5 Reasons to consolidate support tiers

 It is finally time to change the tiered support structure! In this day in age of customer service, it’s time to change the game. The support team is as strong as its weakest link. The front-line analysts are no longer equipped with the knowledge to support customers because customers are now more informed with having the internet at their fingertips. They are now aware of what is possible and they are no longer accepting anything less than answers to their questions. The knowledge is kept on the second line of defense, but how is this helping the front-line analyst? Yes, knowledge management has come a long way, but it is still desirable to have the knowledge in the minds of the first line analyst. Also, the process should be clear that tier 2 must contribute to inputting knowledge into the knowledgebase. When an analyst searches the knowledgebase for answers WILL increase the mean time to resolve customers’ problems. If tier 1 and tier 2 were on one team, then tier 2 must be willing to input information into the knowledgebase because they should do what needs to be done to support their team members. Today this isn’t happening because tier 2 doesn’t realize the significance of the knowledgebase to agents. Also, if it was under one manager, they could make the process mandatory and ensure its completion. If each team has their own manager, the emphasis on following the process would not be the same for each manager. The way to combat this is by integrating tier 1 and tier 2 level staff.

The tiers are arranged based on the teams’ responsibility. Tier 1 supports the customer by answering and resolving the first call from customers. They do this either by phone, walk-in or deskside. Tier 2 supports the customer by designing, building and repairing the IT infrastructure. The common denominator is both tiers at the end of the day are there to support the customer.  Yes, the pay rate for the tiers should be different because the skills needed to do the job are different, but the end goal is the same.

Each tier is evaluated on their own merit. The managers for each of the teams only focus on how each of their own teams perform and not about the finished product or the customers. The unfortunate part is that even if each team performs well independently, that doesn’t mean the finished product will be complete or even if the customers will be satisfied. The customers don’t care who answers their questions, they just want the answer to their question on the first call without having to get a call back. Here are 5 reasons why it makes sense to combine tier 1 and tier 2.

Build Team Collaboration

Mature organizations will have more “how to” questions than break-fix tickets. This means the product or application is functioning properly. Tier 2 relies on information they receive from tier 1 to improve the products and applications, and tier 1 relies on tier 2 for troubleshooting steps to resolve the customers’ problems on the first call. Having both tier 1 and tier 2 on one team will build a great working relationship to accomplish the main task of resolving customers’ problems.

The support teams must understand they are part of a bigger team whose sole responsibility is to support the customers regardless of what tier they represent. This should not be a blame game- regardless of who is at fault, but should be an opportunity to fix the process. Each team must rely on each other to get the job done. If the teams are together then they can become closer just through personal interactions.

Reducing the Mean Time to Resolve Tickets

The two IT teams that are directly impacted by having a great working relationship is between the service desk and tier 2. A common complaint from service desk managers is “Tier 2 does not listen to the service desk concerning customers’ problems. Issues are raised to tier 2 and they fall on deaf ears. Problem tickets are taking weeks and even months to resolve and management seems not to care.” The longer a ticket is open the more a customer is frustrated with the level of support they receive from the front-line staff, regardless of which tier owns the ticket. This leads to a reduction in customer service from the customers.

Let’s take a common scenario when a customer’s problem is not resolved on the first call: a ticket is referred to tier 2 since tier 2 doesn’t take calls (which I think is a bad idea) because they are “too busy” to take calls. Then tier 2 contacts tier 1 instead of the customer to ask tier 1 questions, which tier 1 did not get from the customer on the first call. Tier 1 calls back the customer and if the customer is available at the time they call then they can get the questions answered. If the customer is not available or they do not have time to work on the problem at that time, then another call back is necessary or the customer must call back in to the service desk. The alternative is having tier 1 and tier 2 on the same team. Tier 1 can walk over or just call tier 2 to get the answer to resolve the problem. This will eliminate playing phone tag with the customer. The customers’ frustration is now eliminated because the problem is resolved on the first call.

Learn From Each Other

If both tier 1 and tier 2 were on one team, then they will have more opportunities to learn from each other. They can learn from each other through osmosis because of the close working relationship. Also, Tier 2 would be willing to show tier 1 how they fixed the problem because they are now on one team.

The service desk can be the minor-league team, that can eventually be promoted to the major league which is tier 2. The service desk agents already understand the technology, the culture and has a working relationship with tier 2. If you hire someone from the outside they will have to adapt to the culture and learn the technology. This will take away the time tier 2 staff should contribute to the team.

The ability for an agent to resolve customers’ problems on the first call is based on knowledge and privileges. That’s why it is important to move all rights and privileges down to the lowest common denominator, the front-line, to increase the first call closure and reduce cost. The problem is that management is reluctant to give tier 1 additional privileges due to them not trusting the agents to do the “right thing” with the rights. If tier 1 and tier 2 are together, the rights are then given to the same team.

Reduce Cost

Reduction in the number of recurring incidents equals a reduction in cost. Therefore, reducing the overall number of tickets will equate to the reduction in support staff which includes tier 1 and tier 2.  More tickets being referred to tier 2 because of the lack of knowledge on tier 1 equates to the hiring of additional, higher priced tier 2 staff, not to mention the extra cost in time for agents to call back customers. This is the same price per call if a customer calls into the service desk versus a customer having to be called back by an agent.

IT support is put into its own silo and this is the same for most of engineering teams. The engineering team and the service desk need to be funded together. The cost savings should be a combination of the service desk and the engineering team. The reduction will be a combination of the reduced amount of calls to the service desk from the customers and the reduction of calls being referred to tier 2 from tier 1.

Staffing Assistance

If there is a shortage of tier 1 staff, then tier 2 can assist with answering calls from customers, or they can assist with calling customers back. This should be a temporary arrangement due to the pay differentiation between tier 1 and tier 2, but it is an option when there is a shortage of staff. Also, tier 1 can assist with minor engineering issues when there is a shortage on tier 2.

In Conclusion

Organizations are always trying to find ways to cut IT expenditures. One way this can be achieved is by having tier 1 and tier 2 report to the same manager. The first way you can save money is by only requiring one manager instead of two managers. The second way is the reduction in the number of tickets into the service desk will lead to a reduction in the number of employees required to staff tier 1 and tier 2.  When people are on one team they are more willing to assist with anything to ensure each person is successful. The customer will benefit from combining the tiers by having their problems resolved on the first call.


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