How Do You Define Stellar Service from Tech Support?

I have long believed that how a business is run is just as important as what the business makes. No matter how great the products may be, the way that a company operates and interacts with its stakeholders can really make a difference in customer satisfaction and loyalty. This experience is what really cements a brand’s reputation over the long run.

It was therefore a real honor that the professional security readers of SSI magazine wrote in their own choice of Milestone Systems as the top Tech Support provider, to win the Platinum Stellar Service Award 2015 in this category. I wanted to find out why.

Fast growth, global growth = big challenges

Since its founding in Denmark 18 years ago, Milestone Systems has grown into a global leader in the surveillance industry with offices in every world region. Today, Milestone works with thousands of installation partners, and our XProtect video management software (VMS) integrates with 150 camera brands and third-party systems such as access control, analytics, point-of-sale and other applications.

Such exponential growth can create significant challenges for support teams whose jobs include troubleshooting all types of potential implementation issues. Gary St. Arnauld, Senior Support Manager at Milestone, has been instrumental in carrying out changes to the Americas-based teams he leads. This has resulted in a more nimble, efficient support organization. I spoke with Gary about enacting these changes to meet growing demands, working with different teams across the globe and what’s in store for Milestone’s tech support in the future.

Tech support Steffin and Gary at work, cropped
Frontline Team Mgr Steffin Burton and Gary work on a technical matter.

What is your view on the value of tech support, and how the company invests resources to further its growth? 
Providing good support is a high priority from upper management. Our software is offered in a full portfolio with very comprehensive functionality at the high end that involves more sophisticated and complex projects, so it’s absolutely necessary for us to provide top-notch support – and we have invested in the people and tools we need to perform at the highest levels.

How is tech support structured? 
We take a little different approach than other organizations when it comes to delegating support tasks. We have a tiered-support model and organize our resources into Frontline, Backline and Sustaining Engineering teams. The Frontline support team can handle a wide range of L1/L2 cases, which makes up the vast majority of our total support volume. If it gets to a point where the issue is determined to be in our licensed software [L3], it gets handed off to Backline, which is a more specialized team.

Level 1 cases refer to solutions to issues that can be found in a knowledge-based article available in our online system, or in a manual or guide. Second level issues are where we begin to do some investigation and troubleshooting. We work with the partner or customer to identify if this is an issue in our application or in the environment – a network issue, operating issue or server-side issue that’s contributing to the problem. For level 3 cases we do test setups to ascertain whether it’s a software issue or not. If it’s determined to be something with the software, the case is sent to our engineering team who create a ‘hotfix’.

What kinds of things do you typically advise about?
It’s mostly environmental considerations such as the sizing of servers, and making sure they can handle a high volume of data traffic. For smaller installations, we work through simpler things like how to set up and manage a camera, how to create different views, things on that level.

Jared, at desk
Jared Tarter, a very smart solutions engineer, ready to help.

What percentage of tech support questions deal with software vs. hardware? 
More often than not we’ve found that the problem is in the system, not in the software. For example, either the network or the system was not sized correctly to begin with. But people often call Milestone because our part of the solution is their main interface to the entire system.

What does this indicate to you? 
This industry has been evolving from analog to IP for many years now. With that comes new challenges for everyone in the industry, from manufacturers and resellers to installers and integrators. We all need to develop new skills as innovations march us forward. Video produces very large data files that can tax a system much more than the business data of conventional IT systems, and it’s imperative that installers develop a comprehensive understanding of big data, both for installation and troubleshooting purposes.

How do you incorporate feedback from end users and partners? 
We get feedback from partners and customers as well as our salespeople, training personnel and developers. One way we accomplish this is to offer everyone the option to provide feedback on each case after it’s closed. We then measure the feedback against an industry benchmark called Net Satisfaction. The team follows up directly on all dissatisfied feedback and look for areas where we can improve, and we work hard to make those improvements. Milestone also does an annual survey of resellers – not just for technical support but all parts of the business. We look at that year after year and develop strategies to continuously improve our organization.

Milestone Systems operates a tiered technical support model, organizing its resources into Frontline, Backline and Sustaining Engineering teams.
Milestone operates a tiered tech support model, organizing resources into Frontline, Backline and Sustaining Engineering teams who work together to solve issues from the field.

How do you measure the quality and quantity of the tech support service?
In order to be successful on this front, an organization needs to measure many aspects of how it performs. In terms of tech support, two measures we strive to improve are average handle time [AHT] and average speed of answer [ASA].

AHT is highly dependent on being able to quickly identify the root problem. To help with that, we have been very selective over time about the staff we hire and invest a lot in their training so they can identify issues quickly and accurately. Another goal is reducing call wait time. As volume increased we needed to keep pace with the rate of business growth. And one of the places we had fallen behind was in our speed to answer; we could see it in our metrics and survey results. So Milestone invested in additional resources and newer technologies to help route phone calls, and we were able to reduce our speed-to-answer by 30% from 2014, and that number continues to drop.

Milestone also recently invested in a global communications system for auto-callback. It allows callers to select an option to receive a call back when a tech support representative is ready as opposed to waiting on hold. They don’t lose their place in line and they don’t have to be on the phone the whole time.

Milestone software supports thousands of cameras and has hundreds of integrations with solution partner systems. What kind of challenge does this present to support teams?
From a support standpoint, we need to stay as current as we can with our knowledge of third-party integrations, analytics and custom features. From a customer’s point of view, it’s not always clear in what domain a problem lies, so we have to sort out whether the issue is with the integration or the installation. This complicates things, and we’re working hard to develop expertise around the Milestone Integration Platform Software Development Kit [MIP SDK], which is a comprehensive tool that makes it easy to create applications for Milestone XProtect VMS. We have training going on to enhance those skills – we’re expanding our lab to include a number of these integrations so our support engineers can get hands-on experience with them and readily familiarize themselves with all the nuances. Since it’s not always clear where an issue may lie, it’s crucial that we have an open collaboration with our integration partners, which we continue to strengthen.

Are there any other plans to continue evolving the support organization?
In the very near term, the organization is developing some enhanced tools for even faster determination of root causes of problems. We’re also making sure that we have proper resource planning and training. We continue to develop and improve our online self-help resources and support communities, as well.

There has been a need in the marketplace to provide a range of enhanced support services that reflect different business needs: customers in the mid-range market have after-hours requirements that are very different from a mission-critical environment like an airport. We have put together a group of support agreements that fall into different ‘care’ categories with premium and elite services that better address the needs of those requiring service level agreements and technical account management. This is quite significant. Incorporating these distinct parameters gives us the ability to deliver the right service, at the right time, from the right resource – that’s what we’re striving for.

Courtney Pedersenby Courtney Dillon Pedersen, Communications Manager, Milestone Systems