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Customer service structure: How to build an effective support team

Structuring your customer service organization requires rethinking how to best provide support, what people and skills you need, and how you will organize it.

By Hannah Wren, Staff writer

Last updated February 21, 2024

What is a customer service organizational 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 this is providing well-defined roles and performance expectations, which allows everyone on the team to understand what they must achieve and their career path options and goals to work toward.

Building a successful customer service team requires clear strategies and dedicated effort. Every member of the team—from agents to executives—must understand their role, others’ roles, and how it all fits together within the department.

Establishing an effective customer service structure that promotes your organizational objectives is the first step to empowering your team to carry out their duties and ensure customer success. In this article, we provide tools and frameworks to structure your support team based on the real-world experiences of industry leaders.

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Benefits of establishing a customer service structure

Customer service is the front line of your business—it’s how you build relationships and forge your reputation. Establishing a clear and effective customer service structure can lead to the following benefits for your organization.

Customer service structures offer the following benefits: improved team efficiency, defined team hierarchies, and increased collaboration.

Improves team efficiency

A clearly defined customer service department structure can turn your team into a well-oiled machine. Clear roles and responsibilities eliminate confusion and duplication of effort, while defined workflows guide employees through tasks. For example, by dividing your team into specialized groups, you can route help requests to the agents who are best suited to handle them, resulting in faster resolutions.

Defines team hierarchy

A well-designed organizational structure lays the foundation for efficient team management. Establishing a clear hierarchy provides managers with defined areas of responsibility and oversight. Team leads and supervisors can focus on specific areas, like product expertise or skill development, without micromanaging the entire group.

This frees senior managers to concentrate on broader goals and strategies while maintaining crucial visibility into the team’s overall performance. Moreover, a well-defined hierarchy fosters accountability, empowering managers to take ownership of their tasks and contribute effectively to the collective goal of providing exceptional customer service.

Increases collaboration

With a defined structure, team members understand the roles and responsibilities of their coworkers, leading to greater collaboration. Whether it’s a technical glitch, a complex customer query, or a need for additional training, every team member has dedicated points of contact to seek assistance.

This eliminates the frustration of bouncing between colleagues or escalating tickets unnecessarily. Open communication channels ensure information flows seamlessly, allowing teams to quickly identify issues, track progress, and provide targeted support where needed.

8 types of customer service organizational structures

Each organization faces unique challenges and caters to diverse customer needs, which demand a tailored approach. From traditional hierarchies to dynamic matrices, explore how different customer service structures shape team dynamics, communication flows, and the customer experience.

Functional organizational structure

A functional organizational structure groups employees together based on their expertise. For example, all the marketing employees would be in one department, all the finance employees would be in another one, and so on.

This type of structure can be very efficient, as it allows employees to focus on their area of expertise and work with people with similar skills and knowledge. However, it can also lead to poor communication and collaboration between departments.

Product-based divisional structure

A product-based divisional structure organizes customer support along product lines, creating dedicated teams for each product or service the business offers.

This approach immerses agents in the intricacies of each product, fostering deep expertise and a nuanced understanding of specific customer needs. They become product experts, readily navigating features and troubleshooting complex issues.

Geographic divisional structure

A geographic divisional structure organizes customer service teams by location. These teams understand local nuances, speak the language, and can navigate cultural expectations, which builds customer trust and greater opportunities for personalization.

However, dividing teams by regions can lead to information silos. Cross-regional collaboration and knowledge sharing are crucial to ensure consistency and avoid isolated customer support approaches.

Circular organizational structure

A circular organizational structure for customer service teams promotes a more collaborative, interconnected landscape. Picture a series of concentric circles. At the center are the executives and each surrounding ring represents a different team or function, all equally important in supporting and empowering the customer experience.

Information and support flows freely across these circles, fostering open communication and collaboration. Agents on the front line gain immediate access to expert guidance from specialists in inner circles, while executives gain valuable insights that fuel strategic decision-making. This interconnectedness breeds agility and responsiveness, allowing the team to adapt to any customer need or challenge.

Market-based divisional structure

In a market-based divisional structure, teams cater to distinct customer groups, like startups or large enterprises. Each team is deeply versed in the needs and customer expectations of their unique market segment. They become trusted advisors, tackling industry-specific issues, offering tailored solutions, and building lasting relationships.

Matrix organizational structure

In a matrix organizational structure, customer service teams are extremely flexible and agents wear many hats. Agents in this structure combine product-specific knowledge with technical prowess, creating agile teams that handle complex queries within their product or market segment.

However, navigating a matrix environment can be tricky. Clear communication channels and strong leadership are crucial to avoid confusion and ensure accountability among the team.

Flat organizational structure

In a flat structure, hierarchies are replaced by a level playing field of shared responsibility, where agents and leaders stand shoulder to shoulder. Agents own their interactions and are equipped with the autonomy to resolve issues, offer creative solutions, and contribute to shaping team processes. Leaders act as mentors and facilitators, fostering a culture of learning and continuous improvement.

Process-based organizational structure

Process-based organizational structures ditch siloed departments and instead revolve around the customer journey. Teams are organized around key stages—like customer onboarding, troubleshooting, and billing—with each stage guided by a dedicated crew of specialists. Every interaction feeds into the next, with data and insights informing personalized support and proactive solutions.

Download the free customer service structure guide

Unlock the secrets to building a stellar support team with our free guide on organizational structuring. Discover essential tips and strategies to elevate your customer support game by downloading this blueprint to success.

Key steps for creating a customer service organizational structure

Establishing an effective customer service department structure is necessary for businesses aiming to cultivate positive customer experiences. Explore the key steps organizations can undertake to build a suitable support framework for their employees and, ultimately, their customers.

An illustration of a person waving accompanies steps for establishing your customer service structure: identify roles, teams, and tiers; support your support team; create opportunities for growth and mentorship; and monitor performance and measure results.

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, you likely receive help requests that range from very basic to highly technical issues. Dividing the department into specialized tiers to take on these requests can improve issue resolution success and efficiency.

The lowest tier might be composed of teams that are best suited to resolve general product questions that customers can’t resolve using your enterprise help desk. Higher tiers would be reserved for complex issues that require technical knowledge from experienced professionals.

Each tier should consist of multiple teams—headed by team leaders and made up of junior and mid-level agents—that field specific types of issues. For instance, one first tier team might handle all basic questions concerning a certain product. Complex questions related to that product escalate to the respective team in the next tier.

Step 2: Support your support team

After building a solid team foundation, you’ll need to take measures that promote a positive support environment for the team. Look for managers who possess the appropriate leadership skills and technical aptitude needed to lead specific teams, like product support. Managerial roles are not one-size-fits-all positions. Each manager needs to develop customer service skills in their team that enable agents to effectively execute their responsibilities, like training them on messaging best practices.

But recruiting or promoting the right managers won’t produce the desired results if they’re overloaded with too many direct reports or responsibilities. Managers that oversee higher support tiers shouldn’t be expected to lead the same number of agents as managers that lead lower tiers. Since the requests that high tier teams receive are complex, their managers likely need to be more involved in daily operations.

Step 3: Create opportunities for growth and mentorship

The operational benefits of your new customer service structure shouldn’t come at the expense of your employees’ professional growth. If an employee feels stuck in their position, they’ll eventually leave in search of new opportunities. The best structures reconcile both the needs of the company and employees so everyone can prosper.

You can reduce employee turnover by providing your support team with actionable stepping stones and achievable goals that lead to promotions. Establishing a peer mentorship system can help junior employees work their way up the ranks by seeking the counsel of senior employees. The mentor can draw from their experience to help the mentee understand the organization and what it takes to succeed.

Step 4: Monitor performance and measure results

Monitor customer service performance through key performance indicators (KPIs) to adapt and improve your customer service team structure. KPIs reveal whether your structure, resources, and processes truly serve customers and agents.

You can pinpoint bottlenecks, identify underperforming areas, and adjust the structure by tracking metrics like resolution times, employee and customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, and agent productivity. Check out this guide on employee satisfaction surveys for help creating your own.

This data-driven approach allows you to experiment, optimize resources, and ultimately build a customer service ecosystem that delivers on its promises, leading to happier customers and a stronger bottom line.

Download the free customer service structure guide

Unlock the secrets to building a stellar support team with our free guide on organizational structuring. Discover essential tips and strategies to elevate your customer support game by downloading this blueprint to success.

Download the free customer service structure guide

Unlock the secrets to building a stellar support team with our free guide on organizational structuring. Discover essential tips and strategies to elevate your customer support game by downloading this blueprint to success.

Download free guideDownload free guide