The difference between first and second line support


A common practice in customer service and technical support is to use a tiered tactic. Support representatives sit behind tiers known as ‘lines’. Most recognisable of these lines are first and second line support.

Some companies refer to ‘0 line’, and some to further third and fourth lines. (Respectively pertaining to self-service, management level expertise, and external consultancy.) But for the most part, first and second line support are the customer query bastions.

So, what exactly do the two tiers signify? Here, we explore the differences between first and second line support.

What is first line support?

As the label suggests, first line support is the frontline of your customer support desk. First line agents are generalists. They have a broad understanding of the product and they know the procedures that apply to most support needs.

First line support is for everyday support issues. For instance, FAQs, common difficulties, and time-sensitive queries. They aim to solve problems at the first point of contact so that the customer can continue with their day as soon as possible.

First line agents will also collect as much information about a customer’s issue as possible. If they are unable to solve the problem, they hand this information to the second line support team.

What is second line support?

Second line support is for customer problems that are too time-consuming, uncommon, or technical for first-line support. This is a key point in the difference between first and second line support.

Second line agents are more specialist in their knowledge. They don’t use their time for queries that anyone can answer. Rather, they focus on solving problems that need in-depth knowledge about your products and services.

So, second-line agents are those that handle escalations, difficult customers and technical queries. They’re more likely to handle issues that span more than one interaction with the customer.

The key differences

So, there are three key differences between first and second line support.

  • ● Training

The training for first line support teams focuses on general customer service skills. It covers a shallow knowledge spanning a wide range of issues, questions and procedures.

Second line support training, meanwhile, consists of deeper specialised knowledge of key subjects. This might be your products or technical know-how, for example. 

  • ● Type of issues

Both first and second line support aim to solve problems, but the types of issues they deal with are different. First line support teams will encounter every issue that comes through. They’ll solve those they can solve easily — FAQs, basic support requests etc.

Second line support teams only encounter queries and customers that first-line support isn’t equipped to handle.

  • ● Time of resolution

Another key difference between first and second line support is the number of interactions it typically takes to find a solution.

In general, first line support will solve issues at the first point of contact. This is a great boost to customer satisfaction. Sometimes, though, problems are too nuanced to solve in one go. These are the ones that second line support tackle over a longer support experience.

Channels and tools

A final difference between first and second line support lies with channel use.

First line support will tackle issues coming through every channel you offer, from social media, to live chat software, to emails. Acting as the frontline to your support, anywhere a customer reaches out, they’ll be there to answer.

Second line support will receive queries through your first line support. These may come in the form of escalated chats, telephone transfers, forwarded emails and service tickets.

So, second line support is less likely to interact via social media, and more likely to have a higher volume of emails. As well as still interacting with customers in real-time. (For instance, in the case of transferred or routed live chat sessions.)

First and second line support

Splitting your service into tiers keeps your customer service frontline from getting backed-up. And, aside from any rare instances where you need to involve your managers or third-party experts, first and second line tiers will cover the breadth and depth of required support.

Your second line support takes on the tricky and time-consuming interactions. Meanwhile, your first line support deals with customers quickly and effectively. Together, they keep service queues down and satisfaction up.

That’s all there is to it.

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