How To Build and Manage Your Customer Service Team

Building and managing a customer service team requires having the right technology to resolve customer issues swiftly—through channels that are convenient to them. And having highly trained and genuinely friendly humans readily available to assist when needed. What’s more, your team must deliver great service consistently.

That’s what customers want and many of them will only give you one chance to get it right. A PWC study shows that no matter how much customers love a brand, one in three (32%) will walk away from a business after a single bad experience.

But what it takes to deliver excellent customer service for one business may not be the same for another because of your product and service, customers, and their preferred communication channels.

However, companies known for providing excellent service take time to address the following 14 areas:

  1. Define what excellent customer service looks like for your business
  2. Discuss how your customer service reflects the brand
  3. Discuss what channels your customer service team will manage and focus on
  4. Review legal restrictions
  5. Consult with experts
  6. Build out your team with the right roles
  7. Know how to hire the best people
  8. Train them on the product or service
  9. Create a playbook for policies and procedures
  10. Invest in the correct tools
  11. Gather actionable customer feedback  
  12. Build community support
  13. Skills to reinforce on your team

1. Define what excellent customer service looks like for your business

When you clarify your definition of what excellent service looks like, you do two things:

  1. Provide tangible guidelines for your team.
  2. Gain a way to measure their success.

One way to start defining expectations is by thinking of times you experienced great customer service. How did it make you feel? It probably made you feel that you, not your wallet, mattered.

Now think of metrics you can track that relate to the feeling you’re aiming for. Popular metrics include customer retention rate, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and customer satisfaction score (CSAT).

Here are some other potential metrics to consider:

  • Responsiveness: How quickly do you aim to respond to questions? Potential KPIs to measure include:
    • First response time (FRT). Also called first reply time, this is the time between when a customer submits a case and a customer service rep responds to the customer.
    • Customer effort score (CES). This is usually measured through a survey. This metric shows how much effort a customer must exert to get an issue resolved and question answered.
    • Total tickets and tickets per customer
  • Availability: Based on your customers and how they prefer connecting with you, what channels should you provide? What hours should you be available? What languages should you speak?
  • Effectiveness: Customers want prompt service, but they’re reaching out because they want a resolution. That’s why it’s important to measure how long it takes to resolve an issue. Potential KPIs to measure include:
    • First contact resolution. This measures the inquiries resolved on the first call or contact with an agent.
    • Average resolution time (ART). This measures how long it takes agents to resolve all inquiries during a specific time frame. If you’re in a business where issues often escalate or move to other departments, measuring ART may be a better indicator than first contact resolution.
    • Average handle time (AHT). This measures the average length of time it takes to handle a customer issue from start to finish, including hold times and after-call tasks. You can minimize AHT by using tech to help agents reduce wait times and back-and-forth communication.

2. Discuss how your customer service reflects the brand

Your customer’s overall perception of your brand is based on the interactions they have with your company. So it’s critical that team members understand how they can influence a customer's opinion of the business.

[Watch video: How TouchNote engages independent agents who maintain the brand]

Getting your customer service team to reflect your brand takes more than being polite. Successful businesses map their strategic intent (i.e., mission, vision, goals) to their brand intent. Then they design their customer service processes to support it. For example:

  • High-touch brands may lean towards human-assisted customer service like proactive outbound communications and live chat.
  • Low-touch brands may aim for less intrusive self-service options such as chatbots and video tutorials.
  • Does the team meet together regularly, virtually or in person? Coming together to share success stories and talk about situations that didn’t go well can not only offer training opportunities, but also unify teams.
  • Are customer service agents using language that’s consistent with your brand? If your brand is uplifting, do agents phrase responses to maintain positivity? Instead of saying, “We can’t do that,” agents could say, “Let me find a solution for that.”
  • Do customer service representatives have authorization and clear guidelines for offering perks like discounts and upgrades?

If you haven’t defined your brand yet, or it could use an update, the Upwork marketplace has a large pool of brand specialists ready to help you fine-tune the look, feel, and voice of your business.

3. Discuss what channels your customer service team will manage and focus on

Of the many channels customer service teams have to build trust and keep customers happy, the main three are: in person, online, and technical. We’ll go through each type and give tips on how you can decide which may be best for your business.

In-person customer service

Face-to-face interactions can give employees an opportunity to understand customer needs more deeply and develop stronger relationships than a great agent can ever do through a phone or keyboard. Some digital-first retailers, including Bonobos,, and Warby Parker, opened physical stores as an effective way to get people out of lingering in checkout pages.

The stores are stocked with products that customers can touch and feel, but not take home. Customer service experts are there in the flesh, answering questions and offering suggestions as customers experience the product before completing their order online.

Online customer service

Customers want you to be where they are. From email and chatbots to in-app messaging, there are several online support channels you could offer. Which channels you choose depends on what your customers prefer. Here are a few common online channels and tips for implementing them:

  • FAQ page: One of the first places people look for answers is on a brand’s FAQ page. You can increase the FAQ page’s relevance by keeping the content updated with questions your customers really ask. Sources for content include sales, customer service agents, social media, and customer surveys.
  • Videos: Short demo and explainer videos provide a clear and quick way for customers to troubleshoot product issues and understand how to get the most out of its features.
  • Social media: In this channel, speed is mandatory. Note that some customers will talk about an issue, but not reach out to you directly. Monitor posts about your brand in addition to your social accounts to respond to customer’s comments and questions.
  • Email: Despite new technologies used in newer online channels, email is still one of the most preferred. You can save time by using email templates, but personalize them so customers know they’re talking to a real human who cares.
  • Live chat: Live chat is a great way to answer customer questions in real time. As in most online channels, customers prefer speedy responses, so it’s helpful to get the conversation started right away. Such as how GoDaddy dives right into the conversation:

If your agents need more information upfront, consider keeping it to a bare minimum like this company does:

Let's Chat

Technical customer support

Technical support representatives help customers use your product more effectively and answer incoming requests for help installing and configuring software, repairing hardware, and troubleshooting. Although speed is important for all customer support teams, technical support agents must respond to and resolve issues as quickly as possible.

4. Review legal restrictions

In your efforts to resolve customer requests as quickly as possible, you must also stay within legal guidelines when providing customer services to your customers. If you’re doing business in the European Union, you may want to check out the GDPR compliance checklist for U.S. companies. If you’re doing business in the U.S., it may benefit you to review basic guidelines from entities related to your industry.

5. Consult with experts

Consult an expert in customer service who has helped businesses like yours build out a successful customer service team. These professionals can help you put together a highly motivated and empathetic customer service team that delivers exceptional customer experiences.

Customer service consultants can do a number of things, including:

  • Help you design the optimal customer service structure and procedures
  • Point out potential legal issues
  • Train managers and service reps in handling difficult customer situations
  • Provide tips on how to manage teams for different service channels
  • Identify the main KPIs to focus on
  • Audit the customer service experience both online and offline to see what’s working and what’s not
  • Assist in recruiting talent
  • Develop onboarding and talent retention strategies
  • Aid in developing and executing customer loyalty programs

6. Build out your team with the right roles

You can build out a customer service team several ways: by hiring employees, engaging independent professionals, or doing a mixture of both. The latter two options enable you to ramp up teams faster and extend capabilities more cost-effectively.

Contracting independent professionals is becoming such a popular workforce trend that Upwork saw customer service posts increase 35% YoY in 2020.

CS Posts

There’s no set rule on what roles your team should include, but most customer service teams include these roles:

Customer service manager

A customer service manager leads the day-to-day operations, sets KPIs, updates customer service procedures, and ensures every member has what they need to provide excellent service. Customer service managers must be knowledgeable and motivational as they train and coach their team through heavy workloads. The manager also has advanced empathy skills as they’re able to maintain customer loyalty through difficult conversations. And they must have the diplomatic skills to back their team to other functions.

Customer success manager

A customer success manager, also called a client relationship manager, develops customer relationships to promote retention by working closely with assigned customers. Excellent customer success managers must have deep knowledge of the products and services, be skilled at solving complex issues, be adept at maintaining relationships between the company and client, and clearly understand a client’s concerns.

Customer service representative

A Customer service representative may work in-store or virtually, to answer customer questions regarding a company’s products and services. These professionals focus on sustaining a long-term relationship with customers by handling inbound requests such as taking orders, processing returns, and resolving complaints. This role requires superior soft skills including the ability to communicate clearly, empathize, problem-solve, adapt, and persuade different audiences.

Customer support specialist

A customer support specialist assists customers with how to use a product and service. Customer support specialists focus on short-term, immediate technical fixes. The specialist must have superior communication skills, empathy, and patience.

Customer service engineer

A customer service engineer, also known as a customer support engineer, troubleshoots technical issues about a product and service that are beyond what a customer support specialist can handle. They often diagnose problems over the phone, research solutions and run tests to ensure an issue was resolved. This role requires a wide knowledge of computer systems, a tech and engineering background and sometimes a degree in a related field.

7. Know how to hire the best people

Customer service is a cost center, which makes it tempting to hire people based on the lowest rate. But as you learned throughout this article, it’s worth hiring the best people you can. Studies show that skilled customer service professionals can help organizations hit their business goals by increasing customer retention, raising customer referrals, and boosting sales revenue.

Consumer loyalty

Building your team with experienced and passionate people who enjoy working with each other can also raise employee morale, reduce churn, and increase productivity.

Qualifications to consider

No matter if you’re hiring a customer success manager or customer service representative, skills and qualifications to consider include:

  • Years of experience
  • Ability to empathize
  • Communication skills
  • Natural desire to help
  • Capacity for resilience

For more information on the skills to consider when hiring a customer service representative, read our article on the top 25 customer service skills every representative needs to perform their job.

In addition, here are 11 sample questions to ask when hiring and what to look for in their answers.

8. Train them on the product or service

If you have to fill customer service roles quickly, the better you train them from the onset, the faster they can get to work so customers don’t feel a dip in service.

There are many ways to train reps and support specialists. These are some common options:

  • Formal training by a team member or manager: The new rep could listen in on live calls or, for asynchronous support, read email replies as the mentor is drafting them. Being paired with an experienced partner enables the new agent to ask questions as they surface and perhaps learn valuable tips and shortcuts that could help them avoid common mistakes, improve productivity, and sharpen their decision-making skills.
  • Review training materials on their own (videos, online training): Online training lets people learn at their own pace and review sections with less pressure.
  • Using the product or service: You can’t support what you don’t understand. The more familiar an agent is with the product or service, the better they’re able to troubleshoot issues, solve problems, provide clear instructions, and feel what the customer is going through.
  • Talking to customers (understanding pain points): Having an opportunity to talk with customers about their concerns and business goals enables the service agent to empathize with customers at a deeper level and perhaps become a better problem solver.
  • Reviewing customer cases: Providing a compilation of FAQs and perhaps challenging situations may help the new agent hit the ground running. Learning from real-world cases empowers them to handle more customer inquiries with confidence.

9. Create a playbook for policies and processes

One way to ramp up faster and maintain consistent customer service is by providing every team member with a customer service playbook or a knowledge base which could include:

  • Policies
  • Processes
  • Contact information for specific team members
  • Email templates
  • Examples of how to resolve common issues

Clarity is key. For example, adding screenshots to text helps visual learners understand better.


10. Invest in the correct tools

A vital way to meet growing customer expectations is by providing team members the tools they need to deliver outstanding service, and by giving customers the tools they want to get their questions answered in a way that’s convenient and quick for them. Equally important is that with the right tools, you can monitor progress to meet KPIs.

Types of tools that may improve your customer service team’s success include:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM): CRM tools like Salesforce, HubSpot, and help businesses track and manage sales and marketing efforts with prospects and existing customers.
  • Bug reporting: Bug reporting tools like JIRA, Basecamp, ClickUp, and Asana enable service reps to report bugs and features requests, keep them organized, and check on the report status.
  • Help desk: Help desk software (i.e. Zendesk, Zoho, and Freshdesk) can do a variety of tasks from streamlining tickets from multiple sources, customized ticket routing, an internal knowledge center of previously resolved issues, and tools for team members to collaborate on a customer ticket.
  • Service training/learning management system (LMS): LMS tools such as Lessonly, AbsorbLMS, EduKool, and SAP Litmos enable you to build your own online training program and monitor training data to identify potential knowledge gaps.
  • Chatbot: Chatbot tools like MobileMonkey, Olark, LiveAgent, and Drift enable you to provide live chat, real-time stats, and transcripts. Some tools unify chats across all channels, from Facebook messaging and SMS text to your website.

Deciding which customer service tools are right for you

When deciding which customer service tools are right for you, it may be helpful to ask:

  • How easy is it for the team and customers to use?
  • How will it streamline the service agents’ daily workflow?
  • What will it take for this to scale with us as we grow?
  • Do I need to upgrade or add additional software for the tool to work?
  • What existing tools do I need this to integrate with and how easily can it be done?
  • Does it provide the detailed reporting and analytics data I require?
  • How much value do we get for what we pay? What features are available per tier?

11. Gather actionable customer feedback

The value of actionable customer feedback is that it’s so specific, you can pool it together, analyze it, and know what steps to take next.

Actionable feedback about your customers’ experiences and expectations for your product and service, also known as voice of customer (VoC), requires advanced planning and tools. Investing in the extra work can deliver big payoffs because the data you gather can:

  • Identify unknown product and service flaws
  • Help prioritize projects according to the customer’s perspective
  • Improve customer retention and revenue
  • Show what’s working well that may benefit from more attention  
  • Improve collaboration and efficiency between team members and functions

Ways to get actionable customer feedback

While star ratings, comments on social media, and testimonials have value, they’re often not specific enough to pull insights from. There are numerous ways to collect VoC data. A few common methods include:

  • Online surveys: Identify customer pain points, use data for setting goals, gauge individual service agent performance.
  • Customer behavior mapping: See steps a customer takes to complete an action, like signing up for a newsletter, to uncover customer needs and improve their experience.
  • Direct calls with customers: Customers may open up more and provide greater detail when conversing over the phone.
  • Focus groups: A quick way to hear from a cross-section of customers in their own words.
  • Social listening: Track, analyze, and respond to conversations about the company that are happening outside of the company’s social media channels.

Launching a successful VoC campaign requires support from senior managers, tools to gather feedback, time to identify target customers and set KPIs and metrics, and analysts to pull accurate information from all the data you gather. Before your eyes glaze over, remember that Upwork has experienced professionals on demand who are available to do the work for you.

12. Build community support

Online support communities aren’t just another channel. They also provide a valuable platform for your customers to build relationships with one another. The interactions between members are important as they help make your brand feel human and increase engagement. The more engaged customers become, the more they trust the business and deepen their loyalties.

Although customer support plays a vital role, community building is not something that can be achieved by a single team. According to customer service leaders at Upwork, “Building a strong, loyal community requires effort from every part of the business, including marketing and social teams. It's essential that customers become an ally for not only what you do, but why you do it!"

Pros of an online support community

  • 24/7 customer support: Communities may contain customers who naturally want to help others.
  • Save costs: When customers get their questions resolved by other customers, it reduces the number of inbound requests.
  • Increase trust and reputation: When other customers share positive comments about a product and service, it builds trust.
  • Improve search engine optimization (SEO): The replies, comments, and reviews customers and prospects share in communities are sources of keyword rich user-generated content (UGC). This gives search engines more content to crawl, which may increase the chances of your page being served up when prospects search for answers to their questions.
  • Higher engagement: The insights gleaned from your community can inform product and service improvements, which can lead to increased engagement.
  • More referrals: As customers and prospects engage they’re more likely to share their thoughts about the brand with others online, which can lead to referrals.

Cons of an online support community

  • Requires a mature and large community: Increasing membership may be difficult in the beginning as customers and prospects must have time and a willingness to interact with each other.
  • Risk damaging the brand’s reputation: If a few unhappy people loudly voice negative opinions, it could disrupt the community and mar the company’s reputation.
  • Requires a product and service customers love: If people aren’t inspired by your product and service, you’ll be hard-pressed to generate engagement.
  • Expensive to set up and run: Communities require staff to: create programs for community members to engage with each other, monitor comments and manage reputation 24/7, handle IT issues, generate content, create and promote social media messages, and mine and analyze data.

13. Skills to reinforce on your team

Although your team may already be highly skilled, it’s beneficial to reinforce the most critical customer service skills that enable them to do their job well. Skills you may consider bolstering include:

  • Empowerment: Provide reps tools and policies that aid them in making faster decisions and feeling more control over their work.
  • Active listening: Done well, active listening techniques make the customer feel heard and encourages them to be more open, which builds trust.
  • Empathy: There are techniques that increase a person’s ability to empathize. This includes active listening, taking ownership of issues, identifying emotional changes and triggers, and questioning skills.
  • Adaptability: The more adaptable a representative is, the better they’re able to connect with customers, adjust to changing demands from customer to customer, and maintain composure during challenging situations.
  • Communication: Great communication includes a number of practices from how quickly reps respond to how well, regardless of channel, they can understand a customer’s issue and explain a resolution.
  • Accountability: Maintaining accountability to customers is simply doing what you say and taking responsibility when it doesn’t happen.


Building and managing a winning customer service team requires planning, clear intention, and tech tools upfront.

Customers have made it clear they will reward businesses that provide consistently excellent service. They’re not rewarding you in higher CSAT, NPS, and 5-star ratings. They’re rewarding you with their money in the form of reduced customer churn, increased purchases, and higher referrals— actions that help sustain and grow a business.

Upwork has the skilled professionals to help you build and lead an outstanding customer service team. So that as business grows and customer demands increase, you can still manage costs.

Glimpse what’s possible by seeing the quality customer service representatives available on demand.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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Author Spotlight

How To Build and Manage Your Customer Service Team
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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