We've all called a support vendor that makes us talk to a robot to get help. We've all had to go through a script of questions about things we've already tried or don’t even apply to the situation, just so we can get to someone that can actually solve our problem. We've all emailed a support vendor and wondered if they are really working on our problem. These communication challenges make getting support a process that many of us dread.
Some solutions to these problems include minimizing the number of systems involved and promoting strong communication to ensure the customer knows their problem is being addressed. We start by making sure the customer can reach a real person. We make sure that automated and canned responses are minimized so it's very obvious that the person needing support is getting a response from someone and not some... thing. We try to use only one ticketing system, only one email address, and only one telephone number for support communication.
These things help but it's still just not enough. It's what happens internally within the support team that really matters. This article is meant to focus on how hand-offs and escalation affect support case resolution — and how improvements can help avoid SLA violations.
When a support case comes in, a first-tier technician usually handles it initially. The idea is that this person should follow troubleshooting procedures and do as much as they possibly can to solve the problem quickly. Often, the technician can solve the problem and everything is resolved. What happens when the first tier can't solve the problem or just not quickly? Some sort of escalation is required. The effectiveness of escalation is going to directly affect the customer experience.
Imagine a support request comes in and is addressed by Tier 1 support, and then escalated to Tier 2 support. Let's say after working on the problem, it turns out to be quite challenging so the Tier 2 support team escalates the issue higher to Tier 3 support before the problem can be resolved. Those hand-offs become the difference between an effective resolution and an angry customer and wasted time. Using some illustrations, we can see how a support request can be resolved better and faster for everyone just by improving internal communication.
The overall length of the line represents the amount of time it is taking to achieve resolution. The horizontal axis represents the troubleshooting path, and the vertical axis represents each progressive tier of support.
In this first illustration, the support teams are not communicating well. The issue gets escalated appropriately and at the correct points in the troubleshooting path, but the next tier of support has to move backward and redo many, if not all, of the same troubleshooting tasks that have already been done.
This results in a longer time before resolution and is costly for everyone involved. The support teams spend more time on the issue, which takes them away from other issues and other customers. More importantly, the customer waits longer for their problem to be solved and this might even result in an unnecessary SLA violation.
The second illustration shows how it should ideally work. The support teams are handing off the problem to each escalation tier effectively and thoroughly. The escalation points still happen at roughly the same places in the troubleshooting path but the next tier is able to pick up right where the previous tier leaves off. This resolves the issue sooner for the customer and allows the support teams to work on other support requests.
Additionally, this improvement works just as well between tiers as it does between members of the same support groups. By handing issues off efficiently when technicians have unexpected illnesses, take vacations, priorities shift, and so on; the focus stays on solving problems and not in duplicating troubleshooting efforts.
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The way to implement this kind of successful communication is by developing strong communication skills, especially written communication, at every level of the team. We must teach our team members the discipline and skills needed to write thorough and effective updates via case notes that move both internally and externally. Using templates and standard questions for hand-offs also helps a great deal. The team should also take advantage of a verbal, or warm, hand-off when simply writing it all down isn’t the best method.
It doesn't stop there. Our support teams must also thoroughly review these notes and be careful not to make any assumptions. It may take a few extra minutes to execute this thorough communications but it pays off. If you skim the hand-off notes and spend an hour attempting a procedure that Tier II already performed, you’ve wasted your time and the customer’s.
It is important to identify instances where this process did and did not work well and to study those examples so that there can be continual and ongoing improvement. Customers should be surveyed and asked how the process works for them. Internal resources should be asked how improvements can be made and what the sticking points are. All of these review processes require appropriate monitoring and metric gathering of the support process.
Finally, everyone involved must be engaged in improving the communication throughout the support process. This includes support team members, process developers, managers, and even the customers. When all of these steps are practiced continually, communication throughout your support organization and back to the customer becomes vastly improved, shortening time-to-resolution and improving the customer experience.
Posted By: Cloud Services Senior Architect Sean Bales