Call Center Protocols: Getting Problems Solved!

Customer support agents (CSAs) are the first line of support for the client when a problem arises. If a level-1 CSA has tried all introductory problem-solving skills, has referred to the company knowledge base (KB) for a possible solution, and is still unable to resolve the problem, the incident ticket is escalated to second level (L2) support, where CSAs have advanced training and more knowledge on how to resolve the issue. If the problem is software-related, the CSA at this level can guide the user on how to fix the problem. If the client is not computer savvy, the CSA can remote into the client’s workstation, and by taking control of the client’s machine, can resolve the problem more efficiently. Now if the problem is hardware-related, the ticket must be sent to third level (L3) support. This is when an on-site technician must go to the client site and physically change hardware parts or peripherals in order to close out the ticket.

Every company has its own service level agreement (SLA) to resolve an incident. An SLA is an agreement a company makes with the support group it hires to resolve customer problems. The support group can be internal (in house) or external (outsourced). A lot of companies are opting to outsource their support group because it’s a more cost-effective approach. However, the problem with outsourced support is that sometimes the actual support offered is average at best, and sometimes there is a language barrier, which is frustrating to the client calling in at the other end.

Every organization has its own SLA numbering scheme, and the time it takes to resolve an issue is given a set number of hours or days, depending on if the problem is business-critical, where the company is losing revenue, or the number of people affected by the problem. Then there are lower (less severe) issues that affect a single workstation, but there are exceptions when handling VIP users having these less critical problems.

Below are guidelines that were used to determine the severity of an issue when I was working for a major pharmaceutical company. As mentioned above, organizations’ guidelines vary from one another, which should be kept in mind:

Severity 1

• a major outage affecting multiple sites
• a critical server is down (a specific severity level was given to each classification of server in the event it went down)
• an issue affecting more than 50 users

At this severity level, a ticket had to be escalated within 15 minutes of the initial call, and had to be resolved within 2–4 hours.

Severity 2

• a semi-critical server is down
• an issue affecting more than 30 users
• a network printer is down
• end-of-day reports can’t be processed; sales figures are off

At this level of severity, a ticket had to be escalated within 30 minutes of the initial call, and had to be resolved within 3–6 hours.

Severity 3

• single user problem—not business-critical
• service request (SR)

The ticket had to be resolved within 24 hours.

Severity 3 (VIP)

All VIP tickets were assigned a severity 3 status. However, the on-call helpdesk manager had to be notified immediately, and he would personally assign the appropriate technician to resolve the problem ASAP.

Severity 4

• how-to questions

This ticket could take up to a couple of days to resolve, as it was not a top priority. Usually, the graveyard shift CSAs handled the non-pressing issues when they had downtime.

It should always be remembered that the call center environment involves more than just systems and protocols; it also involves the all-important factor in actually getting problems solved: human interaction. This puts a responsibility not only on the CSA, but on the client being served as well. For that reason, and based upon my experience as escalation lead in a helpdesk environment, I think it’s important that the client always be courteous with CSAs; they are trying their best to resolve problems promptly and efficiently.

Each CSA is monitored on his or her talk-time—the amount of time spent speaking with the client—and the less amount of time, the better. Once the agent has reached the talk-time limit—a standard that varies from organization to organization—the agent must escalate the ticket in order to take more calls and meet the daily call-taking quota. So it’s in the CSA’s best interest to resolve a problem rather than escalate the ticket to another group to resolve.

I know from experience that if a client is friendly with the CSA, the agent will go out of his or her way to help out as best he or she can. On the other hand, if the client is arrogant, uncooperative, or verbally abusive, well, let’s just say the CSA will not go the extra mile to be helpful.

Just a couple of things to think about the next time you call helpdesk for assistance.            ?
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