Monday, July 20, 2009

FamilySearch Support

Lance McIntosh, North America Area Manager for FamilySearch Support Six years ago when Lance McIntosh started working at FamilySearch, the organization received very few support calls. Little wonder since the support phone number was not publicized, the support hours were limited to standard business hours, English was the only available language, and calls from outside the United States were toll calls.

McIntosh, North America Area Manager for FamilySearch Support, was given the assignment to build a world-class support organization to handle the growing set of FamilySearch online products. With 20 years of experience in support, he was well suited for the job. What made this assignment unique was the mandate to use volunteer labor.

FamilySearch’s sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well known for its young, white-shirted proselyting missionaries. In his presentation at the July UVPAFUG meeting, McIntosh informed us that the Church also assigns missionaries to various family history assignments.

An army of family history missionaries

Graph of FamilySearch Support Staff When McIntosh started in 2003, FamilySearch support had 5 missionaries and 35 employees. The number of employees (the light green line in the graph) dropped to a low of 10 in 2006. Missionaries grew slowly at first, only reaching 20 in 2005 (the dark green line). With the release of New FamilySearch (NFS) that number has grown tremendously since and is expected to hit 1100 this year. Supporting that number of missionaries takes some amount of paid staff, so the number of employees has also grown, although much, much slower, projected to reach just 15 this year. This small growth is only possible by using missionaries in many leadership positions.

Support handles four types of questions:

  • Product questions “How do I…”
    • FamilySearch.org
    • PAF
    • CD products (which are being phased out)
    • FamilySearch Indexing
    • Family History Center (FHC) operations (my uncle and aunt are missionaries in this area of support)
  • Installation questions
  • Policy questions
  • Research questions

Support for FamilySearch products is available to both members of the Church and non-members, alike.

There are 3 levels of Support for Family History: Church Headquarters Support, Area Support, Local SupportLevels of Support

There are three levels of support.

1.  Local Support

At the local level, support is provided by family history consultants and family history centers. “Did you consultants know you were part of FamilySearch support?” queried McIntosh. “There’s no way we could handle the load without you.” In fact, the 2006 update to the Family History Work section (nine) of the Church Handbook re-centered the Church’s family history support on consultants. Family history center directors have felt threatened because centers are no longer the focus. “We feel strongly that the consultant is the key.” About 50,000 individuals currently work in this level of support.

2.  Area Support

There are 1,100 volunteer missionaries serving in about 45 countries around the world. Some serve in the 14 Area Support offices scattered across the globe. Others serve in their very own homes. Most are older, retired individuals. FamilySearch uses a sophisticated phone system that routes calls to missionaries home phones when they are signed in to take calls. The system also utilizes the location of callers so that both parties to each call speak the same language.

  • The system first tries to connect the caller to someone in the same country.
  • If there are no support personnel available in the same country, the system next tries to route the call to a country that speaks the same language.
  • If that is not possible, it next routes the call to a secondary language. For example, many Portuguese speakers are able to communicate in Spanish.
  • Next the system asks the caller if English is OK, and routes the call to an English speaking person.
  • Finally, the system will advise the caller that no one is available to take the call and asks if the caller would like to leave a message and receive a call back.

3.  Headquarters Support

If Area Support is not able to provide an answer, the issue can be escalated to Headquarters Support. Headquarters Support is composed of about 40 individuals, a mixture of employees and missionaries. These missionaries are usually very technical, sometimes 19 years old or in their 20s.

McIntosh then compared the support experience today with that of six years ago. The support e-mail address and telephone numbers are widely publicized (see “Getting Help,” below). Support is available around the clock, in every major language. Toll-free numbers are available for 90 countries.

Getting Help

1.  Self Help

When you need assistance, FamilySearch prefers that you first try to help yourself. Both the old FamilySearch.org Product Support page and the NFS Help Center allow users to type questions and get answers from a knowledge base. This is the same knowledge base used by Area Support when they help you. See an example of using the Product Support page on the old FamilySearch.org website.

McIntosh called for a show of hands from those who had NFS accounts, and then a show of hands from those who had used the help center. Amazingly, only about half of those with NFS accounts had used it. For any product that allows public access to their internal knowledge base, I always prefer self help. I’m technical enough that when I get stumped, it’s usually because of something well beyond first-level support staff’s capabilities. I don’t have enough patience to shepherd an issue through the levels of support necessary to get the right answer.

Self help: very much recommended.

FamilySearch Help Center has a new tab, 'Local Assistance' 2.  Family History Consultants

Most family history consultants are members of the Church and are given the assignment by leaders of their ward. Some family history consultants are not Church members, but are community volunteers who help staff FHCs.

Similarly, Church members can obtain assistance from consultants within their ward and anyone can obtain assistance from consultant by visiting a FHC. This past week FamilySearch added a new tab to the NFS Help Center. The new Local Assistance tab (see the graphic to the right) lists the names and contact information for consultants within your ward.

3.  E-mail/Web Form 

I’m not certain McIntosh expressed a preference between using e-mail and telephone support. Companies seem to prefer e-mail over phone calls because the per-incident cost is cheaper. When I do have to contact a support organization, I prefer e-mail over telephone calls. That way nothing is lost in translation as my incident is escalated up a support organization.

McIntosh did express a preference that NFS questions be submitted through the Help Center instead of the e-mail address (support@familysearch.org) because the Help Center captures and sends additional information about the context in which you were working. This additional information might be necessary to resolve your issue. Don Snow, the UVPAFUG officer conducting the meeting complained that using the Help Center doesn’t carbon a copy of the issue back to your e-mail address. Another audience member suggested relying on the My Cases tab of the Help Center (partially visible in the graphic, above) to track your support cases.

4.  Telephone

The toll-free number for FamilySearch Support within the United States and Canada is 1-866-406-1830. The number is derived from the date that the Church was organized (April 6, 1830). McIntosh had apparently been questioned before about why the order of the numerals didn’t follow the United States genealogical standard for dates. He deftly sidestepped the issue by declaring that we couldn’t blame him for the choice, as he hadn’t chosen the number.

All the world-wide toll-free numbers as well as the e-mail address can be found online at contact.familysearch.org .

Family History Consultants are Key!Registered Consultants

McIntosh reminded family history consultants that they needed to register. He pointed out that registered consultants received all these perks:

  • News
  • Training
  • Information and tips
  • Resources
  • E-mail memos
  • Links to past memos
  • Early access to NFS

McIntosh asked the people not register just to get NFS access. Remember, you will be listed a a consultant to others using NFS. On the other hand, he said, if you are a de facto consultant, go ahead and register. That is to say, if because of knowledge or prior callings you are acting in the capacity of a consultant, you should go ahead and register and go through the training so that the assistance you give to others is correct.

McIntosh showed us the http://consultant.familysearch.org web page and the registration form, which is accessed from the left side of the page. To change your information, register again. It won’t produce a duplicate. It will overwrite the old. If you change wards, it won’t automatically change you. You must register again to change it. They have asked the Church to add features to their membership software so that this isn’t necessary, but have no control over if and when this might happen.

The right-hand side of the http://consultant.familysearch.org web page leads to the New.FamilySearch.org Utah and Idaho Release website. McIntosh told us that barely half of the Church, by volume, had switched to NFS and both the system and the support organization had to handle the upcoming volume. Someone in the audience asked about the Provo temple and I heard say that all temples were then using the new NFS ordinance recording system. I may have misheard, as all temples are now capable of accepting NFS Family Ordinance Requests (FORs), but not all temples are using the new Ordinance Recording System (ORS). (See “NFS Rollout News: Ron Tanner Presentation.”)

While FamilySearch used to roll entire temple district live all at once, with Logan, it was spread out over a month. The rest of temples were expected to work that way. Since then, it was announced that all of the Boise temple district would roll live today, 20 July 2009.

McIntosh said that the exact schedule and order of remaining temples has not been established yet, but that the goal is to have them all done “soon.”

Closing Bonus

In closing McIntosh announced that there is a current opportunity for members of the Church to serve as FamilySearch Support missionaries. While some part-time missionary opportunities prescribe a minimum of 8 hours of service per week, FamilySearch Support requires at least 12 to 15 hours. The Church website states that a minimum commitment of 12 months is needed; McIntosh said six.

As mentioned, the service is provided from your own home, answering questions about family history products and software by responding to phone calls and e-mails. For more information, click here.


Images, in order of appearance:

  • Lance McIntosh photograph, photographer unknown, FamilyHistoryExpos.com (http://www.familyhistoryexpos.com/events/presenter.php?sid=192&&eid=45 : accessed 18 July 2009).
  • Photograph of missionaries on Temple Square, Christina Smith, photographer, Ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2006, 26-7 (http://lds.org/gospellibrary/pdfmagazine/0,7779,592-6-1-2006,00.html#).
  • Graph of support staff prepared by the Ancestry Insider.
  • Diagram showing three levels of support, slide 158, “How Consultants Support the New FamilySearch,” online training module, FamilySearch.org  (http://familysearch.org : accessed 18 July 2009); available to family history consultants in the New FamilySearch Help Center > Training & Resources > E-Learning Courses.
  • Detail from New FamilySearch Help Center, FamilySearch.org (http://familysearch.org : accessed 18 July 2009); copyright Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
  • “Family History Consultants are Key!” slide 166, “How Consultants Support the New FamilySearch,” online training module, FamilySearch.org (http:/familysearch.org : accessed 18 July 2009); available to family history consultants in the New FamilySearch Help Center > Training & Resources > E-Learning Courses.

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