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Building a Career in Customer Support

Building
a Career
in Customer
Support

Mercer Smith-Looper

It used to be that when people thought “customer support” they thought of a cramped room with a bunch of unhappy people sitting at call banks speaking to other unhappy people. It used to be, that that is what customer support was — back then it was called customer service, but it was effectively just servicing the customer (ie. providing what they needed and nothing more) versus supporting the customer or providing them with success (ie. helping the customer succeed in the things that they are looking to do with your product.).

Customer support is a whole-package kind of deal: customers are able to email, chat, video, even sometimes meet in person with support people to help them with their needs. As customer-centrism becomes more and more important and brands are required to align their values with their customers’ in order to gain brand loyalty, customer support has gone from being a background player to center stage. As the industry has grown, so has the number of jobs, as well as the caliber of expertise that they require (and growth that they afford). A career in support is no longer something that people dying to be relegated to a basement need to take — it’s vibrant, booming and, maybe surprisingly, a whole lot of fun. Here’s our guide to building a career in support.

2.

Is support the right job for you?

Such a burgeoning new type of career sounds pretty awesome, right? Support is really engaging and exciting if you are passionate and interested in a few key things. If you aren’t, it can feel like those torturous call banks that I mentioned above: an onslaught of questions that frustrate you and make you feel like you’re being jerked in a million different directions.

Is support the right job for you?

So, what’s the best way to figure out if support is the right job for you? Here are a few key things that you should enjoy or be able to do if you’re considering devoting yourself to developing your career in support as an industry.

You like asking questions and are curious

When you were a kid, were you constantly asking your family members or the people around you questions like “Why’s the sky blue?” or “How come we have skin?” If so, you’re off to a good start. Usually whatever you are working to support, be it a product, software, or service, will change over the course of your time with a company; if you’re not curious, you might get left behind when it comes to knowing the right answer to your customers’ queries.

Similarly, if you don’t like asking questions, your product or service might end up with a buggy release that puts your customers’ loyalty at jeopardy. The support team at a company can be integral in ensuring that anything that goes out to customers makes sense, or meets customer needs and expectations. This is primarily because they have the most contact with customers and know them best, but also because they are usually tasked with writing up support documentation and information prior to anything being released. Are you the type of person to see something that might not make the most sense and just leave it for fear of stirring things up, or are you willing to ask hard questions if it means something better in the long run? If you’re the former: support probably isn’t for you. If you’re the latter: jump on in, the water’s just fine.

You are comfortable with defining (or not defining) work-life boundaries

Depending on the company, support and remote jobs can be pretty…all-consuming. There are always customers to help and if you are on the front-line, you might always have to be the person to help them. So, being comfortable in setting your work-life boundaries and saying “no” can be very important, if you have things that you care about outside of work (like a partner, or a passion). That being said, it’s possible that you will work for a company that is already comfortable at enforcing those boundaries, or you don’t mind working long daily spans of time. If either of those is the case: awesome! If you are not comfortable in setting appropriate boundaries for yourself or don’t know how to, a career in support might not be the right fit for you until you figure it out.

You have experience with context switching

Have you ever had to work on a project that required fast-paced team communication? For example, maybe you had to read passages from a book, and synthesize them into something a sentence or so long for a teammate who then had to create something out of them? The shift from reading the book to forming a thought in your mind summarizing the passage can be very difficult, the reason being that you are switching context. You’re trying to do two things at once, and are doing neither to your best ability.

While context switching is a killer when it comes to productivity and efficiency, it is much of a support person’s life. Support people have to work, oftentimes, in multiple channels communicating with customers, but as also the first point of contact when team members have questions, too. So, imagine this: you’re answering an email to a customer that you’ve been working with, but then a chat comes through from a customer who is slightly higher priority (and needs a quicker response because of chat), but as you’re working on that, you get a ping in your work internal chat from one of the members of the sales team asking if you can hop on a call. Does the sound of that give you anxiety, or does it sound like old potatoes? If the hot seat is your comfort zone, you’ll do excellently on a support team.

You are emotionally mature and empathetic

Support team members are paid to care about how others are feeling, and help them get to the bottom of their problems. As extremely empathetic people, support people take on the emotions of everyone that they talk to on any given day. This is good because it means that they can really understand where the customer is coming from and be an excellent advocate for them, but it’s also tricky because they need to know how to avoid taking on the anger and frustration that customers will sometimes hurl at them when they don’t get their way.

The customer is not always right, but the customer does always deserve to be treated with respect. If you want to work in support, it’s important to understand that just because a customer is angry doesn’t mean that the customer is angry with you. Similarly, that you need to be able to wash that anger and frustration off of you and continue on to the next customer in order to do your job well. Having that level of emotional maturity to not take an angry customer personally is incredibly important in support and will lend itself to a strong and capable support person. If that sounds like you, or you usually feel extremely grounded in your emotions, then support might be a good fit for you.

You love solving puzzles and problems

Do you love legos, playing puzzle games and word problems, or just figuring things out? Support people need to be good at poking, prodding and putting together pieces where others might miss them. For example, a customer might reach out with what seems like an excellently formed question with all the information you need to solve it. A good support person, though, would use context from past experiences to know that maybe not everything is as it seems. They’d go digging just a little bit deeper into the situation and uncover something like might have been missed by someone else without a few back-and-forths with the customer.

An eye for detail and a keen interest in getting to the bottom of things and understanding how they work is crucial for a support person hoping to build their career in the industry. So, if you’ve taken a pencil sharpener apart and put it back together again, this type of role might be good for you.

Does that all sound like a good time to you? Read on!

3.

Types of customer service careers
and estimated salaries

As I mentioned, the field of support is constantly growing and shifting. Because of that, there are always new and different roles opening up, commensurate to experience and interest. That being said, there are a few tried and true roles that almost every company will have eventually if they don’t already.

Customer Support Representative

Also known as an “agent,” “specialist” or “rep,” a customer support representative works on the front lines of customer support and can range anywhere from an entry-level role up to a team lead type of position.

They are often responsible for: answering phone calls, live chats, emails, web tickets, social media conversations and any other incoming conversations from customers. They can also be responsible for the upkeep of proactive support like documentation, webinars and saved replies. For example, if your team has an engineer on staff, there may be a customer support representative whose daily task it is to prioritize any tickets assigned to that person so they know where to start working.

Customer Support Engineer

Customer support engineers are customer support professionals with technical engineering experience who, like the customer support representative, can assist customers with troubleshooting and working with specific technical issues. The main difference between the two roles is that the customer support engineer usually has more code and technical knowledge (also known as hard skills), and a customer support representative often has communication and writing knowledge (soft skills), but can work up to the harder skills as they work with the company.

For this as part of a career path, you can get hired out the gate as a customer support engineer, or you can grow into the role by working on your technical skills as a customer support specialist/representative/agent.

Multilingual Customer Support Specialist

Multilingual customer support specialists can be needed at companies that sell products or services that are globally sold and used. Or, for example, companies like Trello that have an aggressive international marketing campaign that focuses on specific regional targets. Depending on the company’s strategy and how global they are, having someone that speaks a specific language can be very important and valuable.

Remote Customer Support Representative

Just as there are support representatives that work in the office, there are also support representatives that work remotely. Working remotely means that you are able to work from wherever you’d like: be it your home or a coffee shop. But, just like all jobs, it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Remote customer support reps work on either distributed or fully-remote support teams fulfilling customer support requests, and sometimes have to be slightly more flexible with their work hours than someone who goes into an office every day.

Customer Support Manager

Customer support managers are the people that are in charge of making sure that their team hits company goals and metrics around support. For example: creating new and interesting ideas to decrease customer wait time, or working to maximize the number of conversations that a single individual can handle. Customer support managers are also often responsible for hiring the support representatives and engineers that make up the team as well as onboarding them and monitoring their ongoing performance.

So what does the pay look like?

According to Glassdoor, the average customer support salary in the U.S. is $35,245. That being said, according to the Support Driven Salary Survey from 2017, in other industries the average salary is actually $57,686. The difference between the two is that for the Support Driven survey, there are more individual working at startups and companies that, generally, pay slightly more than larger, phone-bank-style companies. Generally, though, the more experience and specialties that you have, the higher the pay you will receive.

So, now that you know what type of role you’re keen on, and how much pay you’re likely to receive, let’s move on to making the perfect resume for a customer support person.

4.

Creating your resume

Aswith any resume, you should write about the skills that you think will make you shine. You can find a side in any prior position that fits well and applies to the role you’re currently applying for.

Creating your resume

For example, if you’ve never worked in a customer support role at a technical company before, but you have worked in food service or as a barista, that’s still support. You’re directly interfacing with a customer to get them to their goals, it’s just that in the food service or coffee industries, those goals are things like getting an excellent coffee or a quickly served meal. So, play to those strengths when writing up your resume. An ideal resume applying to an entry-level support role with minimal experience should look something like this:

PROFILE
An enthusiastic customer advocate who is energized by the potential for growth in new industries. Extensive experience in customer service with a high aptitude for effective communication and people-first problem-solving in difficult situations.

EXPERIENCE
Specialty Buyer, ABC Grocery;
Manhattan, NYC — 2017-Present

Since shifting to the role of specialty buyer, I’ve assisted the Team Leader in everything from providing front-end support to both external and internal customers, to organizing and developing marketing strategies for our store. I am responsible for ordering, replenishing, and merchandising products to help suit our region and customer base’s shifting needs, and participated in regional programs for purchasing and promotions.

Front End Supervisor, ABC Grocery;
Austin, TX — 2014-2017

As a Front End Supervisor, it was my responsibility to oversee the customer service department for our store, including front of house support and the cashier team. I was responsible for researching customers’ experiences in our store, scheduling team members to provide quality customer support on a consistent basis, as well as managing and building new workflows to increase efficiency and exemplary experience on the front end of our store. I also assisted in training new team members, and worked maintaining and instilling company standards and practices for current team members and cashiers.

Team Leader, DEF Grocery;
Las Vegas, NV — 2013-2014

As a Team Leader at DEF Grocery, I was responsible for creating an ideal experience for our customer base, while also ensuring that all areas of the store ran smoothly. I supported our team in tasks such as receiving and stocking daily freight and checking all produce, ready to eat food, and meat for excellent quality. I also worked to teach and train our team members in effective methods for providing customer service and support as well as other types of ongoing training.

The resume, as you see, is not a person that has worked in “traditional” support, but is still someone that has extensive experience helping customers and working in customer-facing roles. A few key things to note and pay attention to:

  • They have a profile at the top of their resume. This can sometimes be called a “summary”. For most people, if you’ve worked in support for a long time, you might not need a profile or summary. But, if you’re looking to break into an industry, it can be a great way to introduce yourself to your potential future managers and teammates.
  • Despite the fact that these roles could all have been presented as just manual labor jobs, or the customer service and support aspects of them skipped over, this resume does a good job at presenting the aspects of service in each. You can take almost any role and tease out aspects of it that fit needs for the role that you are applying for. Don’t be lazy: customize your resume as needed for each individual role — you’ll be better for it. For example, if you are applying for a remote position and have experience working with a team located elsewhere or, in the case of the resume above, working with a store located somewhere in the United States, mention that in your resume.
  • Keep your resume to one page. If that means that you need to cut out some of your jobs, or some of your education experience, that’s totally cool. Pick the things that are most relevant and use those as the best representation of yourself. Less is more in this case.
  • Make sure to give the companies that you’re applying to a way to get back in touch with you. That might mean providing an email, phone number, or home address (though the address is a bit outdated).
  • They did not include an offering of references. In some industries, this may be important, but in support, if they want references they’ll ask for them. So, don’t waste space on your resume with something that either isn’t important, or they’ll ask for if they need.

So, you’ve now created an awesome resume and landed an interview with a company that you’re really excited about. Awesome! On to the interview!

5.

Getting ready
for the interview

Interviewing can be an incredibly nerve-wracking, depending on what the interview process looks like, how comfortable you are talking about yourself, and what kinds of situations the interviewers put you in. Because of that, it’s obviously the thing that many people worry about most — the resume and application portion are out of your hands, obviously.

So, what are some great ways to prepsare yourself for interviewing? Here are some questions that an interviewer might ask, and the best way to go about answering them.

— Why do you enjoy or care about customer support?

When someone asks you this, they are normally looking for you to affirm that you would like to keep a job in customer support for a while and that you’re interested in having support become your career. Many people look at support as a jumping off point to other roles, which can be a bummer for companies that hire them specifically for support. Trello and Appcues, for example, both require a minimum two-year commitment to working on the support team while at the company, if brought in for a support role.

So, when asked this, speak to the things that you find value in or that attracted you to the role in the first place. Some good things might be:

  • You enjoy talking to lots of different people every day.
  • You love seeing the “Ah ha!” moment when a customer understands a concept that they were struggling with.
  • Solving problems is fun for you, and something that you want to do a lot of during your work.
  • Helping people brings you a lot of joy.
  • You rise to the challenge of assisting and de-escalating an aggravated customer.

Obviously, be honest to your own truth and why you enjoy support or want to work in support. It’s always better to be honest and speak candidly than to take someone else’s words. But, those are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

— Tell me about an experience with a customer that left you feeling amazing afterward?

A lot of people ask this to see where your focus is in a situation and why you feel amazing. For example, if your response involves winning a huge sale for your company, that might mean you’re actually a better fit for Sales than for Support. If your focus is on helping a customer by going above and beyond, but the last thing you mention is that you got a promotion or bonus because of it that speaks a bit to some self-centeredness. Do you have an experience where you helped a customer by going above and beyond for no reason other than it seemed and felt like the right thing to do? Awesome. Come to the interview with a story like that.

— Tell me about a time you’ve had to work with another team. What were you trying to accomplish and what did it look like?

The main thing that the interviewer is testing for here is what your inter-team communication skills look like. Support has to work with most other teams within a company, whether it be for helping field responses to marketing campaigns, provide bug reports to engineering, or work with product to steer the future of the product. So, anyone who is in the role of support will need to be able to work well with teams that have team members with different styles of communication.

Do you have a story of working with the marketing team to help them prepare marketing copy for a new release that was both compelling data-wise, but made sense in terms of the actual features the new release would bring? If so, those are the ones that you should bring to the table when being asked this question. Speak about overcoming hurdles between communication styles, what you did to be receptive, and how successful the overall outcome was. The more support-centric the issue that you worked together to solve, the better.

— What happens if you can’t help a customer?

Honesty is the best policy here. Most interviewers want to hear an answer that is honest and filled with customer focus. So, for example, say you are currently working for a SaaS company. Do you have a story about when a customer reached out about a feature request that you knew the company wasn’t ever going to release into the product? If you helped guide the customer by being open and honest with them about that not being on the roadmap, and then showed them a product that would be a better fit, you should share that story. If you don’t have anything like that, you should speak to the importance of honesty and setting the right expectations for your customers and you’ll be good to go.

— What was the last thing you taught yourself? What was your motivation?

This is a test of curiosity and if you are a self-starter when it comes to learning. It also serves to help the interview learn a little bit about your technical background. For example: did you teach yourself HTML and CSS when you were in middle school using MySpace? That’s the kind of learning you should share. Anything that you learn for a job, while nice, doesn’t show the interviewer that you are a self-starter, or that you have self-driven interest or curiosity about technology.

Something else that you could share is something regarding deep customer focus. For example, if you were a barista you should share something like “Well, I learned how to make Grumpy Cat faces out of cappuccino foam”. And when the interviewer asks why you would do that, you can say “I knew that some of our customers first thing in the morning would think it was funny if they took off their lid to put sugar in their drink, and there was a grumpy cat face looking back up at them”. This shows the interviewer that you are willing to go above and beyond for the experience of the customer.

If you can’t think of anything like that in your experience, try to focus on something that you’ve taught yourself recently that applies to the role. If you taught yourself anything and are able to give interesting examples of how you did it, you should be good to go.

— If you were given a puzzle (set of legos, or anything else like that), how would you go about putting it together?

This is, obviously, a question about problem-solving. The interviewer is listening to you to see how you go about thinking about something you need to solve (or put back together), and then how you actually take action to make it happen. For example, if you say that you separate out the legos and spread them out across the floor so you can see all of them, the interviewer might think that that means you are more a big-picture thinker that needs to have the lay of the land. If you say that you would follow every instruction in order to avoid messing up the final product, that might signal to the interviewer that you’re a bit of a perfectionist or afraid of failure.

Some companies might also test you in action. For example, at Chatra, we’ll give our customer champion candidates a potential scenario they might run into and watch how they respond to it. Here are some examples of questions we ask:

  1. A customer invites you to a movie date in the chat. How do you react?
  2. A potential customer is thinking about switching to Chatra from a competitor and asks about a certain feature that we don’t have yet, but the competitor does. How do you reply?
  3. You start your working day and see 30+ messages from frustrated and angry customers who can’t access their accounts. What steps do you take?

How would you react in these situations? Here are the reactions we expect from our candidates:

  1. You need to politely refuse their invitation and ask them if they have any questions related to the product or service.
  2. If this feature is going to be released in the future, ask the customer to leave their email address (if they haven’t already) and promise to notify them once you have this feature available. Also there might be a workaround the customer doesn’t know about, so tell them about it, if possible.
  3. Since many customers have the same problem, something is obviously broken. You’ll need to check the situation with the engineering team, and then reply to the customers as quickly as possible. Briefly explain the situation, apologize for the trouble, and assure them that you are already working to fix it. Send another message once everything is back to normal and confirm the issue has been resolved on their side.

Learn more about Chatra and our team of customer champions.

Either way, no matter what you say, think about the image that you’d like to convey to your interviewer and focus on those aspects as you’re describing the steps that you would take. Remember: even if a question seems silly or makes no sense, there’s probably a reason why the person asking it is asking.

6.

Red flags of a bad company

Despite the fact that some companies might ask silly questions during the interview process, that’s not always a red flag that they’re going to be awful. That being said, there are some sure-fire red flags to keep an eye out for. If you spot one or more of the following issues or scenarios, question whether this company is really a great fit for you, or if there might be something else worth waiting for out there.

If you’re not given the opportunity to interview with your future manager

Your direct manager is the person that you will be working with the most, ostensibly. So, during the interview process, it’s important that you get a feel for what you would be doing. A big part of that is working with your manager. So, if you don’t get a chance to talk with the person that you are going to be being managed by, how could you ever know how your interactions with them once you are hired will go? If a company won’t give you an opportunity to talk or interview with your future manager, the fact that you might not get along with them is a huge red flag. If you can, ask for an interview with the manager and see what they say — they should also be willing for you to talk to them.

They take too long and leave you hanging

Have you ever interviewed for a position and had to wait several days, if not weeks before hearing back from the recruiter or interviewer? If not: lucky you! If so, that’s a red flag! When a company doesn’t respond back to you in a timely fashion, it usually means that they have a disorganized hiring process, or that they don’t necessarily value the time of their candidates. It’s important to work for a company that values the time of their people — you want to be valued, after all — so pay attention to how they treat you, how long it takes for them to respond, and if they apologize if it does take a long time. Your time is important too, and you want to work for a company that understands that.

No one seems interested in diving deeper

Do people seem disengaged in their conversations with you? Does it seem like they don’t have time or energy to actually pay attention to what you are saying, or ask any clarifying questions? The people that you are talking to should be invested in wanting to know more about the people that they are hiring. If they aren’t, it may signify that they are not invested in the success of the company or that they haven’t been prepared for the interview process by the recruiter or manager. Either way: you want your potential future teammates to be excited about the prospect of getting a new team member, whether they be directly working with you or someone tangential to your role. If no one is interested in digging in and asking for more information about your experience, the company as a whole likely isn’t fostering enthusiasm in everyone about growing the company, which may signify a rough, dying, or underdeveloped culture.

Who’s the main focus of the job description?

When you read the description for a job, is the main focus of the job description you, or the company? For example, does the job description say:

At Joja Cola, we thrive on the energy of new wins. We love having puppies in the office every day, and we all are excellent at jumping rope. All members of the Joja Cola team are excellent baristas with at least 5 years experience in horseback riding each. We don’t want to work to play, we want to play to work.

Or does it say:

At Joja Cola, we’re looking for people who thrive on the energy of new wins. If you love having puppies in the office every day and are excellent at jumping rope, this might be an excellent fit for you. Are you an amazing barista with at least five years of experience in horseback riding? Awesome! We want you to come join us as we play to work, rather than work to play.

Do you see the difference between the two? The top job description is written entirely from the perspective of the company, whereas the second focuses on the reader/applicant and what they want. As an applicant, you should always look for job descriptions like the latter. It signifies that a company is employee-focused, rather than focused on the self, and will likely have better benefits, work-life balance, and better focus on the things that are valuable and important to you.

The job responsibilities are unclear

In that job description above, it’s not super clear what the role is that you’d be doing, right? While that one is mainly just an exercise in ridiculousness, there are actually job descriptions out there that look like that! Beware of the listing that doesn’t give any specifics about the responsibilities of the role, or for interviewers that, when asked, answer with vague responses or imply that the role may change. Hopping into an undefined role can be difficult and you’ll need extra support, so if you still want to go for the job despite it not being clear in regards to role responsibility, make sure that there is at least a good manager or mentor there to support you.

The office or employees seem unhappy

When you go into the office for the interview, or when you hop on a video call with the employees reaching out, do you get the sense that they are excited to work for the company? Does the office seem dreary and the interviewers unenthused (like we talked about above)? If so, you’ll probably get there too. Ask the people that you see or that you are talking to how long they have been there. If they’ve been there a short amount of time, that’s an even bigger red flag: they might be extremely burned out, especially if still so fresh into their tenure with the company. Move on to greener pastures with this one — you don’t want to start somewhere just to have yourself wind up miserable within the first few weeks.

7.

How to make a good first
impression at an interview

Asyou’re walking into the office and see if it’s a great, sunny work environment or a dismal zombie playground... you still want to make a good impression either way, right? Making a good first impression is the thing that scares many applicants most. It can be hard to know what a company wants or the best way to present yourself. Luckily, we’ve got a few suggestions that you can implement to be a total boss on your first contact with the company you’re interviewing with.

Gauge the culture and try to fit accordingly

If you are interviewing somewhere, you should know a little bit about the company’s culture. If not, take a look at what the say on social media. Do they use a ton of gifs, and speak really jovially with their customers? In that case, probably being friendly in your interview or making some puns or jokes might be a good choice. If on the flip side, they are extremely formal in their online presence, it may be a good idea to take if a bit more seriously: dress a bit more formally, and maybe save the jokes about the latest episode of Community for another time.

All that being said: don’t ever change yourself to try to fit in somewhere. There are so many companies in the world with so many different cultures, there is certainly one that fits you. So, if you find a company that’s trying to bring you in for an interview, but you then start thinking about how you’re going to manage to pass for fitting in — it’s probably best to skip that company and move on to one that seems to fit you a little bit better. In the long run, if you’re trying to push a square peg in a round hole, it’s just not going to work anyway.

Come to the interview with knowledge

As you’re doing your research on culture, pay attention to things like the history of the company, or the important players. For example, if you’re interviewing for a support role, try to find out a bit more about the support team structure and anything unique that they do. For example, do they offer out of the queue time for employees? Are some of the team members remote? Having background knowledge of this will allow you to have context when you’re interviewing. You’ll know who you’re talking to, and a little bit more about what they’re talking about than you would have known prior.

It will also serve to impress your interviewers: someone who has spent time digging into a company and knows their stuff will always look better than someone who has no background to go off of.

Ask questions

When you ask informed questions during the interview process, it serves to further nail home the fact that you are an awesome candidate. It shows that you’ve done your research, that you’re interested in the product that the company offers, and that you care enough to go above and beyond for the interview process. It could also potentially show that you’re a fan of the product and use it regularly. Either way, asking questions about the product, company, or interviewer that shows that you’ve done a bit of research and know your stuff goes a long way towards making a great impression.

Describe yourself well

When you are first introducing yourself to people, what do you say? The language that you use to talk about yourself to others can be really meaningful. Pay attention to how you introduce yourself, what you are hoping to be doing, and how you describe your experience. If you describe yourself well and positively, people will have a lasting impression of you moving forward. If you don’t, that might be the only thing that they remember. So, think about how you want people to see you, and then describe yourself as such, especially during first introductions. Remember: you are your own worst critic.

8.

How to make a good impression
on your first day

If you’ve done a really great job on your interview and are offered a job, you might be curious to carry along your good impressions through to your first day. There are a few key things you can keep in mind going into your first day that will help!

How to make a good impression on your first day

Be on time

You’ve got to be on time your first day. Make sure you have everything planned out, including things that can happen unexpectedly (like new traffic patterns), so that nothing stands in the way of you being at the office (or online, if it’s a virtual position), at the time you are expected. If you show up late, it sends a bad message to the people who have newly hired you that you don’t care enough about your job to even show up on time.

Know a bit about your company

Just like for an interview, you should have some knowledge of the company that you are now working for. Do a little bit of research online to learn a bit more than you already know and use that knowledge to contribute during onboarding or training sessions.

Dress appropriately

Even though many startups don’t have a dress code and are happy for their employees to wear jeans and a tee-shirt, you should still dress appropriately. So, if it’s a start-up that encourages jeans and a tee-shirt, awesome: wear jeans and a tee-shirt. A casual dress code is not permission to wear inappropriate or risque clothing to the workplace. Leave your daisy dukes at home.

Take notes

During any sessions for training that they have you sitting in on or participating in, be sure to take notes and interact with the presenter. If you take down notes it will help you better remember the information in the long run, and it will make you appear engaged and interested in the presenter.

Ask for help when you need it

It’s really easy to want to appear like you already know everything and are on top of your role — that’s why you were hired, right? But everyone knows that you are fresh to the job and likely expects for you to be curious or have questions. So, if there’s something in a training or that someone says that you don’t understand, ask about it. You are new and should be curious, and this will help you either confirm something that you already know or get new information on something that’s important for you to know.

9.

Traits and habits
you need to have or develop

Along with the practice of speaking kindly about yourself, there are a few key traits that make for excellent support team members. These can either be innate or something that you develop over the course of time. Either way, they are integral to any role in support and important to have.

Patience

Let’s just say it: sometimes customers can be frustrating. They don’t listen to you when you tell them something, they get angry at you over things that aren’t your fault…sometimes they can really grind your gears. But, at the same time, as support people, it’s important to understand that they are not necessarily angry at you as much as they are frustrated by the situation at hand. People working in support need to have a high level of patience, otherwise, you’ll spend your whole day grimacing and glowering and just generally being unhappy.

Patience and calm are integral in remaining grounded and being able to calm and assure your customer that everything is going to be okay. If you are flustered and your mind is all over the place, you’re probably going to make a silly mistake and cause yourself a lot of strife over nothing. So, patience, if you don’t already have it, is an important skill to cultivate in your life.

Attentiveness

When your friends are talking to you, are you usually the one who is half-listening, half-scrolling through Instagram, or do you try to be fully attentive in whatever you do? If it’s the former, that kind of multitasking can be pretty problematic in the work place, but also isn’t very respectful to the people around you. Because support is a primarily people-centric job, it’s important that you treat people with respect. So, if you don’t already, being attentive, and listening directly when people are talking to you is a skill that you should start to work on in order to be an excellent support person.

Once you are deeply attentive, you can start to pick up on things that are implied rather than explicitly stated. By paying closer attention and getting to the bottom of things a more quickly, you can lower important metrics for your company and for your team.

Communication skills

Do you love talking and have the drive to ensure that any communication that you do is clear and to the point? Awesome! Support people need to have strong communication skills because that’s what makes up the entirety of most of their days. Whether it be via email, chat, social media, over the phone or on a video chat, people that work in support are always talking and trying to convey meaning to their customers. And, in the event that what they’re trying to say is not as clear as it could have been, it usually ends up meaning a longer or more complicated interaction both for the customer and for the support person.

But, don’t worry, even if you aren’t a master communicator with a degree in rhetoric or linguistics, you can still get a solid handle on this skill and be the best you can be. Entrepreneur has a great list of some of the best ways that you can improve your communication skills without needing to go back to school — beneficial both for in work, and out.

Product knowledge

This is something that you will likely have to build as you gain time at the company. That being said, you can build up knowledge of whatever product you will be supporting by using it before you get hired. For example, if you are interviewing with a company that offers an organizational app, then use it during your day-to-day for organizational purposes. That way, once you get started with learning the internal tools and the real ins-and-outs of supporting them, you’ll be able to hit the ground running.

Time management skills

In support, there is always something to do. Do you have experience with managing a lot of moving pieces with one go? Maybe you have a hectic home life that you need to maintain balance with? If you’ve done either of those things, you likely have strong time management skills. If you find yourself getting distracted regularly, taking much longer to do something than you would expect, or running over on time that you’ve set for yourself, it might be that you have some trouble with time management. Luckily, there are tons of ways to improve time management, so you’re not cursed forever.

In support, it’s especially important to be able to manage your time. There are so many irons in the fire, especially if your company supports multiple channels, that to fall behind can really put a wrench in your day. Practice time management prior to coming onboard for a support role, and then continue to work at it as you grow to become a total support boss.

Ability to go with the flow

There will be times during a support interaction where something will totally flip: maybe a new piece of information about the issue will become uncovered, or maybe the customer will grow angry and shift their communication style on you. No matter what happens, you need to be able to shift and go with the flow to make sure that you get the customer the help that they need.

Some people are less comfortable with fluidity, and do a better job when they know what is coming and what to expect. But, support people especially need to have a competency in dealing with ambiguity. If you don’t feel comfortable with that kind of flexibility — the number of different tickets that you get spanning any number of topics and personalities might be overwhelming if you are the type of person who likes to dig down on a single project and make a ton of headway with your focus — support might not be the best industry for you.

Tenacity

Also known as persistence, tenacity is an important personality trait for a support person to have because it enables them to dive deep into a particular issue, even if they can’t find the answer at first. A good support person will have the drive to work until they get to the bottom of an issue, even if it means going far above and beyond what the normal expectation of their role might be. Tenacity isn’t necessarily something that can be developed, but it can be honed by someone caring deeply or believing in the mission behind what they are doing. There are some articles out in the world that talk about the best ways to develop perseverance and tenacity, though, so that might be a good start if you don’t feel that you are naturally driven person.

Ability to close

Some customers will just want to stay and talk for the sake of talking. This is particularly prevalent in the phone support and chat channels for support, which seem much more conversational than the other venues. Some customers also just don’t hear the word “no,” so, once you’ve told them that something isn’t possible or that you will not do something for them, they continue to message and persist.

Because of that, it’s important that support people have the ability to close, or the ability to shut down a customer’s effort and let them know that there’s no further discussion to be had. This can and should be done gently, which is why it is a skill, rather than just something that you can do. Customers need to be let down with respect and made to feel like they are cared about by your team. Depending on the context of the conversation, the close will be different. For example: if someone is being somewhat aggressive, then the close might need to be a bit more staunch and straightforward. If someone just seems to not recognize that the conversation is going nowhere, it can be a bit more gentle.

Empathy

Empathy is probably the number one trait and skill in a customer support person’s toolbox. If you can’t or don’t care about your customers (or other people), you will not be able to do well in this role. Customers email in to support when they are frustrated, discouraged, feel stupid, or when something that they expected to work just isn’t working anymore. That’s a very sensitive point in time to talk to someone, and they are putting themselves in a place of vulnerability. If a support person comes at that place of vulnerability without any tact or empathy, it’s going to be a poor experience for the customer.

That being said, even the most empathetic of people can hit some speed bumps along the way in the form of stress, anger, or differing communication styles. If you are already a very empathetic person, work towards better understanding how to control yourself in those situations. If you are not already extremely empathetic, it might be worth it to practice in your day-to-day conversations with people at the grocery store or elsewhere in order to try to strengthen those muscles prior to taking on a role in this industry.

Curiosity/willingness to learn

Products, whether digital or physical, are always changing. Because of that, it’s important for support people to be very curious — asking questions, testing things out, trying new ways of things — because they are the people that uncover potential holes in the product and pass it on to the product team to resolve. Similarly, an excellent support person is willing and able to admit what they don’t know and work to try to learn it from someone on their team.

So, are you the type of person to ask questions and then seek out the answer from someone if you can’t find one right in front of you? Awesome. That level of curiosity and drive to learn more will take you far in the support world, especially if you’re keen on writing documentation or learning center material for your customers. If you’re not particularly curious, or you aren’t the type to go out of your way to find answers to something you don’t already know, perhaps another profession in the tech world would be a better fit.

10.

Tips for staying productive

As with all of those traits above, a successful support person (and anyone working a job at a tech company, really) is productive. Between the tickets, documentation, conversations on social media or over the phone, and all of the internal support they provide, support people maybe be some of the most productive people there are.

Tips for staying productive

But, it’s important to maintain that momentum when you are constantly getting pushed back and back and back by the onslaught of your daily work. So, what are some ways that you can maintain productivity? We’ve got your back.

  • Use the right work tools. Tools are incredibly important, no matter what role you are doing, but finding the right tools that work for you is necessary. For example, there are many snippet tools around, but TextExpander is the one I prefer. Ask your teammates which ones they like the most, and then go from there.
  • Get enough rest. The Sleep Foundation says that most adults need at least 6 hours of sleep. If you are not getting enough rest, you are not doing your best work. Pay attention to your sleep cycles if you start to notice yourself slipping in the productivity department.
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts. Most software and operating systems offer keyboard shortcuts that make your life easier and your work quicker. Search for the keyboard shortcuts for your daily applications, and take a look at how much time it shaves off of your day-to-day work time.
  • Turn off mobile notifications. There is nothing more distracting than getting ping after ping while you are trying to focus and work on something. Turn your phone on do-not-disturb mode or on silent so that you do not see any notifications that might be popping up while you are trying to work.
  • Stay positive. Having a positive outlook on where you’re going with life and your work is a great way to maintain productivity. As soon as you start to get down on your luck, your performance or expected behavior, you will for sure start to notice your productivity drop. Try to stay positive in order to continue kicking butt.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Just like with the phone notification mentioned above, focusing on just one project at a time will help to increase productivity. Instead of bouncing around from project to project like a ping pong ball, allow yourself to dig in a little deeper into one, and see where you can get to.
  • Create accountability. In partner groups like Weight Watchers, they offer accountability buddies. It’s meant to be someone to hold you accountable to make sure that you do what you say you’re going to do. Find an accountability buddy within your team, and make sure that both of you understands the project or service that you each are being “graded” on.
  • Take a break. This is my favorite. If you feel yourself starting to waver, or like you’re not moving as quickly as you should: take a break! It is scientifically proven that breaks help you reset and refresh your mind. So, use that to your advantage, take one, and then come back refreshed and renewed.
11.

How to keep calm
in challenging situations

Beyond napping, which isn’t always feasible, especially in tense situations, what’s the best way to remain calm and relaxed as you go through challenging situations as a support person? There are a few tactics that you can use before, after, or during a stressful conversation with a customer that can help you keep your cool and close your conversation with minimal conflict.

  • Practice calming exercises. While on the phone, email, and chat, or off, it’s valuable to practice calming exercises for yourself. This could look something like meditation, or it could just be learning to breathe through your nose, out through your mouth. Either way, determining a type of calming exercise that you can use on or off the phone will help you when you have a customer interactions that are making you lose your cool.
  • Don’t take it personally. Remember, no matter what someone says to you that, ultimately, the issue did not stem from you. They were having trouble before they reached out to support, and are now using this opportunity to vent off some of their frustration. That is okay! It’s your job to absorb it, after all, but do not take it personally. The person potentially sitting there yelling at you is angry at something that happened outside of the interaction, not because of something you did or said.
  • Be empathetic. This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Try to get a mental picture of where the customer is before getting frustrated and judging them for their questions. For example, last winter my father had a stroke and I chatted with a car rental agency to push back my car rental. They seemed to not even have heard me, and I got angry and aggressive, I’m ashamed to admit. But, from the other side of things, I would have understood why someone whose father was dying might have been more easy to anger than normal.
  • Apologize genuinely. If you’re going to apologize at all, apologize genuinely. Don’t just say “sorry” and leave it at that. Make sure that they believe it, and make sure that you believe it when you say it, otherwise, it’s just more lip service that they probably don’t want to have paid.
  • “Chunk” the problem. When there is something large and unwieldy that you’re trying to deal with in regular, non-work life, what do you do? You break it up into smaller pieces, or into chunks. As you chunk the problem it becomes slightly easier to solve and figure out, and much less overwhelming. So, as you encounter something stressful or nerve-wracking, take a moment to break it down into chunks and see if that helps.
  • Focus on finding and solving the root problem. Another great way to solve difficult problems is to find the root problem at hand, and try to solve that first. Once you’ve gone down the path of finding the root problem, you have a much better understanding of each of the steps that it took to get there, also.
  • Take time. If you’re truly at your wit’s end and you just don’t know what to do, take a step away from your desk and the situation and try to move forward that way. Maybe that means a change of scenery, like walking around the block or in a nearby park, or perhaps just heading to a quiet room and reading a book for five minutes. No matter what you do, give yourself some space away from the problem to gain additional perspective.

We also asked our own Customer Champions for some tips. Here’s how they stay cool, calm and collected on chat:

  • Get a squishy toy, slime or playdough — something that you can squish in your hands. It really helps us relax.
  • If you work remotely, like us, saying whatever you think about the customer out loud can help blow off some steam. However, we don’t recommend doing it if you work in an office or in a co-working space, for obvious reasons :)
  • Exercise also helps relieve stress. If you have a chance, turn on your favourite song, stand up and do some jumping jacks or even dance, you’ll feel better in no time. If there are people around you, doing some simple movements to relax your stiff shoulders and neck can do wonders too.
12.

How to avoid burnout

Lastly, after so many situations where you are forced to put yourself behind another person or to try to understand better how someone is motivated and what they want, it can start to get tiring. The repetitive nature of answering the same questions without reprieve can start to feel frustrating and boring. That’s called burnout. If you end up burning out, you lose all of your enthusiasm for the things in your life that used to make you happy. You also start to get snippier at your coworkers and colleagues, grow angrier or shorter with customers, and in general, lose your professional decorum.

Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to circumvent burnout and all the things that bring it:

  • Care about yourself. This might sound like second nature to most, but when you are a person that naturally cares about others as your first instinct, it can be hard to put yourself first. So, in instances where you feel like you are trending towards burnout, see if there are some opportunities for you to put yourself first outside of work. Perhaps, for example, treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure, or to a sports game of a team you really like.
  • Exercise. When you exercise it releases endorphins in your brain which promote a sense of well-being and positivity. This is a great way to work against personal problems like depression or sadness, but also excellent for burnout. When you release endorphins you put your body in a positive state of being which is a great counteract to the negativity of burnout.
  • Positive thinking. Just like exercise, if you try to put a positive spin on what’s happening in your life, it can greatly improve how you actually do perceive it. So, for example, if you try to see things as opportunities instead of difficult challenges, it may make them seem less overwhelming and help you to push through and overcome the feelings of burnout.
  • Hobbies. Hobbies outside of work are a great way to let off some steam from a stressful workday. Instead of coming home and thinking about work, hobbies allow you to devote brain power and energy to something else. They also give you a reason to leave work, if you’re the type of person who needs one. Instead of saying “I want to go home”, you can say “I need to leave so I can make it in time for my bowling league”. While it shouldn’t be the case that you need to give an excuse to leave your job, having a hobby makes it a bit easier.
  • Humor. Having a sense of humor about things can help make them a little bit easier. It’s known that laughter reduces stress and boosts the immune system, but it also makes things easier to get through. For example, if you have a friend that you can laugh about a crumby situation with, it’s better than going through the situation alone. If you can try to find anything to laugh about, it can help lead you away from burnout.
  • Seek support. It’s always okay and good to ask for help. If there are people that you know care about you, reach out to them and ask for their help. Or, even if you don’t ask for their help, know that you can at least vent or tell them about how you’re feeling. Knowing that you have a way to release some pressure with someone that won’t judge or automatically try to give advice can be immensely helpful.
  • Be open in 1:1s. If your boss asks you if you are feeling burnt out, you should tell them. There is no way for them to know what is going on inside of your head unless you tell them, and they are the best person to help with your problem. After all, the person who manages you has control over the queue, what you’re assigned to do there, and a whole other slew of things. If you tell them how you are feeling, they can make positive changes to shift aspects of the team so that both you, and any other future people feeling burnout can be relieved.
  • Take control over your time. It’s okay to say no. As people pleasers, support people often find it difficult to say no or to set boundaries. But, it’s alright to do that. You don’t have to stay late or say yes to an extra shift. Take control over your time and get a little bit more of your free time back (and a little bit less of your work time) in order to alleviate burnout
  • Take vacation. With the rise of “unlimited” vacation, people seem to actually be taking less and less. That being said, plan and take your vacations and, when you do take them, turn everything work-related off. There’s no point in unplugging if the plug is kinda still in the socket. Unplug fully and give yourself the space to refresh and come back to work with a fresh set of eyes.
  • Avoid multitasking. Multitasking does nothing but make you unhappy. It doesn’t make you smarter, or faster, or more productive at your job. All it does is make you sad or frustrated. So, try to focus down on the task at hand, rather than constantly thinking and worrying about the other stuff you have to do. It will help you get the work done sooner, and keep you happier and farther away from burnout in the meantime.
  • Praise yourself. A lot of people feel weird about this. They don’t feel comfortable talking about the things that they are good at. Everyone is totally good with talking about what they would like to work on or could be better at, but no one can “toot their own horn”. Well, start tooting, because there are things that you are excellent at and as you recognize them in yourself, you may start to notice that some of your burnout goes away.
  • Find gratitude. This is merely shifting your perspective. Similar to positive thinking, if you can find gratitude for a situation instead of anger, it can help to make it a bit more tolerable. Try to see where you can find gratitude: for example, in the fact that you have a job, even if it is tiring; or that you have great coworkers whom you love working with or a great boss that appreciates you. These things will help keep you grounded even in moments of deep frustration.
13.

Useful resources

Beyond burnout or interviews, beyond writing the perfect resume or honing the perfect skills, what lies behind every amazing support person is the ability and hunger to want to learn more. There are so many resources out there in the world, and depending on what you want to do with your life they may get more or less specific. We’ve found, though, that there are a few key resources that can help every person working in support, whether new or old, get a little bit better:

  • Learning how to type faster: no matter where you do support, being able to type faster will be helpful. Typing, in the digital age, is how we convey most of what we are thinking and feeling. So, even if you do a majority of phone support, you’ll still need to be able to type quickly to search for answers or talk to your colleagues. Ratatype is a great way to help yourself learn to type more efficiently.
  • Podcasts. There are so many podcasts out there in the world, it should come as no surprise that there are some devoted to support. Here’s an excellent list of support podcasts and what they cover.
  • Tools for increasing productivity. we talked above about some tools that can help make your job easier by doing things like automatically generating snippets of text. There are so many things like that. Luckily we live in an age where if someone sees an opportunity, they get their hustle on to deliver it. If you’re curious about some of these productivity tools, you can read more about them here.
  • Customer support communities. talking to like-minded people about the things that you care about and enjoy is incredibly valuable. It allows you to bounce your ideas off of people, to get constructive or positive insights on what you’re already doing, and sometimes glean ideas of what you can do next. There’s a whole slew of sites and communities listed at the bottom of Hubspot’s blog here. Each one has a slightly different audience, so see which one works for you.
14.

Conclusion

Customer support is so much fun, but there’s so much more that goes into it than people realize! If you are a smart, curious and self-challenging individual, then it could be a career for you. We hope that this guide has given you a breakdown on some of the things that you can expect and look for in a role of this type, as well as how to best prepare yourself for the oncoming challenges.

Good luck!