How to structure a CUSTOMER SUPPORT team?

Step 1: Framework for defining team structure

Before we dive into the specifics of structuring support teams, it’s important to ask as few questions
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How important is customer support for your company?
Is customer support equally or more important than acquisition?
How important is overall customer experience for your company?
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How much resource am I willing to put into better customer retention?
How you answer these questions might change how you’re thinking of structuring your support team, but one thing that’s unequivocally necessary is the need for support teams altogether.
It’s 5 times more expensive to acquire a new customer. A mere 5% increase in customer retention can increase revenue from 25-95%.
- HubSpot report on customer retention, '22

Why is it important to structure your support team?

A well-structured support team is the backbone of customer retention and satisfaction. Without a clear structure, customer queries can fall through the cracks, leading to poor customer experiences.
Companies like Zappos and Apple have excelled in customer retention by structuring their support teams effectively.
Zendesk uses a three-tier system to ensure that customer issues are escalated and resolved by the most qualified individuals.
Amazon has quite single-handedly reshaped e-commerce and exemplifies self-service that minimizes support needs and accounts for a smoother customer experience.

Defining structure based on company size

For startups, regardless of whether or not you might have funding, it’s recommended to have a lean and versatile structure that focuses on the entrepreneurial side of things. Better support shouldn’t be at the cost of falling revenue and target because the runway just won’t allow it. Also, the team should be willing to put on multiple hats and have a more circumstantial approach.
Customer support today can be thought of as a subset of customer experience and even customer success. Growing from a smaller team, it’s important to create teams with support and equip each team to focus on only a set of problems. This will not only ensure expertise in support but also streamline the entire process.
The larger an organization, the more organized the teams need to be. This is where hierarchies based on seniority, expertise, concern, or even availability can help significantly structure the team from the ground up. The use of tags and other identifiers can help segregate the support funnel to handle varying volumes of support tickets every day.

Defining Structure Based on the Type of Company

Focus on training your team on technical troubleshooting, knowledge base, and quick query resolution. How can teams work together to understand customer queries faster and possibly resolve or forward tickets to the concerned person? A tiered system also works great here.
1st tier
focused on general queries such as pricing, signups, etc.
2nd tier
focused on basic and intermediate technical concerns.
3rd tier
focused on advanced tickets that need product and engineering aid as well.
Support teams for companies that sell a product (online or physical), should focus more on solving returns or refund problems. Here, the major customer queries are not complicated hence technical knowledge or tiered systems are not necessary. What matters most here is dedicating most of your support staff to the frontline to handle support queries as quickly as possible.

Most things are situational

Giving structure to your team is more than just about defined roles and tiers to handle concerns. A lot of what you must do is more of a response to certain situations than something fixed.
If your customers are more often than not facing bad experiences, it might be a result of poor team structures. In such cases, you need to be able to redefine certain roles and align them with different parts of the customer funnel.
Customer support faces the most practical instance for your product or service. This lets you understand how your company is being utilized in the real world and hence what the problems associated with it are. Identify recurring customer concerns to improve team responses and eventually structure.
Define certain metrics and goals and measure the success of your support operations based on how you measure these metrics and whether or not you achieved this goal.

Step 2: Scaling support teams

Taking into account certain factors

Determining the size of your support teams depends on a few factors or circumstances. Consider the following before outlining what you want:
  • Company stage - Early-stage startups require members to wear more hats and do things that are not necessarily part of a “job description”. Smaller teams of 2-4 can be strong enough to handle customers through the entire funnel from support to success. Whereas for larger companies - you might need dedicated teams of 3-4 support professionals to handle queries for specific features or specifically tagged tickets.
  • Query volume -The volume of support tickets raised can directly influence how many support professionals are required to ensure a great experience. Use these patterns to estimate how ticket volumes will scale and this will help determine the team size required to maintain great response rates.
  • Product offering - The type of service or product you offer will determine the level of support required. For technical or SaaS products, not only is it important to have a dedicated team but also train and update them to be able to resolve queries on their own. For products or services that do not require a lot of support (FMCG, clothing, etc.), you might need larger teams but having skilled professionals is not as necessary as the former.

Optimize teams for better efficiency

Once you’ve started building your customer support team, the next step is to be able to scale the teams as customers and queries scale too.
  • Optimize resolution through reallocations - By defining roles and departments within the support teams as the company scales, it can be an efficient idea to reallocate tickets to different teams based on customer concerns and team specialization. This way, you ensure quality as well as better functioning of the team even as things scale.
  • Better training to handle more volume - Train your support teams constantly to make sure they are updated with recent product changes and have the knowledge to be able to serve customers better and maintain great experiences.
  • Optimize knowledge base - A lot of the focus has gradually shifted towards self-service. Optimizing knowledge bases helps customers figure out answers themselves, thereby relieving routine tickets from being raised to support agents. Also, optimized knowledge bases can be used as reference points for agents to provide better support.
Learn more about how AI can drive better efficiencies in Section 7 of Support OS
Tom Blossom, who has lead support teams from the ground-up at companies like Sentry, Instana, and Tecton, discusses his approach to hiring and scaling support teams. Tom lists 3 key things he looks for when he’s building support teams
Subject-matter expertise
Someone who knows the type of space or product they’re getting into and has the technical foundation necessary to not just understand the product but also teach it to others.
An aspiration to do more
Support professionals should be willing to go above and beyond, so someone who’s willing to move from an L1 role to an L2 role (and further) is something to be carefully looked into.
Be coachable
A sense of openness towards their work - ability to take feedback, willing to listen to guidance, and an acute sense of curiosity.

How to look at budgeting and implement priorities

Recognize budgeting as a pivotal tool in driving customer support and eventually success. It's not just about allocating funds but strategically directing them to areas that amplify business growth.
  • Identifying Key Components - Break down your budget into crucial segments such as team resources, tech tools, training programs, and customer engagement initiatives. This granular approach helps in pinpointing where investments yield the most value.
  • Alignment with Goals - Ensure that every dollar spent on customer success is a step towards achieving broader business objectives. This alignment is key to making budgeting decisions that resonate with your company's growth trajectory.
  • Associate your team as an investment, not cost - How you think about your team makes a big difference. Building and maintaining a team is not about the cost incurred but how much will the business benefit from the efficiencies of exceptional customer support.
  • ROI-Focused Spending - Adopt a return-on-investment lens for all expenditures. By understanding the financial impact of your customer success initiatives, you can justify your budget and refine spending towards high-impact areas.
  • Implementing Best Practices - Embrace best practices like optimizing costs, efficient resource allocation, and leveraging data for informed decisions. This mindset fosters a culture of continuous improvement and efficiency.
  • Learning from Examples - Look to real-world case studies as blueprints for successful budgeting. These examples can provide insights into effective strategies and common pitfalls to avoid.

AI is changing how we look at Support agent roles

With the rise of AI in customer support, there will be changes in how customer support roles will be impacted and thereby need to evolve/adapt gradually. In a session from the Support Driven Expo 2023, Declan Ivory from Intercom talked about how the support rep role is changing in his session ‘Building Tomorrow’s Support Teams’.
Increasing complexity of issues
Since AI will handle simple/repetitive issues, support agents will constantly deal with more complex concerns only. This means they’ll have to be better trained to be able to answer more complex queries.
Stronger problem-solving skills
Complex issues will lead to the need for stronger problem-solving skills as reps will be handed more challenging concerns.
Subject matter expertise
Again, more complex issues create a domino effect. The need for solving more pressing problems will require agents to specialize in certain matters to hone their expertise in specific domains.
Similarly, Declan further talked about how freeing up more time for your support teams will give them the opportunity to take on more consultative roles. The spotlight will shift majorly from discussing customer issues to discussing customer value. Your team as a whole becomes more proactive instead of reactive and is able to preemptively address concerns which can improve customer experiences.
In terms of non-customer-facing improvements, support teams can become more focused on consistent improvements. Any gap in AI not being able to answer questions is an opportunity to improve knowledge bases.
The future of customer support and AI is discussed in more detail in Section 6.

Step 3: Define salaries for your support teams

What are some of the average Salaries for Customer Support Roles?

Some factors affecting salaries for customer support teams

Usually lower salaries but a great time to gain experience.
Expect a bump in salary, thanks to accumulated skills.
Higher salaries but may plateau unless you move into management.
Higher salaries due to higher skills.
Starts off with lower salaries but room for commissions and bonuses.
Starts off with lower salaries but room for commissions and bonuses.
Urban Areas
Higher cost of living usually means higher salaries.
Rural Areas
Lower salaries but potentially lower living costs.
Advanced Degrees
Higher degrees can lead to higher positions hence higher salaries.
Specialized training can add value and boost salary.
Management Role
Team Leads
Slightly higher salaries due to added responsibilities.
Significantly higher pay but comes with more stress.

Things to consider before deciding on salaries

Skill Level
Technical Skills
Software proficiency, language skills, etc.
Soft Skills
Communication, problem-solving, and customer handling.
Market Rates
Competitor Analysis
Know what others are offering to stay competitive.
Industry Standards
Align with general pay scales in your industry.
Company Budget
Don't overshoot what the company can sustain.
Profit Margins
Higher profits can justify higher salaries.
Employee Benefits
Health Insurance
Provide the best health insurance plans for your employees.
Performance-based incentives can motivate the team.
Growth Opportunities
Career Path
Show a clear route for advancement.
Skill Development
Offer training programs to improve skills and value.

Step 4: Define objectives and goals

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Most events are assumptions of community builders. We try to do something different - we pick signals from the community and host a topic around them so you get the value and benefit.
What kind of company are you?
You might have a SaaS business, be into e-commerce, have a retail business, or perhaps something else.
What kind of capital do you have?
If you’re an early-stage SaaS start-up, you might have budgetary restrictions to building a full-fledged support team and have to start things small. However, if you’ve raised good capital or are an SMB, then you have more room to structure a support team.
What market do you serve?
Your target audience will heavily impact how you look at objectives. For example - a younger Gen Z target audience leans more towards self-service and hence wants instant support which will impact how you look at customer support.
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Join a group of 4 community builders who hang out once a month to share lessons, stories, and struggles and find a space to vent out all things community.
What is it that you’re selling?
How you structure customer support for a SaaS business vs. for an online clothing store would be worlds apart.


  • Two of the same types of companies might have varying priorities. You might want to be someone who wants a more AI-based approach to offer self-service options while another company prioritizes larger support teams to handle 1-on-1 concerns.
  • How you define objectives also largely depends on what you handle most. if you are a tech company, you should be focused more on resolving tickets as compared to a retail business where refunds and returns are more important customer concerns.
  • The value of a customer. A company that is of tremendous value to you as a customer is worth spending extensive resources to ensure the best possible experience. Whereas for retail companies, one customer isn’t as valuable i.e. not worth the effort to ensure retention.

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