My Dear Aunt Sally Taught Me How to Analyze My Business

July 20, 2010

My Dear Aunt Sally is a mnemonic used to remember the order of operations in basic math. MDAS = Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. When I was 9, “My Dear Aunt Sally” was a bit of magic. It took something seemingly unattainable – the complexity of mathematics – and brought it completely within my grasp. Suddenly, I knew to add and subtract only after multiplying and dividing. I could even calculate batting averages in baseball. Seems funny now, but it was a big step for me.

For too long, analyzing your business has been as equally unattainable, residing exclusively in the odd world that we know as Business Intelligence; a world inhabited by experts with expert tools. You know the drill: get a hold of all of your marketing, sales, eCommerce, support, financial, and other data; buy complex technology to run the complex math; and then hire the appropriate expert to figure out the magic formula that will answer your business questions.

Here’s the math on that approach: less than a 25 percent chance of actually getting an answer, and a greater than 50 percent chance that your business will have shifted by the time you get it.

We can all make Aunt Sally proud by changing our approach. Let’s not use the mystery of complexity as an excuse to avoid measuring our business. Let’s focus on the basic math, and let’s do it ourselves.

It’s easier than ever to access the data that drives your business: website traffic, marketing campaigns, customer support interactions, product usage, and financial performance, not in its raw form, but in dashboards just a mouse-click away. The bottom line: you can gain tremendous insight into your business using only the skills My Dear Aunt Sally taught you.

Let’s take a look at your help desk with GoodData for Zendesk as an example of how to measure your business. Customer support might not get the big analytics bucks that your marketing or IT groups do, but if you follow some basic math, you can measure this part of your business, thrill your boss, and maybe even show-up your smarty-pants colleagues. So let’s make 3 basic charts that tell you a lot about your help desk that you might not know.

1. Let’s count stuff! Do you know how your tickets break down by group and how that’s changed over time? Good news here: ticket volume is growing (more customers!), as is the percentage handled by Level 1 support (cheaper cost of support!)

2. Let’s predict our backlog! We’re stepping things up with some subtraction and division here. You can actually predict your company’s backlog in help desk tickets. Backlog = (# of unsolved tickets) / (average solved per week). Uh oh. Check out the bright red box. Even a second-grader can tell you that there is a problem with tickets that go to your Development group. Their backlog is stretching out. I recommend re-stocking the fridge with Red Bull.

3. Extra Credit: Let’s Do Ratios! Since your team prides itself on closing half of all its tickets in 12 hours, let’s look at your closing ratio. Closing ratio is (# of tickets closed in 12 hours) / (# of closed tickets). You know you’re well above that goal overall. But look at that ratio across Group and Day — looks like Level 2 is over-performing during the week and struggling during the weekend. Maybe it’s time to get one of those Level 1 guys working on Level 2 issues on the weekends.

These are just a few simple examples of how to analyze your help desk with basic math. You can do this – and a whole lot more – with GoodData for Zendesk, a free dashboarding and advanced reporting service for all Zendesk Plus+ customers. GoodData does all the heavy lifting for you, letting you focus on improving your customer support instead of struggling with BI.

When you’re ready, you can dig deeper and do some high school and college math, but please do Aunt Sally proud and make sure you multiply before you subtract.

Sam Boonin is the vice president of marketing at GoodData. He can still do long division by hand.