Building out a customer support department is like settling an uninhabited island. At first, you and your fellow pioneers must use every resource available to its maximum potential.
This plant is good to eat, but it can also be used to make rope
This blanket doubles as sun protection during the daytime
This product manager can answer phone calls when everyone else is eating lunch
That’s why getting the green light to scale-up and hire new agents feels so good. But without the proper support team structure in place, your new civilization might never achieve greatness.
Phase One: Take an Inventory of Your (Human) Resources
4 Life Vests
1 Bottle White Rum
2 Product Specialists
Per UNCUI (United Nations Council on Uninhabited Islands) guidelines** you and your trusted support agents must live on the island for 6 months in order to establish a claim. This duration will test your resolve and resourcefulness. Find out what you have and how it can best be used.
** This organization and law have been fabricated by Aircall for the sake of analogy.
Recognizing your current agents’ individual strengths and skill sets is the first step toward taking your customer service from “surviving” to “sustained success.”
Who are the technical troubleshooters, who are the product experts, and who are the front-line, rapid-responders? Will some agents be better at assisting a handful of VIP clients? With these observations, begin assigning specialist roles.
Delegation according to expertise will factor into every support team structure. Discovering and fostering these areas of proficiency will take time and consideration — starting the process early-on is a great advantage.
Phase Two: Systems, Structure, and Civilization
After a few months, things begin to settle down. Now you need sustained water, food, and shelter. The wells you dig, crops you cultivate, and foundations you pour are all commitments which shouldn’t be taken lightly. Future adjustments are possible but may come at a heavy price.
Now your support operations need more first-touch resolutions, shorter wait times, and deeper product knowledge. The system you choose is based on the nature of your product/services and the types of customer inquiries you receive.
Once you decide on a course of action, you’ll need to finish grooming your specialists into experts and make additional hires as necessary. Onboarding and training should be influenced by the specific support team structure you choose
Like building a camp, however, the initial model you choose to pursue will be difficult to alter once implemented.
Support Team Structure Option 1: A Two-Tier System
A popular option for larger teams, the two-tiered system essentially structures customer support into two categories: simple fixes and more sophisticated issues.
In this setup, all calls, emails, and chats are initially fielded by tier-1 agents. These representatives are the quick responders and company generalists. Equip any new hires with email “snippets,” call scripts, and links to useful self-help resources until they’re able to navigate independently.
Tier-1 representatives should be able to answer the majority of customer inquiries and resolve small-to-medium size issues regarding shipping, products, or billing.
For larger inquiries that require additional research, in-depth solutions, and individual attention, customer cases can be elevated to Tier-2 representatives. This team includes fewer, more specialized individuals. Product experts, technical support, and “accounts payable” fall into this category. These agents will be more experienced and have been with the company longer.
The tiered structure allows for many calls to be solved quickly, sans transfers. Depending on what tools are available to you, however, a more direct system might be more convenient.
Support Team Structure Option 2: Route to Specialized Teams
A potential downside of the tiered structure is miscommunication or delays between Tier-1 and Tier-2 support associates. Downtime leads to longer queues and increased time-to-resolution.
One way to avoid these unnecessary touches is to have a “dispatcher and teams” system. Using this arrangement, you first learn why a customer is calling, then assign the case to a specialized team.
Essentially, the distribution of agents is flipped from the tiered structure. The majority of your agents will be specialized — equivalent to Tier-2 above — and a few will be rapid-responding generalists. Agent training may be more extensive, but teams can operate smaller on-the-whole.
The right phone system will let you avoid a first-touch at the “distribution” level. A thoughtful and intuitive interactive voice response (IVR) will let your callers to direct themselves to a knowledgeable agent.
Phase Three: Introduce a Hierarchy
Eventually, your utopian paradise attracts others pursuing a simpler life of subsistence farming and coconut daiquiris. Your foolproof knowledge of the local flora, not to mention your eagerness to teach others essential survival skills, means you’ve been chosen as Monarch. In order to maintain the zen-like-peace and a sense of order, you must form a government in your name.
Hierarchy is not a dirty word when structuring your support team. A “flat” structure will eventually lean more toward inefficiency than independence. When this happens, delegation and leadership protocols will keep everyone on the same page. The first step is establishing leadership.
“Aim for a ratio of 1 manager for every 7-10 employees to maintain a proper awareness of team and customer issues.” Tania Kefs – Aircall Head of Customer Support
By keeping teams relatively small, leaders can give managers an accurate reading on day-to-day operations, pain points, and successful high-volume strategies before further scaling occurs.
If possible, team leads can be promoted from within. The prospect of upward mobility within the company incentivizes strong performance and raises employee morale.
But top performers don’t necessarily make the best team leads. A high level of proficiency across the support spectrum is desirable, but segmented leaders should be exceptional in one area of your business.
Additionally — and most important — team leads should want to make everyone around them better. This quality can be seen by a willingness to out of one’s way to help others, and providing constructive criticism in a way that avoids deflated egos.
Final Phase: Employ Technology for Sustained Success
The Kingdom of Recurring Revenue is thriving, and everyone’s having a fantastic time staying “off-the-grid.”
But in order to maintain the quality of life, you need the right tools, which means a line of communication with the outside world. Plus, what’s life without Netflix and free two-day shipping?
In terms of customer support, the software you use will shape and enhance the structure you choose to implement.
CRM integrations with your chat tools, phone system, and email inbox will make cross-channel communications easier and provide agents with essential background information when fielding inquiries.
If your phone software tracks call volume and other vital statistics, life becomes even easier. By combining these analytics with regular call tagging, you’ll clearly see why customers are calling and where to distribute/hire agents when necessary.
(Side note: Check our Aircall’s 2018 Customer Support Survey for a detailed look at how teams that track statistics are winning at Customer Experience.)
Good Growth Takes Patience
Your civilization will someday be known as “The Geneva of the South Pacific.” The currency (silver coconuts) will be the international standard, and the life expectancy will soar to 143 years. But this amazing expansion of a small volcanic rock into a thriving example of environmentally-conscious urban development didn’t happen overnight.
When strategically growing your support team, patience and planning are the key takeaways. The cost of a potential mishire can set-back your team in terms of budget and morale. Plus, once a strategy is implemented, starting over becomes increasingly difficult.
Before you begin scaling support, make sure you know what you want to accomplish. Hire employees that promote your goals, and remember to promote from within.
And always remember: powerful communication tools make sustained growth easier.
Published on January 2, 2024.