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Special report: 1998 tech support salary survey.

Tech support employees make up 15%-20% of the headcount in a typical software company these days, so it's no surprise that support staffing gets lots of attention whenever budgets are tight. The real surprise is that these cost control efforts seem to be working: Despite an unusually tight labor market, 1997 salaries for rank-and-file tech support and customer service reps barely budged from their 1996 levels.

That's probably the most visible conclusion of our third annual Tech Support Salary Survey (a joint research project with the Association of Support Professionals). Moreover, this year's survey data--which reflects salary information for more than 9,500 support reps and managers who work for 235 software support organizations--suggests that frozen salaries are more than a one-time phenomenon. In both 1995 and 1996, median pay for an "average" support technician was $31,000; last year, the median crept upward by just $100 to $31,100. Meanwhile, median pay for customer service reps showed a similar long-term trend: In 1995 median CSR pay was $27,000; in 1996, the median dropped to $25,000, so last year's modest 4% gain to $26,000 still reflects a net decline.

And for the first time, higher-skilled support reps and managers have began to feel the impact of corporate belt-tightening. Pay for senior support technicians grew by just 5%, compared to a more robust 8.6% in 1996. Field support and analyst/project manager employees made even less progress: Their median pay saw no growth last year, after raises of 11% and 25% in 1996.

In fact, the only big gains in 1997 showed up at the very top of the support organization--13% growth for senior support executives, and 6% for department managers. Here, a bidding war for scarce managerial talent continues to push salaries upward. But because these categories include only a small percentage of all support employees, the impact of these fatter paychecks on overall compensation costs is relatively minor.

Of course, support pay depends on a good many variables, including skill and performance levels, company size, location, and type of product. In the charts and analysis that follow, we've tried to supply comparative benchmarks to help support managers create individual company compensation plans that reflect these variables.* The end result, ideally, should be salary levels that are both fair and competitive.
1997 Support Salaries Count High Low Median
Senior Support Executive 118 $100,000 $70,000 $90,000
Vice president 33 $120,000 $80,000 $100,000
Director 45 $100,000 $70,000 $89,107
Department Manager 205 $70,000 $45,000 $55,000
Analyst/Project Manager 97 $60,100 $40,000 $50,000
Field Support Technician 59 $50,000 $34,500 $40,000
Least skilled 37 $40,000 $30,000 $36,000
Most skilled 44 $70,000 $42,000 $53,800
Senior Support Technician 150 $50,000 $35,000 $40,000
Least skilled 105 $45,000 $30,000 $36,000
Most skilled 132 $65,000 $40,000 $45,500
Support Technician 176 $37,500 $26,000 $31,100
Least skilled 117 $32,000 $24,000 $28,000
Most skilled 130 $45,000 $31,000 $36,000
Customer Service Rep 99 $30,000 $22,500 $26,000
Least skilled 64 $26,000 $20,000 $23,460
Most skilled 73 $35,000 $25,000 $30,000
Source: 1998 Soft*letter/ASP Tech Support Salary Survey. Note:
"Count" is the number of responses in each salary category or
sub-category. "High" salary is the median for the top 50% of all
salaries in each category; "Low" salary is the median for the bottom

Senior Support Executive (vice president or director level)

"Coordinates activities and budgets of multiple support groups or sites. Meets regularly with senior corporate management and key customers."

Service organizations (especially those that operate as cost centers) usually don't attract fast-track executive talent. But software companies lately have begun recruiting more top-level managers with operations and account management skills, and pay levels have risen accordingly. Currently, the median salary for senior support executives is $90,000, but the best jobs--which tend to be in larger companies--are worth a good deal more: The top 10% of senior executives all earn over $125,000. Moreover, it's now increasingly common for top support executives to hold vice-presidential titles: Of the 78 senior executives in our survey whose titles were supplied, 42% are vice presidents.

* One caution: Statistical reliability suffers when there are too few responses in a breakout category. We've indicated the number of responses (the "count") in every segment as a rough guide to the accuracy of each data point.

Department Manager "Manages day-to-day activity of a single support center staff."

Most large support organizations have a dedicated "inside" manager (or managers) to oversee ongoing operations, including such tactical areas as productivity, recruiting, and customer satisfaction. Department managers rarely have formal executive training or backgrounds; most have risen through the ranks of various support organizations, and they earn only slightly more ($55,000 median) than other experienced support employees with non-managerial responsibilities. As a result, there is a wide gap between pay levels for department managers and senior support executives.

Analyst/ Project Manager

"Manages major business activity; usually has no direct reports."

In addition to traditional operations managers, a good many support organizations these days have management-level specialists who oversee individual project areas (such as automation systems or performance analysis). Currently, 97 of our survey respondents have employees in the "analyst/project manager" category ($50,000 median pay), compared to 205 with "department manager" titles.

Field Support Technician

"Provides on-site service, primarily for enterprise products."

PC support is typically provided by telephone, but most high-end software companies also provide on-site services, usually for a fee, or as part of a maintenance contract. In the past, field technicians were the industry's highest-paid support reps; in 1997, however, their pay levels ($40,000 median) almost exactly matched the profile of senior telephone support technicians.

Senior Support Technician

"Answers escalated calls; may function as a group or team leader."

Most support organizations have developed formal (or sometimes informal) career paths that reward experience, in-depth product knowledge, certification, or a part-time management and training role. Typically, the primary job of the "senior" technician is to provide answers to questions that first-level support reps can't answer, or to serve as an initial contact for end-user help desks. Pay levels in this category are spread fairly widely, reflecting variations in skill and performance: Median pay for the category as a whole is $40,000, but the best-paid 25% of "most skilled" technicians earn more than $65,000.

Support Technician

"Provides first-level solutions, primarily over the phone."

At most software companies, the task of handling routine telephone questions is an entry-level job with relatively high turnover. As a result, pay levels tend to be low ($31,100 median). Moreover, the range of salaries for basic tech support is fairly narrow: Half of all companies paid their "average" support reps between $26,000 and $37,500 in 1997.

Customer Service Rep

"Answers routine service questions; routes calls to technicians."

Increasingly, software companies have hired lower-paid customer service reps to handle first-level customer contacts--collecting background information on callers, filling orders, and answering simple questions that don't require extensive diagnostic skills or training. Although customer service pay levels have shown some volatility in recent years, half of all software companies last year paid customer service salaries in a $22,500-$30,000 range.

Variables: Revenues, Organization Size, Product Price, Location

*Annual revenues: Pretty consistently, larger software companies pay their support employees at the top end of the salary scale--and, in general, also get substantially more productivity from their support staff. Except for senior executive salaries, however, pay scales tend to level off at the $10 million level; differences in manager and technician salaries between a $10 million company and a $100 million company are usually minor.
 Annual Company Revenues
 <$5 MM $5-$10 MM $10+ MM
Senior Support Executive $75,000 $97,500 $91,500
Count: 25 16 70
Department Manager $50,000 $50,000 $60,000
Count: 71 25 95
Analyst/Project Manager $40,000 $50,000 $55,000
Count: 30 11 48
Field Support Technician $35,000 * $47,500
Count: 21 7 26
Senior Support Technician $37,000 $36,000 $43,000
Count: 39 15 83
Support Technician $27,750 $29,000 $35,000
Count: 54 21 87
Customer Service Rep $27,000 $22,000 $28,000
Count: 26 11 53

Salaries are medians. "Count" is the number of responses in each salary category or sub-category.

Asterisk (*) indicates insufficient data (fewer than 10 responses).

*Organization size: In making salary comparisons, company revenues are usually less important than the size of the support organization (which may be proportionally larger in companies that treat service as a profit center, or smaller when the company outsources a large part of its call volume). Large support organizations tend to pay premium salaries to their executives and managers, but organization size seems to make less difference for lower-level support technicians and customer service reps.
 Support Organization Size (employees)
 1 - 9 10 - 29 30+
Senior Support Executive $80,000 $85,000 $94,250
Count: 24 41 50
Department Manager $50,000 $53,750 $60,000
Count: 75 60 65
Analyst/Project Manager $40,000 $47,500 $55,000
Count: 30 18 47
Field Support Technician $34,750 $45,000 $45,000
Count: 20 14 23
Senior Support Technician $37,000 $40,000 $42,000
Count: 39 48 59
Support Technician $29,000 $32,000 $32,600
Count: 56 53 63
Customer Service Rep $25,200 $26,500 $26,500
Count: 23 32 43

Salaries are medians. "Count" is the number of responses in each salary category or sub-category.

*Product price: Publishers of consumer (priced under $150) and mid-priced ($150-$999) titles pay their support employees--especially rank-and-file technicians and service reps--significantly less than companies that sell high-end (above $1,000) titles. Besides the greater skill levels required for support of high-end products, these companies usually provide fee-based service plans, so their support organizations operate as profit centers--which reduces some of the budget pressure that mass-market software support organizations feel.
 Price of Company's Best-Selling Product
 <$150 $150-$999 $1,000+
Senior Support Executive $75,000 $80,000 $91,500
Count: 17 21 60
Department Manager $50,000 $52,288 $60,000
Count: 34 38 102
Analyst/Project Manager $45,000 $41,000 $50,000
Count: 14 16 49
Field Support Technician * $37,000 $45,000
Count: 6 15 27
Senior Support Technician $37,000 $36,000 $42,000
Count: 22 25 77
Support Technician $28,375 $30,000 $34,000
Count: 30 31 89
Customer Service Rep $25,000 $26,500 $28,000
Count: 18 19 46

Salaries are medians. "Count" is the number of responses in each salary category or sub-category.

Asterisk (*) indicates insufficient data (fewer than 10 responses).

*Location: Roughly a third of our survey respondents have a primary support center located in either California or Massachusetts, both of which have a reputation as high-wage states. In fact, their reputations are well-deserved: Tech support and customer service salaries in California run about 12% higher than elsewhere in the U.S., and Massachusetts pay levels are even higher--typically 19%-20% higher than other states. Similar differentials exist for most higher-skilled and managerial jobs:
 Location of Primary Support Center
 Calif. Mass. Other
Senior Support Executive $92,000 $100,000 $85,000
Count: 29 11 75
Department Manager $65,000 $63,000 $52,000
Count: 49 24 126
Analyst/Project Manager $52,500 $55,000 $46,500
Count: 20 13 62
Field Support Technician $52,500 * $37,500
Count: 10 7 41
Senior Support Technician $40,000 $45,000 $39,000
Count: 32 17 99
Support Technician $33,000 $35,000 $29,500
Count: 41 20 112
Customer Service Rep $28,000 $30,000 $25,000
Count: 23 11 64

Salaries are medians. "Count" is the number of responses in each salary category or sub-category.

Asterisk (*) indicates insufficient data (fewer than 10 responses).

This survey, our third annual report on tech support salaries in the PC software industry, reflects survey data supplied by a wide range of PC software support organizations. Some key characteristics of our sample universe:

Company size: 46% of our respondents report annual sales of $10 million or more; the rest fall in the $5-$10 million range (12%) or below $5 million (42%).

Organization size: Although support employees make up a large part of total company headcount, the absolute size of most PC software support organizations continues to be fairly small: Median organization size is 12 employees; 43% of respondents have 1-9 support employees, 28% have 10-29 employees, and 30% have 30 or more employees.

Product price: Many of the software companies in our sample serve high-end vertical markets. The median price for our respondents' best-selling products is $1,713; 56% support products that sell for more than $1,000 another 22% support products in the $150-$999 range, and 22% support products that sell below $150.
 1995 1996 Change
Senior Support Executive $75,000 $80,000 +6.7%
Department Manager $50,000 $52,000 +4.0%
Analyst/Project Manager $40,000 $50,000 +25.0%
Field Support Technician $36,000 $40,000 +11.1%
Senior Support Technician $35,000 $38,000 +8.6%
Support Technician $31,000 $31,000 0%
Customer Service Rep $27,000 $25,000 -7.4%

COPYRIGHT 1997 Soft-letter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event
Date:Dec 31, 1997
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