Being in customer support is a hard and sometimes thankless job. You’ve got to solve problems on-the-fly all day and help people left, right, and center. You have to optimize your own processes while making your company as good as possible for everyone around you and may rarely be recognized for it.
Now go back and replace being in customer support with being a manager—does anything change?
While customer support agents support customers, managers support their team. Like customer service agents, they’re putting out fires and cutting to the heart of problems, day in and day out. Which is why managers can stand to learn a thing or two from customer support agents. Here are a list of things managers can learn from customer support agents.
1. Know what’s happening everyday
Customer support is more than just answering the phone when it rings and every good support agent knows this. There are teams dedicated to email, social, and to proactively reach out to customers about potential problems. It is crucial to keep tabs on your customers on a daily basis.
Support teams usually go by tickets, or a queue of some sort, and every agent knows what they should be working on. As the team makes its way through tickets or calls, their progress is clearly visible. Agents know what they need to tackle when they come in the door, and everyone knows how much they’ve done as they leave. If the backlog starts to grow, it is immediately obvious.
Managers: Adopt this mindset. You should have a good idea of what your reports look like on a daily basis and know what your team is working on in a given week. That doesn’t mean you need to keep a list of every single task for everyone on your team, but you should be able to quickly pull up an overview of your reportees’ work and keep yourself updated on their work.
Understand how your team is making progress and keep track of projects under your control. This will help you praise employees’ accomplishments and give employees a better sense of purpose. It will also raise red flags before they become project-bending problems.
This will show that you are invested in their performance and success, just as a support agent is invested in a customer’s.
Try: A daily or weekly stand-up, where each team member gets a minute or two to update and ask questions. Track tasks in a project management, goal tracking, or time tracking software.
2. Listen, listen, listen
Any great customer support agent will tell you that listening to the customer is a key part of solving their problem. Agents are attuned to customers’ problems and can pick up on how a customer is feeling, giving them an opportunity to validate concerns and solve problems.
Managers: Listening is harder than you think. It’s more than just nodding along at a problem and providing a generic answer. You need to be attentive and make sure you are on the same page about what is happening with your reports. This will build trust between you and those that work under you, which is key to foster production, innovation, and a positive working environment.
Try: Holding open office hours bi-weekly where anyone can come for questions or chit-chat.
3. Be open about your mistakes
Sometimes, customer support has to acknowledge that they made a mistake. While every company would like to get things right all the time, human error, mechanical error, or user error can come into play and botch up something as simple as a web order, an email transmission, or a return. Rather than trying to cover it up, support agents know that apologizing and rectifying the wrong is a better way to go than ignoring fault.
Managers: Your reports will respect you more if you own up to errors. When you make a mistake, be open about it and about how you will fix it. Maybe you tried a new customer onboarding that failed, or maybe you tried a new system for all hands that got too convoluted. Bringing those out into the open shows you care about employees and are accountable to them, which builds mutual respect.
Try: Leading by example in project post-mortems by pointing out your mistakes and lessons from them.
4. Personalize interactions
In customer support, personalization is the key to build rapport with customers. People want to be greeted by name, have their order history on file, and have support anticipate their needs. From enterprise software to cosmetic brands, support is giving a personal touch because it builds connection.
Managers: Take an interest in your employees. We don’t mean knowing every single fact about their personal life; we mean remembering what their work goals are, say happy birthday, and understand employee strengths and motivations. Employees don’t want to feel like nameless drones—having a manager with a personal touch can make work more fulfilling.
Try: Opening up your 1:1 meetings with questions about the employee and how they feel about their work and goals overall.
5. Have a playbook
Support teams know that best practices are key to resolving common conflicts swiftly. Rather than going back to the drawing board every time there is a complaint, they have an arsenal of tools, from help libraries to product video courses to canned response sheets. This means great support with maximum efficiency.
Managers: Build a playbook for your team. If there are common problems or questions or best practices that you can put in place for anything from emails to expenses, do it. Write it down in documentation and give your team a standardized response kit for their needs. This will help employees become autonomous and empower them to answer their own questions.
Try: Using an easily searchable documentation tool to organize all of your best practices.
6. Know when to spot BS
While the majority of support complaints are legitimate, there are always people who try to finagle things out of businesses. Customer support agents are experts at spotting these fraudsters and dealing with them when they appear.
Managers: You aren’t a shoulder to cry on when any little thing goes wrong. Encourage autonomy in your direct reports and let them know that they are capable of finding solutions to their own problems. Help them when they need it and always encourage them, but don’t act as a doormat.
Try: Asking frequent “problem” fliers to take a work day to brainstorm solutions together to their problems, rather than coming up with a solution yourself.
7. Everyone should know the objective
Customer support has an incredibly clear objective: make sure every customer leaves fully satisfied with no more problems. Anything less isn’t the standard and any less-clear objective would leave teams with different levels of support depending on the whims of individual team members.
Managers: If you can’t give your reports as clear an objective as customer support has, you aren’t doing your job. A shocking number of people do not know what they are supposed to do on a given day at work, don’t have clear quarterly goals and aren’t sure how they’re supporting an overall company mission. That’s a recipe for burnout, disengagement, and churn.
Try: Asking employees what the company vision is and how their job supports that vision in your next goal-setting meeting.
8. Thank people
How many times have you contacted customer support and had them open with thank you for contacting us today, or finish with thank you for your patience, I’m glad we could solve your problem. We would guess dozens! That’s because the simple act of thanking someone goes a long way in recognizing them and making them feel heard.
Managers: Thanking your reports is simple, but it goes a long way. It is an easy way to show that you understand all the hard work your direct reports are putting in and you see their efforts paying off. It encourages a positive culture, one of gratitude and visibility. It shows you care about and know what employees are doing and that they’re not toiling away with no recognition.
Try: Making it a habit to thank every employee at least once a week.
9. Take care of things promptly
In customer support, you’d never let a problem sit away in an inbox for weeks only to finally get around to it. By that point, a customer may have already decided never to purchase from you again or may already be in search of a replacement product or service.
Managers: Take care of problems, questions, concerns immediately. If you can’t solve something right away, say so and then set a follow-up date. Employees can and will find a way around things if you don’t respond to their problems, and this can mean anything from unauthorized stopgap software put on the company card to them going over your head. Don’t make them get crafty, help them get solutions.
Try: Asking “is there anything else you need?” after every time you talk to an employee face-to-face.
10. Be patient
Sometimes, customers are confused or irritated, or have a bucketload of product questions. It’s a support person’s job to be patient and walk them through things with kindness. Taking the time to go the extra step, answer lingering questions, or lend an ear to frustrations is a big part of a support rep’s job.
Managers: Be patient and give your employees time and space to explain their wins and losses, growth and development. Patience is an antidote to micromanagement and can help you work out your employees’ motivations and fears.
Try: Waiting a minute before jumping in with a question during an awkward silence. If you are a talker, try setting aside 10 minutes a day to look over projects if you are a micromanager.