by Roy Atkinson
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016

There’s no right or wrong to support models. There’s only working and not working. The right support model for your organization is the one that works (i.e., one you can execute and one that produce the desired results), and that may mean you have to do some—for lack of a better word—work.

When a customer or end user contacts the support center and requests assistance, you need to know what they’re trying to accomplish. But, at the same time, you also need to know what your organization is trying to accomplish: What are its goals? What are the ground rules? Is it more important to resolve an issue or fulfill a request immediately, no matter how long it takes, or is it better to have short contacts that are prioritized and followed up on in order of urgency/impact? How much does the organization want to spend on support, and how is that money to be allocated? How high on your organization’s list of priorities is customer satisfaction (or delight, or loyalty)? Do the same goals apply to both internal (employees and business units) and external customers (the people and organizations that purchase the products and services your organization offers)? Is support the service you offer? Does your organization pride itself on tradition and quality, or are innovation and rapid response more important?

There’s also value in understanding what other organizations are doing and how they’re approaching support; it’s always good to gather the best ideas and then see if and how they might fit into your environment. Often, we expect there to be a pattern or path to follow, but unfortunately—or fortunately, if you like a challenge—that’s rarely the case.

One Size Does Not Fit All—or Even Most

It’d be easy to say that everyone should have a support center that has three tiers, one analyst for every 400 customers, an average handle time of ten minutes, a first call resolution rate of 76 percent, a two-percent abandon rate, a desktop support team to escalate incidents to, and so on. In some organizations, that might work perfectly; in others, it might be a complete disaster. In an engineering firm with a technically sophisticated, highly mobile user base and many mission-critical applications, for example, a 1:400 analyst-to-customer ratio might be entirely inadequate. In a stable office environment with a robust self-service channel, this same ratio might actually be considered overstaffing.

How does technology play into the options?

Technology’s job is to create efficiencies. A side effect is often cost savings, if the technology does what it’s supposed to do. Consider the ACD, for example. How many live operators would it take to replace all the functions your ACD (assuming you have one) currently performs? To better illustrate, let’s look a more recently developed (though not new) technology—remote support tools—and see how they’re tied to a changing support model.
Many organizations have had separate desktop (or deskside) support teams for years. When a customer needed hands-on assistance, the support center would escalate to desktop support, which would send a technician to the customer’s location. Using remote support tools, today’s support center analysts can often fix a problem or fulfill a request without leaving their desks. Software upgrades, reinstalls, patches, and so on are done over the network, eliminating technician travel time and decreasing resolution times.

What are some models that are relevant today?

One movement that has been developing over the past couple of years is rooted in the evolution of remote support tools: the establishment of a “level 1.5” within the support center. This level performs many of the tasks and functions—those that are perhaps too sensitive or too advanced for level 1—that were previously escalated to desktop support (level 2). This may, in some organizations, be part of a general “shift-left” strategy, in which responsibilities and capabilities are pushed down toward the front line, providing both time and cost savings.

Another—and, at first glance, contradictory—movement is toward walk-up (or walk-in) service, or as some prefer to call it, the “Genius Bar” (Apple Store) model. Under this model, customers or end users can come to the support center with their laptops or mobile devices and get assistance. In some organizations, this type of support is provided by appointment only; in others, it’s an open channel option, where customers can just walk in and be served. (This doesn’t, however, mean that technicians are just standing around waiting to serve somebody; they put the work they’re doing on hold to attend to walk-up customers.)

According to the 2013 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report, walk-up is the most expensive channel, coming in at $18 per ticket. Yet more than half (56%) of support centers offer this option, and 8 percent of tickets were generated from this channel in 2013. However, upon closer inspection, we can see some similarities to the level 1.5 approach: work is performed within the support center, desktop support technicians don’t need to be dispatched, and travel time is saved. Additionally, walk-up support is more convenient for customers, and it can be used to resolve issues that can’t be handled using remote support tools, such as hardware upgrades or network connectivity issues. Obviously, walk-up support is of more value in organizations that have on-site support centers, less so for multisite or multicountry enterprises.

Outsource, insource, or rightsource?

Some organizations, including the J. Paul Getty Trust, the 2014 HDI Team Excellence Award winner, have brought support back in-house after outsourcing. Other organizations have moved level 1 support to the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Latin America. Which is the right model for your organization? The answer lies in your organization’s goals and mission. If proximity to your customers is important and your customers are in the US, then a US-based support center may be the right answer. If you need to follow the sun, you may need a combination of onshore, nearshore, and offshore support centers, which may be provided by outsourcers or may be part of your company or institution (remember, offshore doesn’t necessarily mean outsourced).

The decision to outsource or offshore support should be based on the benefits to the organization as a whole. What advantages do these models offer? What measures will be used, and what are the targets support must hit, in terms of not only cost but also effectiveness and efficiency?

What factors play into choosing a support model?

In order to be successful, the support organization has to understand the needs and expectations of the business or institution. Working to a set of metrics that haven’t been reviewed in five years—during which time we’ve seen the rise of mobility, the cloud, and the consumerization of IT, as well as the economic downturn and increased globalization—is unhealthy. The things you measure are the things you manage, to put a twist on Peter Drucker’s famous saying, and if you aren’t measuring the things that are important to your organization and its goals, you aren’t managing properly. So, ask questions, and then ask more questions:

  • What’s important to your business or institution, and how does senior management want to see it presented? 
  • How would senior management like to see customer satisfaction measured? How accurate is the way it’s being measured now? Do you even need to measure it? 
  • How many channels should support have open? Which ones are the most popular? Which ones are most effective? Which ones do your customers wish you had?
  • What metrics do you need to change because of multichannel support?
  • What’s the best way to support an increasingly mobile workforce?
  • How important to your business or institution is maintaining operations in-house when there may be sound alternatives in the cloud?
  • Are there other areas of the enterprise that could take advantage of the support center’s capabilities?

There’s a tremendous buzz in support organizations right now surrounding "showing business value." You can’t show value until you understand what your business or institution feels is valuable. According to HDI’s research, only 29 percent of support organizations think that the support center’s strategic priorities are aligned with those of non-IT executives, which means that more than two-thirds of support organizations are “flying blind” about how they’re perceived by their businesses or institutions. This is shaky ground on which to base your next move.

HDI research also shows that supporting business growth and improving customer service are the two top spending priorities for the support organization, but these aren’t necessarily the same as your business’s or institution’s priorities (or, if they are, they may not be in the same order). These priorities can, however, provide a good starting place for your conversations with management.

Moving Forward

Begin by familiarizing yourself with your business’s or institution’s strategic plan. If your business or institution publishes its plan, as many do, make sure you’ve read it and you understand it. Then start having the necessary conversations with your management, as they will be your representatives at the highest level. Have conversations with your counterparts in other business units or departments. Find out what they’re planning to do and what they’ve heard about any strategic imperatives or priorities that stand to affect them, and which may, as a matter of course, affect the support center.

To be able to make informed decisions about the changes on your support center’s horizon, you must consider the things that are important to your business or institution. Reach out to like organizations and get new ideas. Ask about the specific things they’re measuring, and consider whether that information will enable you to better match your support metrics with your business’s broader goals. Run a sanity check and make sure you’re looking at and measuring the things that matter. Once you’ve worked out a strategy, you can plan its execution, and that’s really what modeling is all about.


Roy Atkinson is HDI’s senior writer/analyst. He is a certified HDI Support Center Manager and a veteran of both small business and enterprise consulting, service, and support. In addition, he has both frontline and management experience. Roy is a member of the conference faculty for FUSION 14, and he’s known for his social media presence, especially on the topic of customer service. He also serves as the chapter advisor for the HDI Northern New England local chapter.

Tag(s): support models, outsourcing, insourcing


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