What are the Different Tiers of IT Support

If your business’ products or services are highly reliant on IT, and most businesses do rely on IT these days, then you might agree that IT support is one of the most critical pillars that you ought to get right.  Customers will encounter IT issues from time to time, and the better the support the higher the customer satisfaction rates. 

Managed IT service providers that offer IT support solutions have a range of tiers which you might opt to take as a full package or select those that are suitable for your business. A small business might not require all the tiers. A large company on the other hand might need to subscribe to all the tiers given the complexity of their offerings. 

So this article looks at the different tiers of IT support, helping you to figure out the options that would work best in your current circumstances. 

What are Tiers in IT support?

When it comes to IT support, Tiers refer to the set of support levels that are provided by the IT support companies to customers or even users within the organization. It’s important to note that support isn't just a person answering the phone or responding to emails; it's a structured process that is designed or rather should be designed to resolve customers' problems as quickly as possible.

Here are some of the reasons why structuring IT support around levels or tiers is beneficial:

  • Cost savings: You can save money by only paying for the level of support that your business needs. For example, a business that only requires occasional help can opt for a lower-tier support plan.
  • Faster response times: Each level of support has its own team of experts who are dedicated to addressing issues quickly and efficiently.
  • Enhanced security: By having different teams responsible for different aspects of support, you can easily monitor what each team is doing and arrest potential vulnerabilities.
  • Increased flexibility: With different levels of support available, you get the freedom to tailor and change plans as your needs change. 
  • Better customer service: The tiered system streamlines the support operations and this leads to high levels of customer satisfaction.

What are the different tiers of IT support

There are four primary IT support Tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4. Each Tier is progressively more complex, and therefore requires a higher level of expertise. It is also possible for companies to name these tiers differently. Some, for example, refer to the tiers as levels. 

Let’s dig into each of these tiers.

Tier 1 IT Support

Tier 1 IT support is the most basic level, and it's what you'll usually find in small companies. This tier typically includes troubleshooting common problems and providing general information — it’s all about solving straightforward problems and providing basic help desk services such as setting up a new device, resolving basic software issues, and providing basic user orientation. 

These are some of the common tasks that tier 1 support teams often handle:

  • Gathering data and requests from customers.
  • Calling customers on behalf of the company.
  • Getting in touch with users via email and social media.
  • Determining the level of support needed
  • Conducting basic troubleshooting using questionnaires
  • Providing basic information about products.

You should pick junior-level technical support personnel for tier 1 support teams. These teams will normally use Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) when solving user problems. Tier 1 teams will forward queries to tier 2 teams whenever they don’t have solutions. 

Tier 2 IT Support

Tier 2 includes all of the services that are offered in Tier 1, plus additional services like system maintenance and 24/7 support. This support can include complex issues that the help desk may not be able to solve such as diagnosing and resolving issues that require a greater understanding of systems.

In-depth troubleshooting and backend analysis are mostly part of this level of help. Support staff at tier 2 should be versed in the product line and have extensive troubleshooting experience.

The  most common tasks performed by tier 2 IT support teams include:

  • Implementing workarounds for known issues: These are typically temporary fixes that allow users to continue working while the underlying issue is being addressed. 
  • Troubleshooting new issues: Involves reviewing logs, running tests, and consulting with other team members
  • Researching solutions for unknown issues: This can be a time-consuming process, but it is typically necessary in order to resolve the issue. 
  • Providing comprehensive documentation: This is essential for ensuring that the issue can be properly resolved in the future.

Tier 3 IT Support

Tier 3 support is even more comprehensive, and it includes everything that's included in tier 2, plus advanced services like server management and database administration.

The product engineers and developers usually fall under tier 3, the highest level of technical expertise within an organization. If a design change, enhancement, or bug fix is the only way to fix a customer issue, tier 3 personnel are involved. In other words, SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) are needed at this level of support. To support clients, these support experts have access to all the information about their companies and products. 

During tier 3 support sessions, technicians examine code and designs in a lab setting to determine the root cause of a user query. Tier 3 experts should have the same level of skills as those who created the product i.e they can be engaged in creating a similar product.

Below is a summary of the most common tasks performed by tier 3 IT support teams:

  • Providing escalated technical support: This includes issues that are beyond the scope of Tier 1 and 2 support, and require in-depth knowledge of the system. Tier 3 support team members are usually required to have a deep understanding of the product and how it works.
  • Root cause analysis: Tier 3 support teams use their expertise to perform root cause analysis and recommend solutions that will address the issue at its source.
  • Developing workarounds: When a problem cannot be resolved immediately, workarounds can be developed to help users continue to be productive. Tier 3 support teams can create these workarounds which can then be implemented by tier 2.
  • Documentation: Tier 3 support teams typically create both internal and external documentation, depending on the audience.
  • Escalating issues to vendors: In some cases, an issue may need to be escalated to the vendor for resolution (tier 4). This is usually done when there is a bug in the software or hardware that needs to be fixed by the vendor.

Tier 4 IT Support

Tier 4 IT support is offered by external providers for those IT support services that the organization does not support. This means there are no internal support teams for this level. Instead, the support is provided by third-party IT service providers or vendors who support the company's products or components.

The support teams in this tier are composed of experts who are experienced in high-level systems. This is essentially the highest level of IT support available and is often used by large organizations or businesses that require around-the-clock assistance with mission-critical systems.

In addition to providing resolution for critical issues, tier 4 support typically includes proactive monitoring and maintenance, as well as regular reports on system performance. For businesses that rely heavily on IT systems, Tier 4 support can provide the peace of mind needed to keep operations running smoothly.

Is there tier 0 IT support?

Yes there is. Tier 0 IT support is what you would call self-help. This entails user-retrieved information, such as retrieving documentation from a knowledge base or using an interactive search engine on a website.  

So the clear difference between tier 0 and the rest of the tiers above is that while human intervention is included at each level of support, from tier 1 to tier 4, tier 0 support occurs before any human intervention sets in. Here, users can access help spaces built into applications, such as manuals, FAQs, and search functions.

Moderators are critical at this level to monitor customer forums. Technical marketing should also be involved in creating and updating user information. When a user can't find clear instructions or information about products, they turn to tier 1 and the escalations start here all the way to tier 4 where applicable.

IT support tiers: summary table

TierApproachSupport team requirements

Tier 0

Self-service i.e users retrieve already provided information across a company's platforms such as websites and applications.

No team required, just technical support resources. Moderators monitor activities on platforms.

Tier 1

Help-desk level support, the most basic IT support

Technical staff with basic knowledge of minor IT issues. They use scripts to provide support. 

Tier 2

Thorough technical support

Deeply knowledgeable staff who understand the products or services inside out. 

Tier 3

Expert technical support at the level of programmers/engineers 

Top IT experts in the company, the highest level of skills. Tier 3 teams include the programmers and engineers who can actually  reproduce the product/service.

Tier 4

High level, mission critical external support

Outside IT teams from vendors/suppliers, or contracted MSPs.  

Recommended reading: critical  IT services for small organizations

Determining if tiered IT support is right for your business

There is always debate on whether the tiered support model is in fact necessary in the first place. Opponents of this model feel that companies can still offer exceptional support services with a uniform model that is not divided up into tiers. Proponents insist that the tiered approach simplifies the support system and makes it easy to break down tech issues in terms of complexity instead of bundling them all together, which creates enormous confusion  besides overwhelming teams. 

Another school of thought proposes a collaborative IT support approach where members of the support team learn from each other.  It’s a system where you are not trying to force everyone to handle everything, nor are you trying to create high walls of expertise where others feel poorly qualified to handle high level issues or too senior to handle ‘small’ issues.

Well, one fact that cannot be denied is that the tiered model simplifies things. It allows each member of the support team to do what they are good at, giving them the opportunity to become highly knowledgeable in their specialty. But this does not mean that every company must embrace this system. Simply put, you don't have to use the tiered system if you don’t need it. In other words it must make sense.  

Consider these factors when deciding if a tiered IT support model is right for your business. 

1. Company size

Think about the size of your company and the complexity of the IT infrastructure. If yours is a company with a complex IT infrastructure, then go for the tiered model. This will allow you to distribute the different tiers across different demands. 

2. Staff costs

The tiered IT approach requires more staff as each tier requires technicians to be specialized in a certain area. This calls for tiered training, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

3. Impact on users

The tiered model can impact users in a number of ways. Some users may feel that their issue is not important when they learn that it is being handled by a lower-level technician. Others might feel that their time is being wasted as they wait to have their issues escalated to the next tier.

Best practices for tiered IT support

  • Define the tiers: It's important to define the services that will be offered in each tier. Be clear about what each tier offers, so there are no surprises down the road. This should also include the support channels.
  • Define and document the processes:  A clear support process must be documented and agreed upon by all parties involved, for each tier.
  • Train other employees: All employees should be trained on the tiered support process so that they know how to use it effectively. Even those not in support might one day find themselves there, so give them the basic training. 
  • Regular reviews: The tiered support system should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is still effective and efficient. You might also want to get rid of some tiers or add more as needs dictate. 

Trends in tiered IT support

As the need for a strong IT support infrastructure becomes increasingly entrenched, things are changing fast in this industry. Here are the key trends:

  1. Outsourcing IT support services: More and more businesses are outsourcing their IT support needs to third-party providers. This trend is being driven by the increasing complexity of IT systems and the need for specialized expertise which informs the tiered support model.
  2. Rise of artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used to automate routine tasks such as troubleshooting and incident management. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are becoming more commonplace in IT support. This will eventually reduce the long ‘queues’ across the different tiers.
  3. Rise of mobile devices: Mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. As a result, there is a growing need for mobile-friendly tiered IT support services and policies.
  4. Rise of the customer-centric service desk: It's no longer enough to offer generic support that doesn't take into account the specific needs of customers. They now want a service desk that understands them, listens to them, and provides solutions that are tailored to their specific needs. This means that the lower support tiers such as tier 0 and tier 1 must be properly resourced to avoid frustrations on the side of customers. 

Concluding remarks

The support tiers you opt for should essentially reflect the current needs of your company. You may need to start with the first two tiers then add the rest gradually as the business grows and changes. Take time to understand what each of these tiers really mean for your business, the cost implications and the return on investment.

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