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How to structure your customer service department

To structure your customer service organization, you need to continuously rethink how to best provide support, what kind of people and skills you need, and how you’re going to organize it all.

What does a successful customer support team look and feel like? How can companies deliver good customer service while undergoing rapid growth and the changes that come with it? What are the skills managers and staff members need to better understand and support the agent experience?

In this guide, we provide tools and frameworks to structure your support team based on what leaders have learned during their tenure at Zendesk. We implement these strategies as our own customer support team changes to keep up with the pace of the company’s growth.

Customer service structure

Customer service organizational structure is a framework of roles, teams, and tiers that help build a people-first approach to customer service. Key to that is providing well-defined roles and performance expectations, which gives everyone on the team an understanding of what they should be achieving and their career path options and goals to work toward.

Key steps for structuring your customer service team

Customer structure

Step 1: Identify the roles, teams, and tiers

A good team always starts with establishing a strong foundation. First, identify your company's needs and circumstances. For example, if you’re a software company, will most of your tickets be technical issues? Do you have tech-savvy customers, or will they require an extra level of customer service?

If you’re a retail company—will most of your customer service involve returns and refunds? If your company were to categorize your tickets, which would have the highest volume? This will offer a starting point to manage expectations, and define the roles, functions, and teams that are needed to meet and support those needs.

Zendesk’s Customer Advocate teams are organized into three team tiers to manage complexity by segmenting tasks and focus areas.

  1. Tier 1 answers general product support tickets

  2. Tier 2 answers technical support tickets

  3. Tier 3 answers advanced technical support tickets and engineering issues

By dividing and conquering, agents can answer issues within a certain beat, dive deeper and gain expertise along the way. Importantly, that expertise can in turn be added to an internal knowledge base that can accelerate onboarding while elevating your company's level of customer service.

There’s no single perfect formula for growing a customer support organization, but there are some key milestones that you can consider important growth tipping points:

  • When is it time to add a Support Organizations team?

  • When is it time to add a tier?

  • When is it time to specialize?

  • When is it time to triage tickets?

Step 2: Support your support team

After building out a solid team architecture, then comes the glue to fit these pieces together to ensure a positive support environment for the team. We’ve highlighted several skills and practices that agents and managers should practice to support one another, and ultimately customer satisfaction.

Five essential skills for customer advocates

There’s more to being a customer advocate than showing up. Here are a few qualities that managers should look for when recruiting, hiring and onboarding customer service representatives.

  • Empathy

  • Internet savvy

  • Strong communication

  • Mastering simplicity

  • Growth mindset

Six core competencies for Managers

Managers have the responsibility to ensure that organization is delivering the level and quality of customer service that it promises. This means managers need to create a great support experience for employees. After all, happy agents provide the kind of customer-focused service that results in satisfied end users—and that leads to better customer retention.

  • Communication

  • Direction setting

  • Motivating and recognizing

  • Change management and removing roadblocks

  • Conflict management, feedback, and development

  • Hiring, onboarding, and diversity

Step 3: Create opportunities for growth and mentorship

When a company is growing, employee retention is critical to keep the momentum going. Empower your support staff by providing opportunities for career advancement – show that there’s room to learn and grow. This opens doors for peer mentorship and cultivating a scalable and sustainable organization as veteran staff move up and new faces arrive. Remember that your company has many options for helping team members improve how they deliver customer service. Customer feedback, for example, is invaluable – that information yields clear roadmaps for the kind of customer service that will separate your organization from its competitors.

In the end, a great support experience can be boiled down to this simple equation:

The support experience = Customer Experience + Agent Experience

There’s a lot to process and think about. And it's essential to remember that the interpersonal and organizational best practices you put in place will only be as effective as the software workers use to help customers. Will that software automate repetitive tasks? Does it integrate phone support, social media, live chat, email–in other words, can it enable team members to get a holistic view of customers while simplifying day-to-day tasks? Increasingly, these questions determine the difference between acceptable customer support and great customer service.

Regardless of what stage your company is at right now, use this guide to start thinking about the process of building a customer support team that works well with your organization. With thoughtful planning, consistency, and flexibility, your business will be able to maintain the kind of customer service your customers demand.

How to structure your customer service department