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Support Services

What Is Swarming Collaboration and Why Should I Use It?

Collaborative Case Swarming Benefits and Best Practices

4 min read
By Sara Johnson
Collaborative case swarming, or swarming collaboration, is a great way to improve the customer experience with support organizations, and we have seen an increasing amount of interest in the subject. During our latest conference, Marlene Summers of Salesforce, Francoise Tourniaire of FT Works, and TSIA’s Vele Galovski joined forces on a panel to discuss the topic.

They received so many questions during their session that we asked them to come back and answer them in a series of blogs. In this first installment, Francoise and I will give an overview of collaboration processes for the swarming support model.

What Is Swarming Collaboration?

A collaborative support model has many names: agile support, swarming, squads, and pods, to name a few. The central feature of collaborative models is that support teams are no longer segmented by the traditional tiered support model.

In the traditional model, a case may start with the Level 1 support group, escalate to Level 2, and further escalate to Level 3, where the solution is finally provided. It’s no wonder customers are often frustrated with a process that requires repeating their story to multiple support engineers and waiting for each successive level of support to address their issue. This can lead to low customer satisfaction rates and higher churn.

Collaborative swarming, or single tier support, has a few simple principles:
  • The support team has no tiers.
  • The case has one owner throughout its lifecycle.
  • The case owner can collaborate with others to resolve the issue.

Benefits of the Collaborative Case Swarming Support Model

While the collaborative support model has been around for over a decade, our TSIA Benchmark data shows that only 30% of members have implemented a single-tier support organization. That percentage is on the increase however, rising more than eight percentage points in the past year.
Chart showing benchmark data of support tiers discussed above.
Companies' Use of Support Tiers

The TSIA Benchmark data also shows the positive outcomes that member companies experience when they move from a tiered support model to a single tier model. Companies that have adopted the single tier support structure have more satisfied employees and higher retention of their skilled employees. Customers are also satisfied and more loyal, which leads to higher renewal rates and gross margins.
Graphic of positive effects TSIA members see switching to tiered support discussed above
Positive Effects of Tiered Support

While collaborative swarming may not be the optimal solution for every customer service organization, the TSIA Member Experience data makes a strong case for technical support organizations to move to collaborative swarming.

Now that we reviewed the features and benefits of collaborative swarming, let’s dive into one of the general topics we received: what are the processes required for collaborating?

Best Practices for Collaboration Success in Support Services

Route Cases to the Right Owner

The first principle for successful collaboration is not to collaborate too often. This might seem counter intuitive, but it’s always best if the original owner can solve the case single-handedly. If you arrange routing properly, assigning the case to an owner with the right skills, only a minority of cases should need collaboration. Our data shows as low as 10-15%.

Depending on your product complexity, team size, and access to automated tools, case assignments can be achieved in three ways:  
  • From one large pool (everyone can work with any case)
  • Via specialty groups (agents are organized in groups focused on particular products, verticals, or customer segments)
  • With personalized matching using artificial intelligence or other tools (agents are assigned cases similar to what they were successful on in the past)    
Case routing may not be the most exciting part of swarming collaboration, but it’s a prerequisite for success. The TSIA Benchmark data shows 65% of companies have automated entitlement and routing of their incoming cases. However, only 23% route cases directly to the support engineer with the most appropriate skills.

Use Multiple Mechanisms for Case Collaboration

At the heart of collaborative support models, there is a mechanism for the case owner to ask one person for help on a single case. This can be done through the case-tracking system or communication tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams or other technologies that can suggest team members with the skills and availability to assist right away.

Whichever mechanism is used, it needs to be as frictionless as possible. This includes both the requestor (who should not have to hunt around for who can help) and the helper (who should be able to quickly identify those requests they can tackle). 

In addition to 1-to-1 collaborative help, it is advantageous to provide 1-to-many mechanisms that allows multiple individuals to contribute to and learn from the interactions.

We are fans of case clinics, which are scheduled times during which anyone can bring up a difficult case and get help on the spot. If the request is more complex, the team member can be directed to create a formal request instead. Asking senior engineers to hold office hours is another possibility. Since case clinics and office hours can occur virtually, they can be incorporated easily into the daily routine.

Make Swarming Collaboration Global

Encourage support engineers to direct their collaborative help requests to groups instead of individuals, since individual support engineers may not be immediately available to provide help. Allow the support team to define the specialty areas for collaboration requests. Specialty areas can be very specific since the requests are well vetted, unlike cases coming directly from customers. For instance, you can define specialty groups for specific technologies, operating systems, or third-party vendors.

Make the specialty areas global. While most swarming collaborations occur within a single geographic area, it is good to tap a global group of experts to take advantage of availability and workload differences between regions.

Collaborate in Emergencies

We often hear that swarming collaborations seem slow and not well suited to address high-priority, system-down incidents. But, that is simply untrue!

The highest-priority cases naturally require an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality. If you know how to handle P1 cases, you can handle P1 collaboration requests. Collaboration requests are just like cases: they can have priorities, have SLAs and SLOs, and be automatically assigned (pushed) and grabbed (pulled). Yes, it is possible to have multiple swarming collaboration requests from a single case, assuming help is needed from various specialty areas.

Keep the Collaboration Going

We encourage the support engineers who swarm-in to answer the collaboration requests to stay involved in cases until they are closed. We have found that most collaborators really want to know what happens with the cases they helped with. At its core, support is a people business and support team members typically want to help not only the customer, but also their colleagues. Collaboration is already happening within your tiered support organization; it’s just not being tracked.

Look out for our next blog on the swarming support model, where we will cover staffing and metrics in a collaborative case swarming structure.

 December 21, 2021

Sara Johnson

About Author Sara Johnson

Sara Johnson is the director of support services research for TSIA. In this role, she provides membership and advisory designed to help member companies optimize their Customer Support organizations (including help desks, call center, technical support and omni-channel experiences) to achieve and deliver desired customer and organizational outcomes.

Sara has over 20+ years of experience in various leadership roles within the ERP software industry focusing on building world class, global customer support organizations.

Francoise Tourniaire

About Francoise Tourniaire

Francoise Tourniaire started using collaborative swarming in 1995, before the word was coined. Since then, she founded FT Works, a consultancy firm that helps technology companies create and improve their customer success and support operations. She is the author of The Art of Support and three other books about managing support organizations and a frequent blogger and conference presenter. FT Works is a TSIA Consulting Alliance Partner.

Topics discussed in this post