The technology industry is changing all around us, especially when it comes to customer expectations. Instead of purchasing new technology, customers are purchasing solutions with the added requirement that support organizations be responsible for facilitating their success. Companies that recognize these changes and embrace them in their day-to-day operations are going to be the ones that survive and thrive in this new environment, but how can this be achieved?
In my on-demand webinar, “Support Levels: To Tier or Not To Tier,” I talk about the two main service models that support organizations are currently utilizing to improve the customer experience and help drive customer success: the tiered, or “escalation,” model and the non-tiered “collaboration” model. I share recent industry metrics as well as customer success stories of organizations that made the transition from a tiered to a non-tiered model, as well as show just how easy it is for your company to make the change.
The Escalation Model
Since the early days of the industry, most organizations have existed in this model, which consists of different levels, or “tiers,” of support.
Customer issues are funneled through the different tiers if no immediate resolution can be found.
Tier 1 is primarily made up of entry-level personnel who address new issues as they come in and seek out a resolution. If a resolution can’t be found, the case is then escalated to Tier 2 personnel, then on to Tier 3, and so on and so forth, if a problem continues to remain unsolved. Some companies I work with have as many as 6 different tiers within their organization, and when support has exhausted all options, the case is then reassigned to the engineering department. This model is quickly becoming less ideal for companies, their employees, and their customers.
Customers are getting increasingly frustrated in having to re-explain their problem to a new support representative each time they are transferred, which also contributes to a longer wait for a solution. This frustration can also be attributed to the “lack of ownership” customers can experience when dealing with support staff, where each time a case is transferred, the original owner no longer maintains responsibility and the customer is left to talk to multiple people throughout the support process.
Support employees are also becoming unmotivated, as their only promise of reward is moving up the escalation path through the support tiers. They start in Tier 1 and eventually become familiar with the technology, but once they start Tier 2, they have to start the learning process over again with even more details about the products they're supporting. This system is neither ideal for the employee who performs these procedures nor the customer who has to experience their results.
Highs and Lows
Companies who are currently using the tiered method of support may start to feel the impact of lost customers, low customer satisfaction, and decreasing loyalty numbers. They also will find that high amounts of time and money are being spent on training new employees, tools, and employee replacement due to attrition.
While customers understand the inevitability of technical issues, overall they want to expend minimal effort to resolve them. When they are forced to expend more effort than they expect, they will leave. At TSIA, we are seeing more organizations measuring customer effort scores, and using that as a true measurement of customer satisfaction. Our support services benchmark survey covers over 100 practices and metrics, and it was through this data that I was able to take a snapshot of members who are currently using the tiered, or escalation, support model.
Overall, these numbers don’t seem too bad, but we must ask ourselves if they are good enough to maintain customer loyalty, motivate employees, and grow company performance.
The Collaboration Model
Social media has had a tremendous impact on how both customers and internal support staff work and interact with each other, and as a society, we collaborate more today than we ever have before. With the growing trend of social media and increased customer expectations, technology support providers need to develop a collaborative support model that will allow them to use these new tools and methods to their advantage by actively communicating with customers and internal staff.
The collaboration model resembles a web, where everyone works together to resolve customer issues.
Collaboration, also known as “swarming,” allows multiple support employees and other staff to come together to solve customer issues. The highs and lows of this model are actually reversed when compared to the tiered approach. Knowledge that is being shared within the organization is leading to a far more educated support staff, and the time for that education to be obtained is being reduced. Before, it could take months, or even years, for someone to become a Tier 3 employee, but in the collaboration model, that time is now down to a few weeks or months. This is leading to a far more motivated workforce with less burnouts and a much higher sense of commitment to the company.
Customers are also responding positively to this change, as they receive a more personal touch and are no longer moved up and down the chain of communication. All of this is leading to better company performance, as can be seen in this snapshot of companies using the collaborative model, focusing on metrics related to the customer, the company, and the employee.
In each case, those performance numbers were better. We see an 11% increase in loyalty, a 13% increase in profit margin, far lower attrition, and 4.48 out of 5 for customer satisfaction.
While the collaboration model might not be right for every company, I do feel it is right for most companies. It may seem like a dramatic cultural shift, but it is actually not hard to refine the behavior of your employees if you reward teamwork and encourage them to collaborate with your customers to help them achieve success.
Watch the full on-demand webinar to learn more about just how easy it is for your company to make the switch from a tiered escalation model to a collaborative, non-tiered support model.
About the Author
Judith Platz is vice president of research, Customer Success and Support Services, for TSIA. During her over 25 years of customer support experience, she has been responsible for supervising and coordinating multiple functional, strategic, organizational development and technical work streams, including technical support, account management, business consulting, implementation management, and training. Judith can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.