“Your call is very important to us.” I’m pretty sure this phrase, along with the image of wearily hanging on the phone, will cross your mind when you think about support services. However, things can be totally different if the company has adopted the swarming model, like Regula has.
As of 2023, Regula’s customer satisfaction score is 98.6%. The median response time to a customer’s inquiry (a thoughtful answer from a specialist, not a generic reply from a bot) is 43 minutes.
In this post, I’ll share how we managed to reach those results by opting for swarming instead of the three-tiered support most companies use.
The backstory of traditional three-tiered support
The three-tiered support model is well known and widely used by the majority of businesses. It is strictly hierarchical and functions on an escalation basis.
As per its name, the three-tiered support model is based on three main pillars:
It all starts at the service desk, which functions as a single point of contact that accumulates all the requests. Here, the support team sorts the tasks and handles the majority of issues that don’t require much knowledge or investigation. For instance, if a user has difficulties logging in to their account, the service desk will help them.
The more complicated cases are escalated from tier one (service desk) to tier two, a team of specialists who have deeper knowledge and advanced skills. They usually deal with a smaller number of requests, but each of them is more time-consuming. This is the level where an expert helps a customer to install specific software, for example.
Finally, the most complex or narrow-focused issues are directed to tier three, where the company’s most skilled experts investigate a problem and find a solution. Such cases are normally few, however, being tricky, they require even more time and effort. This is true, for example, for feature customization cases.
The three-tiered support model has been in use for ages. Both businesses and users are accustomed to it, and it has certain advantages. It provides a single entry point for customers, which is a real no-brainer for them. It facilitates recruiting for companies, since this support model mainly needs specialists for the first two tiers; there are plenty of candidates on the market and they can be easily educated with internal training. Moreover, such support, at least the service desk, can be easily outsourced.
The pitfalls of three-tiered support
We've all been there: our request was sent back and forth from one support specialist to another, and each time we had to tell about the issue from scratch. This is the dark side of three-tiered support. The key pain point is that this happens more often than not. Let’s see why.
Waiting and suspension. Passing one task through different tiers of support results in multiple delays. Even though the majority of problems can be solved rather quickly, they still tend to be redirected and then sent back for additional clarification and then passed again to another specialist. This all takes time. As a result, the user gets frustrated because their urgent problem is not solved fast enough.
Silos and backlog. When an issue happens to be tricky for the first tier, it’s sent further and ends up in a backlog. Accumulating there, they create a heap of unresolved tickets that can be missed or neglected because of multiple silos inherent to a multi-structured hierarchy.
Hampered knowledge transfer. In the three-tiered support system, specialists on different levels do not share professional skills with each other, especially if some of the tiers are outsourced. Tasks that are not solved at the service desk can get into a different system, which means that the initial specialist loses any information on the problem’s solution and feedback. The strict hierarchy creates an environment where all the expertise is concentrated within a small group of highly skilled specialists. This is simply a case of putting all your eggs in one basket.
What is swarming support?
Unlike the traditional model, swarming support is anything but hierarchical. Swarming support is built on collaboration, interconnectedness, and knowledge exchange. The key differentiator is that one specialist handles a ticket from start to finish. Instead of passing it back and forth in the team, they “swarm” around the problem, consulting with coworkers and finding the best solution as soon as possible. Intelligent, swarming support ensures that a problem is picked by the right person with the necessary skills and resources to solve it.
Swarming support is rather typical for DevOps organizations that stick to the approach of taking full responsibility for creating software and ensuring its error-free functionality. It makes sense: no one knows the product better than the team that made it. When knowledge flows freely among the team and everyone has opportunities to uplevel their expertise, problem-solving becomes yet another way of perfecting the software, rather than bouncing issues back and forth.
The process of addressing a client’s problem in the swarming support model usually looks like this: when a new ticket (read: customer request) appears in the system, it’s picked by a specialist who is capable of solving this exact issue. If some aspects of the problem need consulting with other specialists, they reach them straight away.
The initial ticket is kept open until the problem is solved. Even if additional specialists are involved, the ticket is not closed and reopened in another system. This way, the responsibility is fully on the specialist who picked it. And since all the information on the issue is concentrated in the hands of a single person, this prevents miscommunication and data loss.
The swarming model never employs predefined or automated replies, since they are generally irrelevant and only waste users’ time. By removing unnecessary steps and silos, this support model speeds up the whole process and provides customers with prompt and effective solutions.
The swarming support model perfectly suits today’s complex business and technology infrastructures and knowledge-centered environments. It contributes to building a community of experts, and creates the ultimate user experience.
How it is done at Regula
We at Regula have been leveraging the swarming support model for years, and it definitely benefits our customers and business.
From the very beginning, swarming was a more expensive option in comparison with three-tiered support. We had to invest in hiring and educating people who could effectively address any issue that might arise with our software and hardware. Moreover, our support specialists closely collaborate with engineers, even though that means we engage the most costly resources of the company to address clients’ issues.
Surprisingly, in the long run, swarming support turned out to be more cost-saving than the traditional model.
First of all, each member of our support team knows every Regula product back to front. So, instead of hiring three specialists (one for mobile applications, one for web solutions, and one for hardware), we can leverage the expertise of a single person. Actually, such an approach is even more suitable for Regula. Since all our products are intertwined, and our customers often choose a set of solutions (for mobile and web applications, for example), it’s more efficient to enhance the expertise of a single specialist so that they are able to cover any issue.
Second, the support specialists are not segmented into formal tiers—they swarm, interact, and exchange knowledge and skills day by day. As a consequence, their expertise keeps growing, as well as their self-esteem, and this results in an extremely low turnover. For instance, in the last five years, no support specialist has left the company. And since they know each other well, are familiar with all the processes, and are aware of where to seek help if needed, problems find resolutions in the quickest way possible.
What our customers say
From what we see from our customers' feedback, they love this model too. With no predefined or automated replies, and no passing an issue back and forth, with zero silos and chances of losing a ticket somewhere on the escalation ladder, we manage to provide fast and functional solutions to our customers that they are happy with.
When it comes to evaluating our support, we predominantly see three key aspects that are especially appreciated by our clients:
response time, which is generally considered to be very quick;
high technical skills, which help indicate and solve a problem quickly and effectively;
professional services, which exceed expectations and allow us to provide customers with more than just solutions to their initial issues, for instance, helping them create test IDs to fine-tune verification processes.
Let me cite some of our customers.
“Very prompt and technically strong response. They know their product well and were able to help us to resolve our issues very quickly.”
“The Regula team acted very fast and pointed out the exact problem!”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I am giving Regula a 10 for the support. Fast, accurate, comfortable, and easy to communicate.”
“I have never witnessed or gotten such good support from any company in all my work years. I have been working in the technical security business for nearly 17 years, and your company and your support are (I'm not exaggerating) the best I’ve encountered.”
Moreover, it’s not rare that our support has a personal approach. We’ve been collaborating with many of our customers for years, which means many of the people from these companies know our support specialists by name. So they deal with each other like long-term partners.
The valuable lesson swarming taught us
The swarming support model has benefited our business even more than we expected. It taught us to prioritize our customers over our targets, and listen to them. This shifted the whole paradigm: what seemed to be a problem, in fact, turned out to be a possibility to improve our solutions so that a wider community could enjoy new features.
For example, we get a lot of vital information on various identity document templates from our current or potential customers. It was exactly in this way that we learned about the blank reverse side of the Romanian ID Card and fixed the corresponding template in our database. The customer just came to us to get help with scanning this very ID, and the whole situation resulted in a general update available to all of our clients.
So, I’d say that swarming is far more than just another support model for Regula. It’s a way of doing business that reflects our values and goals. And even though it has a larger impact on the company’s expenses, it also helps us innovate and compete.