7 Considerations for Finding Your Ideal Customer-Support Structure

Define your customer's 'delight,' meaning that person's perfect support experience.

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By Rich Pearson

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Customer demands can be relentless. We live in a 24/7 era where customers expect instant answers and will punish your company on social media if you inconvenience them. Fortunately, technology is enabling companies of all sizes to structure their support teams in order to stand up to these demands.

Related: 7 Tips to Knock Your Online Customer Support Out of the Park

Whether you're looking to build a team from scratch, reorganize your existing team or prepare for growth, you should first find the right structure for your support team. Here are seven things to consider when determining the customer-support structure that suits your business best.

1. Define your customer's 'delight.'

Before you do anything else, decide what customer delight looks like for your organization. What does a perfect support experience entail? What is your idea of a satisfied customer? Answering these questions will allow you to begin building a philosophy and team structure that not only leads to a consistently great customer experience but positive word-of-mouth. If you need inspiration, take a look at your company's mission and values to better understand the support you want to provide and equip your team to deliver on your values through every interaction.

2. Divide your support team into channels.

Consider structuring your team by function. This may include any combination of channels such as email, phone, live chat, ticket and social. Once you've identified which channels best serve your customer base, use this information to guide your hiring and infrastructure building, taking into account business needs and skill levels. To stay efficient, assign each rep a secondary channel so that he or she can switch when certain channels are slow or experiencing a high volume of requests.

3. Look beyond the local talent pool.

Where will you source your talent? Connectivity has enabled a degree of accessibility which makes in-house teams no longer the only option. You can now find and work with the best reps around the world -- and do so quickly -- by hiring online. Companies like Thumbtack and Visual.ly are employing more flexible, distributed teams made up of on-premises workers and remote customer support reps to achieve the best coverage. If you're having trouble attracting great agents, search beyond your local market.

Related: 9 Things You Need to Know to Give Millennials Great Customer Service

4. Find your golden rep-to-leadership ratio.

Building-in an internal leadership structure as you grow is critical to delivering the best support possible. This ratio will vary -- there's no "one size fits all" -- so take into account things like your leader's other responsibilities and how much time he or she will realistically have. If your leaders wear many hats and won't be able to dedicate the proper amount of time to effectively lead, your ratio may be one "team lead" per four to five reps. Whatever number you land on, be sure that your team lead has ample time to address escalations, answer the team's questions and concerns and motivate your agents.

5. Cater to your customer crowd.

If your business caters to relatively tech-savvy customers, consider making chat your channel of choice. According to the most recent Zendesk Customer Service Benchmark report, live chat provides a customer satisfaction rate of 92 percent -- more than any other channel. If, instead, your customer base is primarily people from older generations who rely less on technology, phone support may be your most valuable channel. Regardless of what categories your customers fall into, be sure to "speak their language" by emphasizing the support capabilities that resonate with them most.

6. Establish an operations team.

As you expand, you'll likely need to establish an operations team that is responsible for the infrastructure that keeps the support team running. This may include anything from training to quality assurance to project management. Building an operations workforce will enable you to scale at great speed and test new ideas quickly and effectively using either in-house staff or a distributed team.

7. Keep experimenting.

As your business needs change, help your team structure evolve to cater to those needs. For example, if structuring your team by function isn't yielding high customer-satisfaction rates, try restructuring to focus on certain types of issues, such as disputes, payments and suspensions. Continually check in on your processes to be sure they're keeping up with your company's evolving demands.

Related: How a Refrigerator's Demise Illustrated 4 Steps to a Customer-Focused Brand

Rich Pearson

SVP, Marketing & Categories, Upwork

As senior vice president of Upwork, Rich Pearson leads the marketing and categories teams. Upwork is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., with offices in San Francisco and Oslo, Norway.

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