Why Customer Support Should Be Abuzz With Intelligent Swarming


As consumers become more demanding, companies are taking various measures to improve customer service experience. But rising expectations bring more complex customer issues. Patrick Martin, VP of Customer Support, Coveo, discusses how intelligent swarming can help and the considerations to implement it.

Today’s consumers are more demanding than ever, leading companies scrambling to preserve tenuous customer loyalty. According to Coveo, 96%Opens a new window of people say a negative customer service experience affects whether or not they would buy from that company again. 

However, with rising customer expectations in a digital experience economy, how can businesses quickly troubleshoot increasingly complex customer issues? 

The solution is intelligent swarming.

What Is Intelligent Swarming?

Coined by the Consortium for Service Innovation, intelligent swarmingâ„ * is defined as a framework that enables a support organization to draw on the company’s collective intelligence to fix an issue. It allows agents to collaborate within their departments or with others to resolve cases and workshop solutions. Like “phone a friend,” it matches the right people to the right cases.

When combined with AI-powered search, intelligent swarming becomes a smart help desk — it uses AI to find and tap into the best resources across the organization to solve a problem. 

See More: How AI Can Transform Poor Customer Service for the Airlines Industry

Incorporating intelligent swarming yields dual benefits: 

1) Customer satisfaction is increased because their issues can be solved more effectively and efficiently, and 

2) Agent productivity skyrockets as they’re able to own a case until resolution or collaborate with experts across their organization when they need assistance. 

In more detail, it helps customer support teams:

  • Assess skills and where to use them best 
  • Create value by optimizing people’s ability to contribute
  • Increase engagement and loyalty for your customers and your employees
  • Improve customer success and realize value through improved problem solving

On a people level, intelligent swarming can create a collaborative environment for agents. To accomplish this, agents must adopt an “opt-in” mentality that’s core to this framework — they need to be comfortable sharing their expertise and essential knowledge they’re passionate about and curious to learn about what their teammates are interested in. 

How’s this implemented? Each agent creates a profile that describes their expertise and interest. This allows other agents in the “swarm” to pinpoint who to speak with to resolve a customer case on the first touch instead of escalating into a bigger problem. 

Challenges to Adoption

Many still use ingrained and legacy approaches to customer service, such as the traditional tiered-support model. 

With this model, agents are structured in a hierarchy for fielding customer questions. The frontline first-level agents receive the brunt of those inquiries. When they cannot answer, the case is passed up to the next level, and so and so forth. 

This model is usually tedious and frustrating, leaving everyone unhappy. Customers are stuck in the “waiting room,” repeating their problems as they’re ping-ponged between agents. On the flip side, agents don’t advance their skills or build their knowledge base.

Companies that still use obsolete support models need to break away from the mold. However, this can take convincing because senior managers who came up through the ranks are often tied to the rigid hierarchy they’ve always known.

A more modern workforce, one spread throughout locations and time zones, requires a flexible methodology that encourages collaboration. Intelligent swarming transforms managers into coaches who guide their teams into a more versatile structure. Employee performance and engagement are increasedOpens a new window with greater autonomy. 

However, changing a company’s culture and way of working still takes time and effort. There is also the question of logistics — how exactly is intelligent swarming implemented?

Step one is to build out the technology tools needed to support widespread collaboration, as well as identify and connect the pockets of expertise across teams. In addition to building out the technology infrastructure for intelligent swarming, organizations must go through a support model transformation. A path for that could look like this:

  • Training for Level 1 agents to reduce the gap between agents, as all should be case owners.
  • Intelligent case routing and classification tools to ensure that cases are delegated to the most appropriate agents at submission, hence the need for accurate case classification.
  • Efficient self-service offering to give customers a pathway to resolve recurring or known problems themselves, freeing up agents to focus on new and more technical issues.

Despite the upfront resources required to adopt the intelligent swarming model, an increasing number of organizations are making the investment in cultivating a collaborative culture among agents. The returns are shorter resolution times, greater team expertise and knowledge, shorter agent ramp-up times, and higher customer satisfaction. 

Success Stories

Improved customer and employee satisfaction? It’s no wonder companies like Salesforce are adopting (and sticking with) intelligent swarming over other support options. Using the intelligent swarming method with Slack, Salesforce’s support team was able to close cases 26%Opens a new window faster and improve same-day resolution by 19%. 

Take ServiceNow — since adopting intelligent swarming, their knowledge base has expanded with the creation of over 10,000 new articlesOpens a new window . Agents are empowered to update or create new content at each case’s solution, which could then be shared in the ServiceNow Community. 

Thanks to this expansion, ServiceNow saw cases with attached knowledge base articles get solved 52%Opens a new window faster. Agents were also more actively adding to the knowledge base at an 87%Opens a new window increase. Intelligent swarming only continues to grow ServiceNow’s knowledge base and agent expertise, a boon to both company and customers.

At Autodesk, proactive support helped achieve higher customer satisfaction, faster resolutions, the lowest cost per case and more agent engagement compared to teams that didn’t use swarming.

At Coveo, intelligent swarming with the customer service team and Slack integration has enabled an 18% reduction in Median Time to Resolution (TTR) in comparison to previous collaboration models. 

Is Intelligent Swarming Right for You?

Deciding whether your organization should implement the intelligent swarming model centers on the overall complexity of issues and the escalation rate for cases. Generally, a good indicator is the time it takes to resolve a customer’s problem since knowledge workers should focus their time on troubleshooting new issues rather than ones that were solved before.

If your customer service center settles most issues in a short amount of time (say, three to five minutes), this implies a high percentage of known issues and low complexity. That’s not to say intelligent swarming shouldn’t be used. In such an environment, consider implementing a Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS)®* program to elevate efficiency for finding answers, in tandem with intelligent swarming’s easy collaboration. 

If your customer service center is facing a high rate of new and complex issues and a long resolution time (like 15 minutes or more), incorporating intelligent swarming could yield measurable benefits. 

If your customer service team already leverages a collaboration tool for inter- or cross-team communication, adding a swarming process could be a natural next step to leverage the existing platform in a more structured and efficient way to resolve cases.

The Path Forward

More than ever, companies must keep up with customer expectations as people are used to and demand quick and pain-free customer experiences. Intelligent swarming, and more broadly AI, give companies new abilities to adapt quickly and deliver a more personalized customer support experience. And that is the path forward in a digital-first world. 

Have you used intelligent swarming in your customer service? What benefits and barriers have you seen? Share with us on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .

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