What is Intelligent Swarming?

This article explains what intelligent swarming is, how it differs from a traditional tiered approach, and which concrete steps you can take to launch it in your support team.

Ready to learn useful support heuristics from the most intelligent insects and IT support gurus?

Buckle up, we're taking off!

Classic Tiered Support

That's the most common way to organize and scale support organizations.

Tier 1 agents answer most questions in a short amount of time and escalate requests to the next tier that they are not able to resolve on their own.

Tier 2 agents take their time investigating these issues. If they are not able to resolve those issues, they pass the request on to the most experienced Tier 3 specialists.
Such an approach has obvious advantages:

  • A higher-cost resource could handle the more complex tasks, while a lower-cost resource could handle the simple ones.

  • It's easier to scale a support organization by hiring Tier 1 agents

  • There is a career path for newcomers up all tiers, growing their expertise and wellness

Despite this, there are disadvantages that you should be aware of:

  • The time that a customer waits for a resolution increases when cases are escalated from tier to tier by the nature of the process.

  • Human errors during the escalation cycle lead to lower quality of service and customer satisfaction drops.

  • In cases that are initially complex, Tier 1 agents fail to resolve issues at their level, resulting in unnecessary delays.

  • The expertise of Tier 1 agents grows slowly as there is no regular feedback on escalated issues. Often they become addicted to searching for canned answers without critical thinking. That results in a lack of qualified candidates when it's necessary to backfill Tier 2 and 3.

  • As Tier 1 people are always aware that they can escalate cases, they may not feel responsible for the case.

  • It also may produce an "us versus them" approach instead of a "we" culture between different tiers in some organizations.

Intelligent Swarming

So, how do you launch the intelligent swarming process in your organization?

These are three changes you should make:

  1. There are no more tiers. All team members work at one single tier and can be the first point of contact for any customer

  2. If some agents have no knowledge of the issue, they are contacting the team member with appropriate skills internally. This is done without ticket escalation and the person remains a point of contact for the customer. They may work together on resolving the issue.

  3. Once the issue is resolved, the knowledge base gets enriched with relevant content. Later these articles may be used by less experienced colleagues to efficiently resolve tickets on their own.
As you can see, you may achieve the highest yield from the intelligent swarming approach when coupled with the KCS® workflow.
KCS® is a service mark of the Consortium for Service Innovation™


Here is what you get as a result of implementing an intelligent swarming culture:

  1. As there is no way to escalate and hand over the ticket to a different team, people feel responsible for the case from A to Z. That increases the empathy and quality of the service dramatically!

  2. The absence of tiers eliminates the problem of human errors and time losses during the escalation process.

  3. Regardless of the complexity of the ticket, each individual learns much faster, increasing their efficiency and that of the team.

That, in turn, results in the following effect on business outcomes:

  • Increase customer loyalty by reducing customer effort

  • Increase customer success to ensure steady renewals and growth

  • Increase operational efficiency to manage company costs

  • Increase employee engagement and reduce attrition rates to retain talented people

Important Considerations

There are few important things you should consider prior implementing the intelligent swarming approach.

High volumes of simple cases

If you have thousands of Tier 1 requests it may feel infeasible to keep highly trained specialists working on simple cases while more complex issues hang waiting for their attention.

In such a case you may apply a combination of the two approaches: have most incoming requests handled by junior specialists, but instead of escalating requests to more experienced agents they should ask for their help, while staying responsible for the case.

If the ballpark numbers of Tier 1 and Tier 2 requests are not different by an order of magnitude, then it would be OK to have all agents work on all requests equally.

When combined with the KCS approach, simple cases get documented in the knowledge base and it doesn't really matter who gets to suggest the solution: a junior agent, their senior colleague or even a chat-bot.

Career paths for support agents

If you had a Tier upgrade as a promotion option, you should replace it with something else. Such as grades or levels of seniority.

A member's level should depend on their skills, KPIs, and contribution to the team's success.

Thus they may grow through these roles, even staying within one tier.

And by the way, one of the main KPIs should be their ability to share knowledge with others.

Real-time support channels

If you rely on real-time support channels such as phone or chat, then the swarming approach would require to put the customer on hold or even turn it into an asynchronous chat.

An agent may explain they need to consult with their colleagues and justify additional waiting time to the customer.

Remember, though, this approach will lead to a slight increase of handle time, so KPIs tied to SLAs on handle and resolution time should be adjusted accordingly.


The classic tiered model could be an effective way to deal with relatively simple issues. However, even with them, it may be questionable whether separating the workforce is actually necessary. Tiered models have serious flaws in their linear processes and inefficient escalations when dealing with moderate or high complexity, resulting in frustration and low customer satisfaction.

Intelligent Swarming builds organizations that are resilient to changing business dynamics and amplify support team wisdom.

Do you feel it? It's time for a change!
Max Sudyin
Co-Founder @ Swarmica
Ready to give Swarmica a try?
Not ready, but you'd like to learn about KCS®?
Let's talk!