incidents just spill back out? And why is it "front of the funnel" instead of the more intuitive "top of the funnel?"

    But, I guess thinking like this explains why I'm a support engineer instead of a manager.

  6. Ens says:

    It's sideways because time is the independent variable, whereas the number of customers remaining at that time is the dependent variable, and the independent variable is customarily on the x-axis.

    Then, just for effect or to show off that the support engineers also took first year calculus, we decide to rotate the line about the x axis so it looks like a funnel rather than a waterslide.

  7. James Schend says:

    The word funnel (and that identical diagram) is also widely used in web design to describe a multiple-step process. As users progress through each step, a certain percentage give up and leave the site.

  8. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    Light in the end of funnel?

  9. Cheong says:

    I've always thought it was funny that the Microsoft support funnel is drawn sideways. Wouldn't the support incidents just spill back out?

    I know. This is used to represent customers that got a problem, cannot find self help, but too lazy / think it doesn't worth the time to ask.

  10. lefty says:

    "customers that got a problem, cannot find self help, but too lazy / think it doesn't worth the time to ask"

    In other words, the FoF customers who "F"-off.

  11. EE says:

    Awesome Unix reference, just woke everyone in cubeville by laughing out loud!

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