The future of customer support

Customer support operating models – customer segments, channels, products & services, and processes (II / III)

In this article, we explore how effective customer segmentation and an analysis of customer query types can optimise cost and the user experience by pushing support requests through the most appropriate channels. We outline how customer support data can be used to optimise products and services and how a root-cause analysis of requests can reduce the workload for contact centres.

In our first article of the Future of Customer Support series, we covered the case for change and how organisations can adapt to meet increasing customer expectations. In the second and third articles, we discuss how organisations can design user-centric and efficient customer support operating models by examining best practice across nine operating model layers.

In this article, the second one of the series, we discuss the first four layers of the operating model – Customer Segments, Channels, Products & Services and Processes. The third and final article will then explore the remaining five layers – Organisation, Location, People, Technology and Data.


As outlined in the first article (The Role of Customer Support in the Experience Economy), organisations must reassess their customer support functions to optimise service delivery and remain competitive. This is achieved by adopting a ‘shift-left’ strategy, with simple queries directed through low-cost digital channels, allowing more time to be spent on complex and high priority requests.

To facilitate and successfully implement this strategy, each layer of the customer support operating model needs to be reviewed to ensure a cohesive design (Figure 1).

Customer Segments

The first step in building your future customer support organisation is to segment your customers into sub-groups based on shared characteristics and data. In addition to demographic, geographic and psychographic traits, behavioural indicators include general product/service usage, customer loyalty and buyer readiness. These behaviours can be used to tailor customer experiences and ensure needs are met cost-effectively. By tiering customers from ‘high’ to ‘low’ care categories, organisations can optimise their customer service and support channels.

Optimising channels by customer segment allows high value accounts to receive a personalised service while ensuring cost-efficiency for low-value, low-touch accounts. Understanding behavioural patterns and customer groups’ preferences allows organisations to direct digital-native customers to lower-cost self-service channels. This approach can be expanded to include the query type. In highly regulated industries, there may be a need for certain query types to be directed to an agent, whichever customer segment they are in.


Each customer segment and query type can be directed to the most appropriate channel in order to balance customer and business needs – known as ‘right-channelling’. This links back to the overarching shift-left strategy, demonstrating that you value the customer’s time and can resolve their request efficiently on the first contact – building trust and credibility, and reducing cost.

Integration of conventional (phone, email) and automated (self-service) channels is critical to support customer interaction. We will discuss this below, including the way in which outsourced providers can fit into the wider strategic approach to channel management. Figure 2 highlights the current usage and expected investment per channel, as highlighted in a recent customer experience survey, published in a 2022 Deloitte report. (Customer Service Excellence, Deloitte, 2022)

Figure 2. Current usage and investment (%) across different channels (Customer Service Excellence, Deloitte, 2022)



Self-service tools include FAQs, chatbots, voice-bots and virtual assistants. These tools provide 24/7 service and can improve performance and reduce errors. Simple automation can significantly improve the efficiency of transactional queries and, coupled with Natural Language Processing (NLP), can serve customers without the need for human intervention. The recent media attention on ChatGPT has highlighted the potential of such tools to revolutionise customer service.

While self-service and AI tools provide a significant opportunity, organisations must consider how they are set up, including the wider enterprise architecture. Additionally, organisations must consider how to maximise customer uptake. If the tools are difficult to use, customers may bypass them entirely. If leveraged in the right way, however, self-service can enable greater personalisation by facilitating the right level of contact with the customer service function, which many customers consider even more important than resolution time (Customer Service Excellence, Deloitte, 2022).



Simple queries can be delivered cost-effectively in collaboration with an external outsourced partner. Many 3rd party organisations specialise in providing a primary service desk and call centres in offshore and near-shore locations. One of the benefits of working with outsourcing providers, in addition to labour arbitrage, is that they often invest in automation that may not be viable for organisations to build themselves. These automations can provide significant efficiencies, reducing the cost to serve.

There are, however, risks associated with outsourcing aspects of your organisation’s customer support centre. These include:

  • Reduced control – the quality of support provided by the outsourcing company must be trusted
  • Potential service inconsistency – the organisation you partner with needs to ensure high quality service to maintain your organisation’s reputation and generate long-term benefits
  • Shared resources – 3rd party outsourcing companies provide services for multiple organisations and may not dedicate resources exclusively to your business
  • Additional investment in personnel – internally, your organisation may need additional staff to directly manage an outsourced provider and ensure compliance and performance requirements are met

These issues can be mitigated by:

  • Tiering customers and splitting query types by channel to ensure that high-care accounts and issues are routed directly to a small, specialised in-house team, bypassing the external contact centre
  • Clearly outlining expectations when assessing potential outsourcing partners, including; the experience and training of agents, language capabilities, system/technology maturity, hours of operations, and quality of reporting service metrics/ Service Level Agreement (SLAs)
  • Consolidating the organisation’s demand to maximise volume will create a more attractive position and increase bargaining power with outsourcing partners. This may aid in discussions about having dedicated full-time resources focused on your organisation only. This directly increases the quality of service and reduces the overheads involved in managing multiple vendors


Onshore, near-shore and offshore primary contact centres

Alternatively, many of the benefits of outsourcing can be achieved at a lower risk through a near-shore (neighbouring country/region) or offshore (international) primary call centre built and run by your organisation. A low-cost primary service desk allows your organisation to reduce cost and free up agent time which can be re-purposed for more value-add activities, including upselling/cross-selling services, effectively turning the customer support function from a cost centre into a core revenue-generating business unit.

Depending on labour costs and customer expectations in the countries you operate in, an onshore (same country) service desk may be beneficial. Onshore customer agents speak the native language and understand cultural nuances. However, the value proposition for onshore resources becomes limited given the possibilities of (i) adopting self-service applications to manage low-tier customer requests, and (ii) routing all chat messages/calls through an offshore centrally located service desk.

Products & Services

Customer feedback can be used to drive continuous improvement in products and services. Product-centric teams, in which cross-functional teams are responsible for a product/service end-to-end, can use customer complaints as a valuable feedback mechanism to test, iterate and improve their offering. Figure 4 outlines the three steps involved in utilising customer feedback to create customer-centric solutions effectively.



Figure 4. A product-centric approach and the effective application of insights gathered by the customer service teams allows organisations to quickly test, iterate and improve their products


One of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of a contact centre is to limit the number of incoming customer requests. Very often, the majority of incoming queries are the consequence of process inefficiencies, such as delays to delivery, lack of transparency on the status of a case, or limited/incorrect product information.

Many organisations can benefit from running a root cause analysis to identify the underlying cause of their customer support demand. Increased demand is directly related to either product quality, functionality, or process challenges – addressing the fundamental cause will therefore reduce customer agent workload and inherently lead to a better customer experience.

In the third, and final, article of this series, we will address the remaining five layers of the customer support operating model – Organisation, Location, People, Technology and Data.

If you have any questions or would like to have a conversation to discuss your customer support function, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Henriette Bucher
Manager, Consulting

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