What is tiered support?
Tiered support is about organizing a support center into different levels to handle incoming support queries in the most efficient and effective manner possible. If you employ a good combination of staffing, automation, and systems at every level, filtering your support through different tiers could be extremely useful for multiple reasons.
It helps you address your customers’ needs in a strategic manner and empowers your customers to be self-sufficient and make use of self-service tools wherever possible. It also makes it possible for your support team to solve simple, repetitive, or minor issues that can be easily dealt with in the very first interaction. It also helps you establish a timeline and protocol for dealing with complex problems, thus helping you optimize KPIs. Tiered support also helps you improve employee training, upward mobility, as well as employee retention by providing clarity of standards. It even creates opportunities for feedback and suggestions to facilitate continued development.
It could even reduce your costs and help you reduce your average response time and your average resolution time, allowing you to deliver a better experience to your customers.
The tiered support structure has been in use for upwards of thirty years and has been employed in internal support centers (help desks or service desks) as well as externally facing customer support centers (serving customers that buy an organization’s products or services).
All support tiers need to follow and support a common support center vision, mission, and goals and carry out their activities in a coordinated fashion, in accordance with an agreed set of policies and procedures - your standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The number of tiers, and whom the teams would report to would vary depending on the organization, its management style, and its culture.
Why should you consider using a tiered support structure?
The whole point of implementing a tiered structure to the way you organize your teams is based on the idea that it would be more effective to filter queries coming into your support team, so that the majority of the issues, which tend to be simpl and repetitive in nature and easy to solve, are dealt with by automation (Tier 0), or less expensive generalist resources (Tier 1), while the few complex issues which tend to be rather difficult to solve, and require more expensive resources with greater levels of expertise are filtered and then sent along to more specialized functions (Tier 2, or if necessary, Tier 3).
What does the tiered support structure look like?
This usually consists of automation and self-service tools that are available 24/7 and enable customers to solve basic and repetitive problems on their own, without needing assistance from live agents.
This is the front-line support team and is usually made up of technical generalists that can handle common incidents and requests that could not be resolved by the Tier 0 self-service system.
This is the back-line support team that intercepts and handles escalations. It usually is a back-line senior analyst team within the support center. It could also be a separate support team or teams outside of but supporting the front-line support team. This team is usually staffed with a smaller number of senior support technicians.
This is usually made up of technical and application support teams. They are highly specialized support groups and usually reside outside the domain of the support center. There are multiple teams that are usually structured according to technology and applications.
What are the advantages of tiered support?
The advantages of tiered support are:
It is good for repetitive issues
Tiered support is rather effective if a lot of incoming issues are recurring and easy to resolve, for example: simple questions, requests, etc. Around 80% of the queries that most companies get tend to be repetitive and can be handled with automated self-service tools like chatbots, especially if they employ artificial intelligence.
It does need a lot of training
Tiered support is a very well known and popularly used approach. New support teams won’t require a whole lot of training when you use this approach.
Specialists get to focus on complex issues
Under the tiered support model, automated toos and generalists take care of the simple issues, thus enabling specialists (who are more expensive for the company) to focus purely on the complex issues that actually require their attention. They won’t need to waste their time dealing with basic and minor issues.
It is easy to find and hire generalists
It is quite easy and affordable to find, hire, train, and even outsource generalist support agents with basic skills and knowledge (who will be taking care of the majority of your support tickets).
Fits well with most companies
Tiered support tends to fit rather well with the structure of most companies, while swarming is a fairly new concept and most traditional support teams are not compatible with it right off the bat.
What are the disadvantages of tiered support?
The disadvantages of tiered support are:
The lowest tier can be overworked
Tier 0 or Tier 1 might get flooded with basic queries and get overworked. Fortunately, automated tools like chatbots can help deal with this issue.
Less knowledge sharing
The tiers tend to be siloed. So a Tier 1 agent would not really learn or gain any knowledge or skills from higher-tier agents if they don’t actively go and see how these agents are solving the issue.
Tiers and strict allowance areas could reduce the ownership and accountability that support agents feel. They might just start pushing issues off to other tiers so that they don’t have to deal with those issues themselves.
Not possible for small teams
If you have a very small team, say just 4 people, you probably don’t have layers of people who have different skill sets. So you can’t really have a tiered support structure in place in such situations.