office redundancy

In the world of online customer service, no position looks exactly like the next, and no job will be exactly like your last one. But when it boils down to promoting maximum efficiency as an online customer service representative, which methodologies and processes actually work best? It’s not always easy to anticipate what will be on the next support ticket, and there may be dead space between what you can do as a representative and what is actually required from a customer.

On top of that, if you are part of an online customer service team, there are often hierarchies or specialty units in place, but some companies expect representatives to “know everything,” or at least specialize in their specific department. Exploring redundancies (making sure everyone possesses the same knowledge so no customer goes unanswered), and also clearly delineating your duties and capabilities, can totally change the game in terms of your happiness at work and the company’s success.

But the truth is that choosing between “all-in-one” representatives or building a hierarchy of specialized leads depends on the structure of the company, the duties of customer service representatives, and the amount of support needed by the clientele. We’re going to explore structures involved in the online service industry, and make some sense out of what may actually be best for you and your business or organization.

Customer Service Reps that Know Everything

If you’ve been in the customer service industry for long, you know that one of the most frequent (and most frustrating) client conversations involves something along the lines of, “Well, you’re Support aren’t you? I thought you’d be able to help me with this.” And if you work for a redundant-style organization, where you’re supposed to know how to help clients with everything, this refrain can get old pretty quickly.

Often, smaller businesses and services hire one or two customer service representatives to answer emails, deal with questions, and field upset customers who want a refund. As the business grows, however, those same support techs are often expected to have a working knowledge of:

  • How the product/service works (and how to troubleshoot it)
  • Billing and invoicing (as well as the software used to track them)
  • Email support (including knowledge of the platform used)
  • Crisis control (clients who go on social media rampages, refund demands, terrible online reviews, etc.)
  • Phone, email, social media, chat, and written correspondence support (all at once)
  • Employee support (being assigned further tasks outside of support tickets)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as any “redundant” online customer service rep would adamantly agree. How in the world does this work, you ask?

When You Should Be a “Know-It-All”

Most “experts” (aka people who have worked in the customer service industry for a long, long time) recommend no more than 250 clients per representative. This number doesn’t usually include phone support, as phone call support can be quite involved and can slow down the representative’s online effectiveness. In some cases, redundant-knowledge support staff are assigned 40-50 support tickets in any given day, depending on the difficulty of the customer service duties (this can go much, much higher but is dependent on the individual representative).  

To increase productivity and decrease expenses, companies hire a customer service representative who is versatile and can handle social media, email, and chat. They train said magical unicorn with all the knowledge of the inner workings of their company, product, or service, and ask that the support rep(s) defend their company as best as possible.

As a small business, this can actually work very well. Most customer service needs are going to be simple questions about how the product or service works, and maybe a few concerns over billing. On top of that, small businesses are (obviously) not going to have as many support tickets, as their client base hasn’t grown exponentially yet. If we go by the 250 clients per representative, this could mean a customer service team that only consists of 2-3 people for most small businesses.

In this scenario, it’s definitely easy to understand why a business would prefer a “know-it-all” representative; one who can answer any customer service question thrown his or her way. Redundancy is vital when growing a business, as it makes sure the clients are happy and it means lower overall time and resources spent on customer service.

But what happens when a business grows?

Companies With a Complex Customer Service System

If you’re a customer service rep that is part of a growing company or organization, it can be pretty exciting to watch your duties grow and evolve, or it can be incredibly stressful. If you’ve stepped into an organization that is already fairly “established,” you’ll often see a hierarchy of support, which smaller businesses can model as their business grows. There will most likely be teams that provide different support, from billing to tech to subscriptions/sales and more.

Companies also use “tiers” for customer service, where easy support or single-reply responses (Tier 1) can be provided. This is most common in large organizations, where a large volume of support tickets are accumulated every day. This helps zoom through the easier support needs and lets the higher tiered teams focus their resources on more in-depth tickets.

This process-driven, specialized team setup helps businesses that are growing (or are already large) maintain their customer service success by:

  • Making sure that each customer ticket is answered
  • Providing in-depth answers for complex questions
  • Organizing and structuring customer service so that representatives aren’t over-burdened
  • Increasing productivity
  • Increasing sales and retention for larger companies

Of course, a specialized customer service team would be just as effective in all of these areas for a small business, but service teams can be quite an expense. For that reason, specialized support teams usually work best for larger corporations and businesses that have thousands of clients and support tickets filed daily.

Signs That It’s Time to Start Specializing the Team

If you’re an online customer service representative, you know when your client or the business you work for needs to hire on more support reps. Generally, it’s when you feel like you’re drowning and the thought of opening your support queue makes you want to cry. Being unable to answer specific customer questions, letting tickets “fall through the cracks,” and not being able to complete a ticket in a single day are all signs that maybe it’s time to start specializing.

Focusing on each service rep’s strengths and assigning other people within the organization as “resources” for support can all be great ways to start specializing without requiring a massive restructuring. For example, if you’re really good at fixing billing issues, maybe that’s what you should ask your support team to send you. Maybe you also need to have a direct line to one of the software developers so you can answer technical questions quickly.

As the company grows (or is maintaining its size), it’s necessary to prioritize each support ticket and make sure it gets addressed within the window your clients expect. Scaling a customer service team can be quite the process, but is made even more efficient by support representatives who know their strengths and who want to expedite the support process.

If you’re wondering how to specialize your online customer service team, or you’re a representative who is wondering exactly how to build a support team structure, there are plenty of considerations that are highly specific to your organization/business.

Things to Consider:

  • How many tickets a skilled, trained representative can actually handle in a given day
  • The amount of time each ticket averages to completion
  • The average amount of support tickets seen in a day (not related to spikes or leaps)
  • How much of your support depends on sales (something not every service rep can provide)
  • The company’s budget
  • Retention and “sign-up rates” provided by effective customer service team members
  • How many departments/sectors you’d require to cover the range of service needs

Deciding Which Structure You Prefer

Online customer service teams are not “one-size-fits-all,” even though many businesses will attempt to operate under this assumption. Many online support representatives, after they’ve been in the biz for a while, will also develop opinions on which type of structure they prefer. Of course, neither is necessarily better than the other – they are both valid options with their own pros and cons. The general idea here is to see how different companies organize their support teams, and to see which ones would be best for you as a service representative or as part of a customer service team.

If you work for a large plumbing service company, your biggest duty may be answering phone calls to dispatch plumbers. They could have thousands of clients and only get 10-15 calls in a day, while also requiring email or social media help. One or two customer service reps could easily support that, even though the client base is large. If you support a SaaS company, odds are that even a few hundred customers are going to require a handful of support representatives to promptly help customers in need.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the size or structure of your customer service team. It all depends on the customers, what is expected of the representatives, and how well the current process is working. Whether you’re a know-it-all representative or a highly specialized one, your job is to support the customer to help the business grow; it’s your job to find which structure helps you do that! 

latashadoyleLatasha Doyle is a freelance writer living outside of Denver. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.

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