Help Desk Management: What is Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Help Desk support?

Multi-tiered technical support

Technical support is often subdivided into tiers, or levels, in order to better serve a business or customer base. The number of levels a business uses to organize their technical support group is dependent on a business’ needs regarding their ability to sufficiently serve their customers or users. The reason for providing a multi-tiered support system instead of one general support group is to provide the best possible service in the most efficient possible manner. Success of the organizational structure is dependent on the technicians’ understanding of their level of responsibility and commitments, their customer response time commitments, and when to appropriately escalate an issue and to which level. A common support structure revolves around a three-tiered technical support system.

Tier 0

Tier 0 (or self-help) is in the form of “wiki’s” or FAQs that allow for users to access and resolve information on their own rather have to contact a local Helpdesk or Service Desk for resolution.

Tier 1

Tier I (or Level 1, abbreviated as T1 or L1) is the initial support level responsible for basic customer issues. It is synonymous with first-line support, level 1 support, front-end support, support line 1, and various other headings denoting basic level technical support functions. The first job of a Tier I specialist is to gather the customer’s information and to determine the customer’s issue by analyzing the symptoms and figuring out the underlying problem. When analyzing the symptoms, it is important for the technician to identify what the customer is trying to accomplish so that time is not wasted on “attempting to solve a symptom instead of a problem.”

This level should gather as much information as possible from the end user. The information could be computer system name, screen name or report name, error or warning message displayed on the screen, any logs files, screen shots, any data used by the end user or any sequence of steps used by the end user, etc. This information needs to be recorded into the issue tracking or issue logging system. This information is useful to analyze the symptoms to define the problem or issue.

Once identification of the underlying problem is established, the specialist can begin sorting through the possible solutions available. Technical support specialists in this group typically handle straightforward and simple problems while “possibly using some kind of knowledge management tool.” This includes troubleshooting methods such as verifying physical layer issues, resolving username and password problems, uninstalling/reinstalling basic software applications, verification of proper hardware and software set up, and assistance with navigating around application menus. Personnel at this level have a basic to general understanding of the product or service and may not always contain the competency required for solving complex issues. Nevertheless, the goal for this group is to handle 70%-80% of the user problems before finding it necessary to escalate the issue to a higher level.

In other industries (such as banking, credit cards, mobile telephony, etc.), first-level support is carried by a call center that operates extensive hours (or 24/7). This call center acts as an “initial sink” for user requests and, if required, creates an incident to notify other business teams/units to satisfy the user request (for example, blocking stolen credit cards or mobile phones from use). In some industries, first-line support requires knowledge of the products, terms and conditions offered by the business rather than technical information itself (Retail / Wholesale). Most ISPs only offer tier 1 support.

Tier 2

Tier II (or Level 2, abbreviated as T2 or L2) is a more in-depth technical support level than Tier I and therefore costs more as the technicians are more experienced and knowledgeable on a particular product or service. It is synonymous with level 2 support, support line 2, administrative level support, and various other headings denoting advanced technical troubleshooting and analysis methods. Technicians in this realm of knowledge are responsible for assisting Tier I personnel in solving basic technical problems and for investigating elevated issues by confirming the validity of the problem and seeking for known solutions related to these more complex issues. However, prior to the troubleshooting process, it is important that the technician review the work order to see what has already been accomplished by the Tier I technician and how long the technician has been working with the particular customer. This is a key element in meeting both the customer and business needs as it allows the technician to prioritize the troubleshooting process and properly manage his or her time.

This team needs to collect information such as program name that is failed or application name or any database related details (table name, view name, package name, etc.) or API names. These details are useful for Tier 3.

If a problem is new and/or personnel from this group cannot determine a solution, they are responsible for raising this issue to the Tier III technical support group. In addition, many companies may specify that certain troubleshooting solutions be performed by this group to help ensure the intricacies of a challenging issue are solved by providing experienced and knowledgeable technicians. This may include, but is not limited to onsite installations or replacements of various hardware components, software repair, diagnostic testing, and the utilization of remote control tools used to take over the user’s machine for the sole purpose of troubleshooting and finding a solution to the problem.

Tier 3

Tier III (or Level 3, abbreviated as T3 or L3) is the highest level of support in a three-tiered technical support model responsible for handling the most difficult or advanced problems. It is synonymous with level 3 support, 3rd line support, back-end support, support line 3, high-end support, and various other headings denoting expert level troubleshooting and analysis methods. These individuals are experts in their fields and are responsible for not only assisting both Tier I and Tier II personnel, but with the research and development of solutions to new or unknown issues. Note that Tier III technicians have the same responsibility as Tier II technicians in reviewing the work order and assessing the time already spent with the customer so that the work is prioritized and time management is sufficiently utilized. If it is at all possible, the technician will work to solve the problem with the customer as it may become apparent that the Tier I and/or Tier II technicians simply failed to discover the proper solution. Upon encountering new problems, however, Tier III personnel must first determine whether or not to solve the problem and may require the customer’s contact information so that the technician can have adequate time to troubleshoot the issue and find a solution.

This Tier 3 team can analyze the code and data using information from Tier 1 and Tier 2.

In some instances, an issue may be so problematic to the point where the product cannot be salvaged and must be replaced. Such extreme problems are also sent to the original developers for in-depth analysis. If it is determined that a problem can be solved, this group is responsible for designing and developing one or more courses of action, evaluating each of these courses in a test case environment, and implementing the best solution to the problem. Once the solution is verified, it is delivered to the customer and made available for future troubleshooting and analysis.

Tier 4

While not universally used, a fourth level often represents an escalation point beyond the organization. Tier IV (or Level 4, abbreviated as T4 or L4) is generally a hardware or software vendor. Within a corporate incident management system, it is important to continue to track incidents even when they are being actioned by a vendor, and the Service Level Agreement (SLA) may have specific provisions for this. Within a manufacturing organization, the fourth level might also represent the Research & Development.

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