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Understanding Enterprise Support

Perhaps Erasure’s “I loved to hate you” song is written for the enterprise support. We can’t do without it and also we can’t do much with it. In order to better understand the enterprise support, let’s start with the basics and walk our way to get the logic behind. In this article, I will have an IT help desk perspective, but the principles apply to every support call you make to an enterprise: requesting a password reset from your local help desk is no different from calling your cell phone’s manufacturer to connect to the mobile data network.

What is the purpose of enterprise support? Simple: support the users when they have problems. The building block of the enterprise support comes from the problems. There are many problems with many levels of complexities. Is it rational to expect someone to deal with all the complexity levels? Definitely not.

Consider this scenario where you are managing 3 girls. The first one, Lucy, is gifted with patience: she can do more or less the same things over and over throughout the day without getting bored. The second one, Mary, is gifted with patience and wit: she can do more or less the same things over and over but she can also think, find and apply workarounds. The third one, Lisa, is not gifted with too much patience but is an explorer. She fails on the repetitive tasks but has a deep understanding of events with a critical perspective.

With these three girls you have different kind of problems. A lot of people forget their passwords. One needs to go to the same web page every time, enter the username, hit “reset password”, get a different password from the page, say it to the user and log off. Some users are unable to connect to corporate mail server from external networks. And some users complain about the performance issues on the terminal server sessions, although the processor and memory use is within acceptable limits.

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We will now assign the problems to the girl who has the right skill. As you have guessed, we will assign Lucy with the password reset problem. It’s her ability to deal with the same situation over and over. We will assign the corporate e-mail access problem to Mary, because there is some troubleshooting to be done; in what circumstances the user cannot connect, what is the configuration, can we solve it by entering the company’s mail server addresses to hosts file and the like. All these are in her skill set. And lastly, Lisa gets the unknown problem of the acceptable use of resources and the slow performance paradox. The problem is complex in its own and has to be investigated: can vary from one user monopolizing the server to a misconfiguration on the Storage Area Network.

Level 3 Support

Level 3 support is often not customer-facing. Instead, Level 3 [or Level 4] support is at the infrastructure level. That’s why when you have problems with your cell phone, you are unlikely to reach higher than Level 2 support.

The enterprise support does exactly that: it categorizes the problems, assign difficulty levels and employ the right people with the right skillset (hopefully) to solve the problems. Usually we see three levels of support: Levels 1, 2 and 3. Level 1 deals with the simplest problems and Level 3 deals with the most complex. Level 1 support is almost always the call center. If Level 1 support is not able to solve the problem – not authorized, time limits etc.-, it passes the problem to Level 2 support, in cases where the support levels are clearly defined, it can also pass to Level 3 support. Similarly, when Level 2 is not able to solve the problem, it passes it to Level 3. Technically, this is called the escalation process. (What happens when Level 3 support is not able to solve the problem? Either there will be an investment or it will be a “known problem”, which means everybody is aware of the problem but the company chose to live with it.)

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In the next step, the support supervisors/managers look for the patterns in problems to categorize them. How many calls are for password resets? How many Windows reinstalls? How many proxy problems? Then they work on the solutions and prepare flowcharts to solve the most common problems and require the Level 1 support to ensure that each and every step, no matter how stupid it sounds, is discussed with the caller. That’s why many of us are annoyed when we are asked if the malfunctioning device is connected to the wall socket or a support person is stubbornly reading the script although we cut their sentence in half and tell them our problem is different.

Normally every call goes to Level 1 support. Then the escalation process works and the problems that cannot be handled by the Level 1 support goes to Level 2 or Level 3 or Level 1 support escalates to Level 1 supervisor. The latter case is employed by many (almost all) enterprise support departments. But it has a serious drawback: it is open to exploitation. If a Level 1 supervisor tells the support personnel that he does not want any escalation to himself and ties that to their performance evaluation, then everything is over. The enterprise support loses its meaning and customer complaints are heard less than silence. Although nobody can prove that (nobody leaves such a track), this is what we customers experience. It is also ironic that the Level 1 support personnel are also the victims themselves because they are also customers who call Level 1 support to solve their problems,

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What companies expect to achieve is the escalation of the calls, spotting trends in the product’s use and respond accordingly. To do that, the calls are recorded and analyzed by speech recognition systems to analyze emotional patterns such as anger, despair, happiness etc.. The product of the analysis is replacement, update, recall or any means of correcting the situation on the company’s side. In today’s world, Internet is heard more than the Level 1 support. But it cannot replace the Level 1 support entirely; still we need to talk to a person for some of our problems.

Next time when you make a call to the Level 1 support, no matter what the level of automation is, no matter how lame a product is or no matter how upset you are, remind yourself that the support personnel is another human being like ourselves. It is very likely that your problem will be solved without escalation procedures, levels of call or dropping your call while forwarding to another support personnel.

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