A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Customer Support Tiers

by Mindful
 • July 29, 2016
 • 5 min to read

At the beginning of every day, the phone starts to ring, waiting for a contact center agent to quickly pick up the call and resolve an issue a customer is experiencing. Sometimes, the experience goes smoothly where the customer is grateful for how the agent addressed his or her concern. But when a customer remains unsatisfied, he or she may request to speak to a supervisor.

Here’s where the story reveals an industry secret – the “supervisor” whom the customer requested generally will not be a supervisor at all. Instead, it’s a more experienced agent called a second tier or tier 2 customer service agent.

For customers at home, they might not realize that there are roughly 15-20 frontline agents for every supervisor. When it comes to customer support, that supervisor cannot accommodate all of the escalation requests. So second tier agents, equipped to handle these requests, swoop in to try to solve customers’ issues before the supervisor gets involved. But if two levels of agents fail to satisfy customers’ requests, only then will they get to speak to a true supervisor.

Depending on the customer, he or she may interact with one, two, or all three levels of customer support. And each level requires different skills and job experience. So what determines how many contact center employees a customer will interact with? Let’s first understand the functions and skillsets of each level to determine what types of requests each tier will handle.

Frontline Agents

Frontline agents are the largest of all customer support tiers and handle a wide variety of requests. Customer requests range from answering straightforward questions to sending customers’ a copy of their flight schedule; therefore, frontline agents require a broad skillset to answer a multitude of basic questions and requests.

While it might not seem like a difficult job providing the most basic level of customer support, these frontline agents are customers’ first impressions of your contact center. So as soon as a customer calls, based on their call type and where it’s routed, that frontline agent is the first to handle the call. These frontline agents must be able to communicate efficiently and effectively, have the necessary computer skills to use your company’s contact center software, know the answers to the most commonly asked questions and requests, and identify when to escalate a call.

Since these frontline agents’ skillsets are more wide than deep, they sometimes find it difficult to resolve certain customer complaints. Whenever a complaint occurs that is outside of the scope of the frontline agent, the second tier agent steps in to resolve the issue.

Second Tier Agents

One level above the frontline agents are known as “second tier agents.” Calls escalate to second tier agents due to various reasons ranging from frontline agents’ lack of knowledge (including technical requests) or poor behavior/communication (such as declining a customer request without a reason as to why) to the caller’s expectations not being met.

Second tier agents have graduated from the frontline and are better prepared at handling escalated calls. These more experienced agents use a combination of basic tactics that a new or timid frontline agent failed at executing (such as simply listening to the customer). Other methods include addressing customer issues and frustration by using psychological tactics to calm the person down before attempting to find a solution.

Typically, the call concludes with the second tier agent. The qualified agent has listened to the customer’s frustrations and resolved the issue to their satisfaction. However, if a customer still doesn’t budge or continues getting angry after speaking to a second tier agent, it’s probably time for a supervisor to get involved.

Supervisors and Beyond

Maybe the call is a one-off request, the customer is in a particularly bad mood, or the other agents simply aren’t bringing their A-game. No matter the reason, if a customer still can’t resolve their issue after two attempts, a supervisor gets involved. Generally, the supervisor will have seen or experienced more scenarios than both levels of agents, so supervisors can deploy certain communication tactics or offer incentives to complaining customers. While supervisors might not be as technically inclined as second tier agents, they will have more authority to provide customers with offers such as gift cards or upgrades. The more experienced and aware the supervisor becomes, the better he or she will be at handling the second round of escalation.

Of course, after talking to three people, some customers still may find themselves asking, “Can I speak to your supervisor?” And so, the process will continue up the contact center’s hierarchy until the customer’s issues are resolved.

Escalations Team

While not all companies have this, one team that’s found outside of the call-specific customer support hierarchy is the escalations team. The escalations team is not part of the frontline or second tier agents nor are they the supervisors, managers, etc. The escalations team handles all requests outside of the phone, such as social media complaints and internal criticisms from the CEO. No matter the channel, someone has to address these fires before they get out of control. And so the escalations team comes to the rescue.

Depending on the size of your company and contact center, you may have more than one level of customer service agents. Some are assigned to handle basic requests when a customer calls in while others are better equipped to handle more technical requests outside of frontline agents’ control. And then there are teams and agents trained to help high value clients, CXO requests, social media complaints, and more. These separate departments allow for specialized agents who are better equipped at handling any request. By employing more qualified agents, the more likely your contact center will keep costs down. After all, contact centers are cost centers. So no matter how your business organizes its customer support teams and tiers, it ultimately boils down to providing a good customer experience while keeping your costs low.

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