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Tiered Customer Support is Dead, and that’s good for business!

by Robert C. Johnson, CEO of TeamSupport

Summary: To improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and increase revenue, get rid of tiered support. Collaborative, team-based customer support reduces costs by improving efficiency, reducing duplicate effort, and increasing customer satisfaction.  

Anyone who has ever contacted customer support has inevitably experienced the dreaded hand-off “let me transfer you to…”. Whether it’s another department, manager, or higher “tier” of support, it usually results in added frustration as you repeat your name and explain your issue to every person you speak with.

Unfortunately, this is standard practice in support environments, despite the irritation to customers and the sheer inefficiency of it. This practice is known as tiered support, and not only is it frustrating for customers it’s discouraging for agents.  

A tiered model of support typically places new support agents in “Tier 1”. This group handles the most basic customer questions. Any issues that are beyond their basic knowledge or ability are automatically elevated to “Tier 2”, and so on. Eventually tier 1 support agents learn enough about the product and company to easily answer Tier 1 questions, and they get promoted to Tier 2. Then the learning curve begins again, and of course if the inquiry is more complex they pass the customer onto a 3rd tier agent and so on.

Confining your support reps to tiers makes their job very repetitive. They answer the same questions endlessly and often become bored with their role. Worse, as soon as an agent becomes adept in their tier, they get promoted and have to start all over. Every “promotion” comes with a sense of dread at having to learn an entirely new skill set.

A good customer support agent, by nature, wants to solve customer issues. Being forced to pass off anything above their tier not only limits their ability to do this, it limits their learning. In some cases, the agent will want to solve the issue so badly they’ll spend extra time researching the issue rather than escalating it to the next tier, resulting in longer than necessary resolution times and dissatisfied customers.

While frustrating for agents, this is also a huge opportunity loss for the organization – the knowledge gained during this process is rarely filtered down to new agents, and the vicious cycle continues. Furthermore, once the agent passes the issue to the next level, they lose visibility and miss out on learning the solution so they can address it next time without having to transfer the customer.

It’s also frustrating for customers, who know your product, use it all the time, and often have figured out the tips and tricks to make it work in their environment. When a customer contacts support and is assisted by an agent who knows less than they do, it can be a very frustrating, even insulting, experience. Adding to the frustration is that in this tiered environment the customer is likely to be passed along to at least one more person (the next tier). Each transfer has a significant negative impact on how the customer perceives your company.

If the customer has a complex problem that requires a high-level technician, imagine the frustration of talking to a number of people and being transferred or put on hold multiple times. Many studies show that one of the most important things a company can do to provide good customer service is value their time, yet long hold times and multiple transfers are still the norm.

Collaboration is the cure for tiered support woes. A collaborative support model enables you to prioritize and assign issues in real time, either through manual triage or automation. Priority can be established based on the severity of the issue, difficulty to resolve, or the importance of a particular customer.

Instead of being limited by tiers, the collaborative approach assigns each ticket to a group. If the agent or team can’t resolve the issue, others in the company can help address it. For this to work efficiently, your ticketing tool must support internal collaboration and group functionality, so the best minds can be used to address the customer’s problem.

Internal social networks are great for fostering collaboration. They enable you to reach out to specific groups (or the entire company) to ask a question which improves learning times for new agents while reducing resolution times. With a collaborative approach developers, product managers, sales, and even senior management can be utilized to resolve issues faster.

A collaborative support model also creates a more educated and comprehensive team of support professionals. These higher level professionals take better care of customers and experience drastically reduced agent burnout. Rather than passing customers along, each individual is empowered to solve the issue directly. Since this is accomplished internally the customer only interacts with one rep who guides them through the entire solution. The agent gains new knowledge and the customer has a better experience.

It’s a win-win situation for all parties, and it’s the way of the future in customer support!