The world’s top companies have all learned the secret to long-term, profitable success lies in one metric: customer retention.
Retention is a powerful way to bring in a ton of ROI. Consider some of these metrics:
- It’s 5-25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one
- A 5% increase in customer retention can increase company revenue by 25-95%
- Retained customers buy more often and spend more than newer customers
- Loyal customers are more likely to refer their friends and family — bringing in new customers, with zero impact on your marketing budget
How do you build loyal customers who can bring these types of numbers to your business? It starts with customer support.
Zappos, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and even Amazon have created blueprints showing how to use good customer service to build client satisfaction and improve retention. It all starts with creating the right structure for your customer support team.
The right organizational structures ensure that no feedback, complaints, or needs get lost and that every customer remains satisfied in their experience with your business. Here’s how to create a customer service organizational structure that will work for you and your customers.
Why organizational structure is beneficial to customer support
Customer support has evolved over the last few decades. Historically, it consisted of a helpline, connecting callers to a support center. Otherwise, clients would go to a physical retail location and make an exchange, register a return, or ask questions.
Customer support was typically one-sided, taking place when a buyer had an issue that needed fixing; it would be incumbent on the customer to find the right contact number, wait on hold, and explain the issue. But, technology has enabled the rise of what’s now known as the customer experience — of which customer support is just one part.
The customer experience is defined as the holistic experience a user has with your brand across marketing, sales, customer support, the in-store experience, and more.
“Customer experience is how a customer feels about the sum of their interactions with a business,” Dave Dyson, a community marketing specialist at Zendesk says.
“It involves every way a customer interacts with a company, at all stages of the customer journey — including the marketing materials they see before they become a customer, the sales experience, the quality of the product or service itself, and the customer service they receive post-purchase.”
While this distinction between customer service and experience can be useful from an organizational perspective, it’s not necessarily how a consumer thinks of support. An omnichannel experience has led to the expectation that a customer can get the help they need no matter how, when, or to whom they reach out.
The customer expects brands to be able to answer their questions and troubleshoot problems through social media, helplines, chatbots, email, and messaging boards. With this in mind, your organizational structure should evolve to accommodate this expectation. Great customer service is support that isn’t siloed.
All parts of the organization must be able to manage customer interactions, either resolving an issue or funneling the customer feedback to the right team leads.
Simply put: your organizational structure must enable transparency, collaboration, and streamlined communication to provide enhanced technical support and retain loyal clients.
What is a typical customer support team structure?
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to setting up a customer service department. Your customer service organizational structure depends on the size of your business, the type of industry in which you work, and how your team performs best.
Ideally, your approach to creating a great service experience should rebrand “customer service” to “customer success.” This encompasses not only traditional customer service, but also incorporates sales, marketing, and even employer branding.
Here are a few common customer success org structure techniques that many companies use to serve clients across their entire brand experience.
For a start-up: lean and entrepreneurial
For small businesses and new ventures, a customer success org structure will be lean and versatile. Your customer service representatives must be skilled in a number of different areas as they will likely need to wear many hats at once.
This team will probably need to rely on tools and software to automate some aspects of customer support: such as routing support tickets, monitoring support channels, responding to feedback quickly, and posting content that helps improve customer satisfaction.
Here’s what a typical start-up customer success org structure could look like:
This smaller team will probably need to outsource phone support, implement CRM software, and potentially add a platform dedicated specifically to managing feedback (such as Clover Feedback or Square Feedback).
For a mid-level business: growth-oriented
A growing business will likely need a larger team to help orient customer success with the company’s goals. Create sub-teams under the broader customer success manager role. Some organizations orient these teams around a specific product, geographic region, or marketing channel. Others choose to divide them according to different stages in the client’s journey.
For instance, you may choose to set up a customer success org chart that creates a customer team for each region. These groups all ladder up to the CMO or Head of Sales.
Here’s an example of this type of customer success org chart set up to mimic the company’s goal of customer retention. This example mirrors the customer’s path to purchase and the company’s effort to keep the customer even after the purchase is complete.
For a large enterprise: support across multi-level, targeted touchpoints
Businesses with plenty of resources can devote time to creating an integrated customer service team. These companies can take a similar approach to mid-level businesses, structuring customer success using geographic regions, sales channels, and buyer journeys. But, these businesses can get even more granular in their approaches.
Here’s an example of what a customer success org structure could look like at a big company.
Even though many organizations will evolve their customer service structure over time, ideally all members of the team have a range of hard and soft skills. These structures serve best as guidelines. Remember, customers expect the same level of care, attention, and knowledge no matter who they speak to or how they get in touch.
How do you structure your customer support team?
These steps can help you build a customer service team that’s flexible, responsive to their needs, and brings a range of expertise to the table. Here’s how to get started.
1. Pick an organizational structure
There are many types of structures to choose from. Here are a few you might consider:
A functional org chart creates a top-down approach. Each position under the team leader leads to more support staff and specialized services. The disadvantage to this approach is that it could create siloes, in which marketing, sales, and support services don’t share information that could potentially improve client retention.
A product-based org chart organizes sales leads, marketing leads, and technical support by product. For instance, a company like Apple would create different teams for the iPad, Apple TV, and the iPhone. Again, this runs the risk of creating siloes if a customer uses many different products or can’t easily find the right support for the product they use.
A market-based org chart is similar to a product-based org chart in that the groups are split into customer-centric units, rather than product sub-teams. This can help address specific customer base segments; when a company deeply understands an audience or particular customer need, this can make a huge difference in the services and experience provided.
4. Geographical division
Like a market-based customer service structure, the geographic divisional org chart allows sales representatives and product marketing leads to develop deep knowledge of the specific customer. Teams can increase engagement and improve retention by building personal relationships with clients over time. However, companies may find their brand becoming diluted with this approach.
A process-based org chart divides teams based on the different processes identified in the company. It considers the different job tasks and skills required for each individual process and articulates how they interact with each other. This model allows workers to focus on the tasks they’re experts in and can create great efficiencies within companies that employ it.
An example of this structure could be building a house. The process begins with plans and permitting, then moves on to site work, framing, plumbing installation electrical installation, wiring for telephone and internet services, insulation, drywall, flooring, landscaping, other exterior aspects, and sometimes more from there. Each of these processes is run by an expert in that particular task, all working to ensure they complete their aspect of this larger project to the customer’s satisfaction.
Matrix structures are where things start to get a little complicated. With this structure, the marketing, sales, and service teams all answer to one department head. Going back to the example of Apple, this means the iPad division would have its own marketing, sales, and service groups; the Apple TV division would have its own distinct support staff, etc.
This allows each service team to be highly specialized for each product that the company offers, but can also lead to brand fragmentation.
Higher-level managers are at the center rings of the circle, spreading their vision expertise outward. Employees responsible for bringing this vision to life are on the outer rings of the circle.
“From an ideological perspective, a circular structure is meant to promote communication and the free flow of information between different parts of the organization,” Hubspot writes.
“Whereas a traditional structure shows different departments or divisions as occupying individual, semi-autonomous branches, the circular structure depicts all divisions as being part of the same whole.”
Flat, sometimes known as organic structures, emphasize a non-hierarchical approach to management. There’s relatively little distinction between levels of experience, with the CEO and entry-level employees following virtually the same expectations. Internal feedback is open and honest and collaboration is a crucial component of this structure.
In the long run, studies have shown that the flat org structure is more productive; but, it can also make decision-making much harder with no single person in charge.
2. Identify the roles
Once you’ve decided which structure works best for your company, establish which customer service roles you need for the system to work.
One way to do this is to look at your customer funnel to see where you are losing the most potential or existing customers. Does someone buy from you once, and then never again? Or are people clicking on your ads, but never completing the purchase? Find out where you are losing leads and form specialized teams with talented individuals.
[Read more: A Comprehensive Guide To Customer Service Hiring]
3. Form specialized teams
Next, create groups of specialized support staff to troubleshoot the areas in which you need the most development. Determine which task each team will be responsible for: e.g., responding to social media posts, answering phones, or responding to direct emails.
There’s an easy way to do this: Vervoe’s new Customer Service Simulator. See how well a candidate performs in the role you’ve designed by creating life-like customer support simulations and testing their ability to search for the right answers and respond in real-time.
4. Implement a hierarchy
By definition, an org structure creates some divisions between different support roles. As you implement a structure that brings together sales, marketing, technical support, customer service, and other customer-facing functions, figure out how different tasks are triaged among these various roles.
One way to do this is to hire for plenty of managerial positions. Managers can help direct requests to the right specialized teams and take a high-level view, keeping in mind the customer journey in determining who should address a specific request.
Likewise, software can also help. Customer relationship management platforms are designed to capture every detailed interaction a customer has with a brand. These tools enable managers to see when a client had contact last, who they spoke to, and what the issue was, so they can better route their request the next time around.
5. Identify opportunities for team members to grow and move through the structure
Ideally, your employee retention will build along with your client retention. High employee turnover makes it extremely difficult to provide customers contact and experienced customer success services. You need to keep your best people on board, and to do that, you need to create an enticing employee value proposition.
Here’s how to consider your employee value proposition: “The EVP for the post-pandemic workforce must orient toward employees as people, not workers; provide an exceptional life, not work, experience; and focus on the feelings, not just the features that match employee needs,” Gartner writes.
Some customer service jobs are thankless, so the more you can help your team by creating clear store policies, managing customer expectations, and respecting your employees to do their jobs, the better employee retention you are likely to have.
Likewise, identify opportunities for advancement. Define responsibilities clearly — for both your team and for your customers. Empower managers to be responsible for troubleshooting as needed. Provide incentives for higher sales or better customer service scores. Make sure that employees feel valued as much as, if not more than, the customers.
6. Monitor performance and revise structure
Finally, there are plenty of tools that can help you collect data and improve your organization over time. Regularly ask your managers to track metrics such as:
- Customer retention
- Time to resolution (the amount of time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue)
- First response time (the time it takes for someone to first respond to a customer’s question)
- Agent touches (the number of updates an agent makes to a ticket)
- Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS) (a third-party measure of customer loyalty and satisfaction)
Many of these can be measured on social media, CRM platforms, and customer feedback surveys. If you find bottlenecks or negative feedback along the way, revisit your department set up and revise your org charge for a better customer experience. It may mean that you have the right people in the wrong role, so keep an open mind and be flexible in your management approach.
Over to you
Great customer service starts with ensuring your organizational structure is built for today’s omnichannel experience. Companies that approach customer service holistically, considering the many touchpoints and interactions a customer has with a brand, can create organizational structures that help retain customers (and employees). This builds value for an organization over time.
Note that even the most well-thought-out org structures are nothing without the right people to staff them. To get started with building a customer support team, check out Vervoe’s hiring resources, including our guide on How To Build an Effective Recruitment Plan, along with our new Customer Service Simulator, and Hirer’s Guide to Customer Service.