Best Practices For First & Second-Line Social Customer Care

By: Sofie De Beule

November 25, 2015

Just like in a traditional customer care team, the terms “first and second-line support” for social customer care have recently gained attention. As more and more businesses take on a social customer care program, the way companies structure their team and optimize their workflows becomes more refined. Social media best practices, like having gatekeepers who optimize SLAs for social care purposes and measure handling time, are the talk of the town in organizations that win at social customer care every single day.

First vs. Second-Line Social Customer Care: What’s The Difference?

Agents in first-line/level social customer care are social media-savvy and know how to respond to customers in a language that resonates with them. They live and breathe the brand and know when their replies are off-message. They have enough knowledge about support to answer recurring questions or deal with complaints that have a short resolve time. Usually, if a question requires more technical knowledge and exceeds the know-how of first-line support, second-line social customer care agents are available to step in and dig deeper into the problem.

That’s why second-line/level social customer care agents serve as assistants to first-line support. They know the ins and outs of the product and/or service on an in-depth, technical level. Once second-line support figures out the solution to a particular complaint or query, it’s up to first-line support to take over again and respond to the customer in a way they understand, regardless of what the complexity of the answer might be.

First-line social customer care agents are coached on tone of voice and basic product knowledge, whereas second-line customer care agents’ focus will be more on on-the-job training about technical product knowledge. On a related note, some businesses might even call in a third line/level social customer care. This is useful in situations with very technical questions, such as the automotive industry.

4 Steps to Make First & Second-Line Work Together Perfectly

Below, you can find some examples for industry best practices for first and second-line social customer care.

Fortunately, first and second-line can really work hand in hand on social. There are four steps to making that sure both levels of support are attuned to each other to be able to deliver fast response and handle each question with the same level of confidence.

  1. If first-line level receives a technical question through social for which they lack the technical know-how, they will add a note to it with some context about the questions. “This question goes beyond my limits, can you take a closer look into this?”. In some cases, first-line support already knows the questions and they simply want to double-check the answer. Keep in mind that it’s very important for first-line agents to immediately acknowledge the complaint or question. Respond right away and let your customer know you’re looking into the issue.
  2. In the next step, that same first-line agent adds a tag (or label) “Second-Line Support” to that message, which automatically routes it to the inbox of second-line support (which replaces the ‘ticketing’ system in more traditional means of customer service).
  3. With their expert product knowledge, the second-line social customer care agent handles the case on a technical level. Once they have come up with the solution, they add an additional note with the complete reply and add another tag ‘Technical Reply’ to the message. This way, the message is pushed back automatically to the inbox of first-line customer care.
  4. The message, with a note attached to it with a more technical reply, lands once again into first-line’s inbox. A first-line support agent uses the technical information and replies to the initial question or complaint in a language that resonates with customers.

Note: By adding the ‘Technical Reply’ tag, social customer care team leaders can easily report on that specific tag (or label). By reporting on that specific tag, you can, for example:

  • Detect if there’s an evolution in the complexity of questions and complaints on social
  • Analyze how many questions are being pushed to second-line support and determine the workload for both teams
  • Figure out whether you need to hire extra people for first or second-line support based on the evolution of the amount of questions first vs. second-line
  • Discover underlying, recurring technical issues (e.g. mistakes in product manuals, website errors), and close the loop with your customers!

It’s clear first and second-line customer support have many advantages. Although many companies aren’t there yet, we want to challenge companies to rethink the way they structure and organize their social customer care efforts. The distinction between first and second-line customer care helps capitalize on the individual strengths of each customer care agent. By making the proces more well-defined, companies can optimize handling time time for each incoming message.