The work of customer support teams is often associated with many challenges, such as stress, a lack of growth opportunities, mundane routine, and night shifts. For this reason, many smart and talented people don’t even consider working in support departments for the long-term. This turnover, leads to companies struggling to find quality employees.
Are all these prejudices groundless? Not quite, as in many cases, working for a support team does come with a number of limitations. Is it possible to build a support team that will keep your customers satisfied and are likely to stick around for about 3-4 years without facing a burnout? Absolutely.
In this post, I’ll share the principles, which will help you build a customer support team where everyone feels valued. These principles are based on my personal experience. The tips outlined below will help you organise the work of your team(s) so that they’re not overloaded with work or face too much stress, don’t feel neglected and undervalued, and have ample professional development and career growth opportunities.
Recognise that support function roles can be tough and requires a wide range of skills
Probably the biggest misconception about our work is that support doesn’t require a lot of qualifications. This is simply wrong.
The sheer amount of documentation and onboarding materials a support manager needs to study and understand is overwhelming. In our case, this includes information on the product’s user experience, all of the technical details, loads of marketing data, as well as SEO in general.
Then throw in answering a customer’s question into the mix: understanding the problem, finding its source, and explaining how to fix it. Don’t forget about keeping your cool, staying friendly and pleasant in your communications. And did I mention that all of this has to be done in at least two languages?
Besides asking about all of the product nuances, our customers often ask why they need a particular tool and what each feature’s value is for their business. Given this wide range of inquiries, we are not customer support managers per se, but marketers and psychologists as well.
Once you recognise and accept this fact, you can draw several conclusions. For example, the work of support managers cannot be considered low-skilled, and hence should be well paid.
On top of that, when looking to hire more people to the support team, make sure to pay extra attention to their soft skills, how quickly they are able to learn, whether they can handle the stress and maintain a friendly tone under pressure, and how quickly they manage to find a way out of difficult situations.
Furthermore, you definitely need to have an effective onboarding system in place that provides new hires with training, shows them all the ropes of the product, explains everything about the company’s market positioning, teaches them customer communication ethics, and how to process requests from colleagues.
Make each member within the team feel appreciated
A company with a high growth potential differs from one with a low growth potential in the way it perceives the importance of providing top-shelf customer support. With that in mind, customer support doesn’t only act as a center for solving customer issues, but it also provides assistance to company employees.
For example, the marketing team reaches out to us on a regular basis with questions about the product, processes, and interaction with customers. We help create a portrait of our target audience, identify actionable insights into user behavior or pain points: how they use the tools, what they like, what tools are missing for them, what problems they try to solve. Taking into account all of the questions that our clients address to us, we also provide suggestions on what needs to be redesigned and further developed.
We constantly feel the importance of our work for the company, which is emphasised by our colleagues, senior management, and most importantly, our amazing clients. If you take a look at SE Ranking’s online reviews, you will see that every third review talks about how helpful our customer support is, and how fundamental it is in creating a positive image of the product in the eyes of the consumers.
At SE Ranking, we realise the significance of our support team and invest a lot of resources into the development of the department. Moreover, its important that the company is constantly being highlighted in positive light.
So the only way of keeping employees motivated and engaged is by understanding that everything they do as well as their work in general matters a great deal.
Provide opportunities for growth and career development
There is a lot of prejudice around the idea that working in a support role is a dead-end job that doesn’t offer any avenues for personal or professional growth. However, this belief will not hold water the moment you understand that customer support managers are growing and developing in several directions simultaneously.
For instance, our support managers study the product and the niche, along with marketing and SEO. We like to think of ourselves as problem solvers who know how to help in any situation, even if it requires involving developers and other experts.
Despite this fact, you can only grow to a certain point in a support team. Even people working under the most favorable and comfortable conditions will want to move on eventually.
Now, it’s important to note here that this is where the company needs to step up and provide its employees with opportunities for their development and growth. Otherwise, it can be very difficult to keep qualified people on your team. For this exact reason, our company offers in-house promotion opportunities. So, if one of our team members wishes to switch job positions and obtain new responsibilities, they are welcome to do so as long as everyone’s on the same page with the decision.
Here are just a few examples from our team – one of my colleagues made a switch from support to marketing, where she was engaged in the development of our educational program, video content and webinars. She is now responsible for leading several projects as an Operations/Project Marketing Manager. Another one of my teammates, transitioned into sales and is already building his own team. One of our top experts, became an account manager for several corporate clients and now closely collaborates with the marketing team.
The experience each one of them gathered during their time in our support team turned out to be fundamental to their career growth. They know our product, customers, as well as their problems and needs better than anyone else.
The main takeaway here is that we were lucky to work in an environment where we felt like we mattered, and where our company openly supported our personal as well as professional growth. Given our setup, our support team members are in no way limited to the customer service department.
Manage and reduce stress as much as possible
Three things must be mentioned here:
- Support teams really do have a lot of work
- Regardless of your work experience, mistakes will happen
- Every negative customer statement impacts us on a personal level
These three factors can provoke constant stress and irritation that can result in people suffering from burnout. But at the same time, the impact of each factor can be mitigated.
We have a non-stop stream of tasks. But each task is different – both at the format level (answering tickets, client onboarding, demos, webinar hosting), and at the content level. Thanks to this variety, we are able to switch between polar-opposite tasks and reboot our internal systems in the process. Moreover, this onslaught of tasks can most often be planned, and the number of tasks can be limited.
Of course, we have bad days when we miss tickets, leave unclosed chats, unresolved issues, and our customers are dissatisfied. When this happens, we always find out what caused this. We review chat histories, analyse where communication broke down, figure out how to solve issues, and what needs to be considered to increase employee productivity.
At the same time, it is extremely important for the team lead not to accuse team members of anything, but to act as the “second head” that tries to resolve the issue. When you can discuss an issue, understand its origins and plan a course of action for the future together with the manager, the effect is practically therapeutic. However, if the manager yells at you for a mistake and tries to get under your skin by making constant call backs to your slip-up, then such work will seem like hell, regardless of what you do.
For this reason, it’s vital to find a company with a healthy environment and an adequate approach to management. In this case, working in customer support will be comfortable.
If you want your support team(s) to be fast, smart, supportive and friendly all at the same time, your team members must enjoy their work and have favourable working conditions to achieve this. They must feel needed and valued. This is the only way to keep them truly involved and motivated despite the overwhelming demands of the job.
To do this, you must first of all focus on dealing with the biases and stigma that exist around customer service. And the best way of doing this is by creating a comfortable, toxic-free work environment, providing development opportunities for employees and caring enough to listen to their career dreams and aspirations.
We are very proud of the fact that we were able to build a strong team by relying on these principles. And our positive results show that these principles do actually work!
To close off, I’m going to leave you with this: If you want your support team(s) to give their 110%, you must support them in their everyday work 110%.
Author: Anna Lebedeva – Head of Customer Success, SE Ranking