Level 1 Shrinks…Isn’t That Counterintuitive?

Someone just asked me about staffing trends for Level 1/2/3, and one of my observations is that companies strive to push more issues (and headcount) into Level or Tier 1, since these tech support engineers (TSEs) are paid less than their more experienced Level 2/3 counterparts, therefore incidents resolved at Level 1 cost less.

To prove my point, I pulled the staffing allocation for Levels 1/2/3 from the current SSPA benchmark and compared it to the 2003 figures, expecting to see the percent of employees at Level 1 growing.  Gosh darn it! I hate when the facts don’t support my story! It turns out that as a percentage of overall employees, Level 1 has actually shrunk in the last 6 years, from 46% of staff in 2003 to 40% of staff today.

Tech Support Staffing Allocation by Level/Tier

Tech Support Staffing Allocation by Level/Tier

As you can see in the graphic, the numbers are very different by industry, with Consumer companies (who have less complex technology and more procedural questions) definitely leading the way with a whopping 82% of staff at Level 1.

I’m a bit taken aback by these numbers.  There is so much emphasis on tools (remote support, knowledgebases) to allow Level 1 to be more productive and avoid escalating issues to Level 2, that I really thought the reverse was happening.  What could be the reason? Off the top of my head, here are three:

  • Self-service. As self-service adoption grows, more of the easy questions never reach Level 1, so the pool of generalists answering password questions from years past are no longer necessary.
  • Complexity.  Are  you sick of me ranting on complexity yet? More complex issues require more investigation and longer resolve times, meaning Level 2/3 have more work to do.
  • Productivity. Maybe…just maybe…the tools and training are helping, and Level 1 is able to handle more issues with fewer bodies.

What are you seeing? Is Level 1 shrinking or growing? Does your company try to boost Level 1 resolutions?  If you have any thoughts, please add a comment or drop me an email.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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5 Comments on “Level 1 Shrinks…Isn’t That Counterintuitive?”

  1. dbkayanda Says:

    I think this is the shape of things to come!

    While productivity improvements will continue to increase, I think they’ll be overwhelmed by the increasing complexity in the caseload–driven by enticing self-service for known issues, engaging community support for a broader set of known issues, and increasing product complexity.

    The good news is, there will be fewer issues coming in to assisted support, at least on a “per user/license/contract” basis, or “CPx.”

    The opportunity for us as an industry is that…the issues that are coming in will be hard. I’m not convinced support tiers and escalations will even make much sense when most of the issues that come in are new. I think we’ll see opt-in collaboration, “swarming,” and other ways of dynamically getting the right people on the right issues. Problem solving methodologies like K-T shine here, as do knowledge sharing practices like KCS.

    So, this has been *my* theory for a while, and I’m excited that there’s a glimmer of support for it in your data. As an industry, I think it’s time to buckle our seatbelts…again.


  2. Lars Gustavsson Says:


    Our products are more complex and have shorter lifecycles now than before. We can not maintain 1st tier competence on all products at all 1st level support centers, so to keep “benefit of scale” we move part of what is traditionally 1st tier into global centers. At the same time we do no longer talk about 1st and second tier – but local and global support, where Local support concentrates more on customer care and less on technical knowledge.

    David is right – it is interesting times.

    Lars G

  3. jragsdale Says:

    Thanks to you both for the excellent insight. I was just reading in Jeanne Bliss’ new book, “I love you more than my dog!” about how Rackspace has formed account-based support teams, sort of a SWAT team assigned to each account. The impact of service levels and satisfaction is impressive.

  4. Haim Toeg Says:

    John – I think you are spot on in your analysis of the situation, and Lars’ comment also points to another possible cause of the situation. Namely – all the initiatives that are being preached forever – KCS, self service and communities are finally bearing fruit and removing the straightforward cases from the customer support workload.

    There are three data points that may help in analyzing the situation further:
    1. How has SSPA membership changed over the period examined? My gut feeling would lead me to believe that smaller corporations would not have a much developed Level 1 support as larger players would
    2. How has the case load varied? If the case load shrank it would be reasonable to assume that self service and community support are taking effect
    3. How big is the off shored / outsourced component of the organization? I’d think in those organizations the balance would sway towards higher level 2 numbers


  5. Jim Watson Says:


    Counter-intuitive stats are great for stretching the mind! As I think through the scenarios you’ve described, I’m seeing two dynamics at play here, which may be supported by (or support?!) the statistics:

    1.Technology has made level 1 more productive.
    Productivity tools, including improved knowledge management & utilization, question/response templates, scripting tools, and business process management (the technology drives the process, so the level 1 agent can move on to the next ticket!).
    The bottom line here is that the increased use of technology, and the improvements within the technologies, have enabled level 1 agents to get more done in less time. So, even with an overall increase in case volume, it takes fewer level 1’s to get the job done! And we all know what happens to the good level 1’s …. They get promoted to level 2, and 3, so they can deliver “greater, more strategic value to the enterprise!”. This brings us to the second dynamic:

    2. The Level 2’s and level 3’s spend more time outside of case resolution. For example, the level 2’s may be devoting more time to QA testing of the next product release. And the level 3’s may be spending more time developing enhancements for the next release. This enables the vendor to get their product to market sooner, which is where the ROI is.
    So, perhaps those statistics reveal good news… the use of better technologies is enabling organizations to drive down the cost of support, while increasing their competitive and strategic positioning.

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