What is swarming? And how does it benefit your IT support?

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Chances are your IT support currently resolves its tickets based on the traditional three-tiered support model. But swarming might suit your organization better.

What is swarming exactly? And what are the benefits for your customers and employees? Find out why swarming is more about culture than structure.

Swarming in ITIL Framework

Before going into swarming, let’s take a quick look at the traditional three-tiered support model included in the ITIL framework. The three-tiered model organizes your IT support into three main levels: the service desk, technical or application management teams, and developer or vendor support.

Based around escalation, the three-tiered support model is strictly hierarchical. The service desk solves most of the tickets that come in. If they can’t resolve the ticket, they pass it on to the second tier. If the ticket requires even more expertise, it moves on to third-line support.

What is swarming?

Swarming is very different: it’s collaboration-based instead of escalation-based. Essentially, swarming means one of your employees handles a ticket from start to finish instead of forcing it through a tiered support model.

The employee who’s most likely to resolve the ticket as quickly as possible usually picks it up. So what happens if your employee needs help? Instead of passing tickets back and forth between teams, your employee “swarms” around the problem with their coworkers, finding the answer until the ticket is resolved.

Benefits of swarming

More transparency

Swarming makes for a nicer experience for all parties involved. The three-tiered support model often leaves both your employees and your customers confused. In a three-tiered system, the service desk employee who passes on a ticket to the second tier never learns what the resolution of a ticket is.

Thanks to swarming, your first-line support no longer worries if their customer gets the help they need. Nor does your second-line support wonder how and why a specific ticket got to them in the first place. And most importantly, your customers no longer feel helpless as their ticket gets bounced around from tier to tier, without any clear resolution timeframe.

Developing new skills

Swarming opens new ways to collaborate: it thrives on the diverse skill sets in your team. Your employees learn from each other and work together towards a combined goal, developing new skills along the way.

Because your employees retain ownership of a ticket until it’s resolved, they learn how to deal with every ticket they encounter. This doesn’t mean your employees need to know everything – they just need to know where and how to find the answer.

Employee empowerment

The flat hierarchy of swarming empowers every single one of your employees in each role. In a three-tiered system, first-line support is too often seen as the bottom rung of the ladder.

Swarming forces your first-line support employees to take initiative and “swarm” with members of development teams to find the answer to a problem. This way, first-line support passes on the customer voice to your developers so they know what works best for your customers.

Lower staff turnover

The benefits of swarming mentioned above all culminate into one overall advantage: lower staff turnover. In a three-tiered system, first-line support employees typically get very little training and have to stick to a script to resolve tickets. After a year, they’re bored and move on.

The collaborative opportunities that come from swarming keep your employees motivated and happy to stick around. They’ll learn new skills and get the opportunity to explore areas that interest them. As people will naturally follow their interests and passions, this’ll improve the expertise in your team. Everyone benefits!

Swarming will only work for you if you prioritize customer satisfaction. This means you have to put your customers before your targets.

Tips for implementing swarming

You’ve now got the many benefits of swarming for both your customers and your employees down. Thinking about implementing swarming at your IT service desk? Keep the following two tips in mind.

1. See swarming as a culture rather than as a structure

If you want swarming to be successful in your team, you need to view it as a culture change, rather than as a structure change. It’s crucial to have the right people in your team. Look for curiosity and helpfulness in new hires. Curiosity can’t be taught, but it’s the fuel that problem solving runs on. And helpfulness is a fundamental part of swarming. Your team won’t be successful if they’re quick to say, “That’s not my job.”

Your existing employees will have to get used to a different way of working. Transitioning from a three-tiered system to swarming is a big shift for everyone. At first, your employees may struggle with greater autonomy. And that’s perfectly fine. You have to guide people to use their newfound freedom. Your employees have to learn to focus more on the customers, and less on “the rules.”

2. Change the way you use your key metrics

Swarming will only work for you if you prioritize customer satisfaction. This means you have to put your customers before your targets. Your employees shouldn’t have to choose between making the customer happy or making the boss happy. If they see an opportunity to improve your overall level of IT support, your employees should be able to focus on that instead of worrying about their personal statistics and the possible consequences.

Why would you have a time limit on support phone calls, for example? If you cut a call short, your customer usually calls back again the next day, taking up more of your time later on. Instead of keeping track of metrics, let your employees focus on keeping your customers updated during the process so they know exactly how things are progressing.

This doesn’t mean some of your more traditional metrics aren’t relevant anymore. Just don’t use them to check on your employees or to push them. Instead, employ these metrics to constantly improve your IT support with customer satisfaction in mind. Use the same metrics but focus on customer experience rather than employee efficiency.

Discover which 4 customer satisfaction KPIs to use at your service desk.

Ready to shift?

Are you ready to say goodbye to the three-tiered support model once and for all? Knowledge management is a key part of swarming, so it’s time to break down those dreaded knowledge silos in your IT team first. Download our knowledge management guide to find out how sharing knowledge takes your IT support to the next level. To fully embrace swarming in ITIL, organizations must understand and implement swarming practices effectively to enhance their IT support culture.