Organization – Specialist or Generalist

Another consideration is the issue of generalist versus specialist. The generalist is simply a jack-of-all-trades who knows something about everything (more or less). The specialist is someone who knows everything about one specific topic (more or less). Unless you have a completely customer-based support organization, you’re going to have people who are fairly versed in one area and not so in others. Having both is important, because the generalist can probably answer a much larger number of calls than the specialist can, especially if you have a large number of calls dealing with basic issues. Once again, the more specialized the application you use, the greater the need there is for experts.

When I was working in tech support, there was a set of topics for which everyone was expected to be a generalist. That is, at the very least they should be able to begin working on the problem in this area. Each analyst then became a specialist in one or more areas. Each analyst was then given a rating from 0 to 4 in each area. A 0 meant the analyst could not even begin working on problems in this area, and a 4 meant he was an expert. These ratings were used whenever a problem needed to be reassigned. Although we did employ a TH model, sometimes the analyst simply could not continue and needed to hand off the problem to someone else.

Generalists are good in cases where it is not immediately clear whether the problem belongs in one area or another. One group may insist that the problem belongs somewhere else because of a specific set of criteria, and the other group says it belongs to the first group based on another set of criteria. Even if the generalist does not have the authority to say once and for all to which group the problem belongs, he is still in a position to begin working on the problem in that he has experienced in both areas.

However, keep in mind that these gray-area problems should be the exception and not the rule. If you find that the large number of calls are being passed to the generalist or the generalist has to make decisions, you might consider redefining the groups so that the division is much clearer.