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The Customer Service Mindset
Beyond ticket handling and into trends
In 2011, I became part of Facebook's team as a User Operations Analyst, a role akin to Customer Support, after spending two years teaching third grade with Teach for America. Although teaching wasn't my forte, my initial few weeks at Facebook left me feeling a void compared to the sense of impact I had as a teacher. As an educator, I was influencing the lives of 20 students, helping them boost their literacy and numeracy skills. I felt pride in the positive change I made in these children's lives. However, at Facebook, I found myself tasked with managing Facebook's less glamorous side: self-harm, terrorism, wild fetishes, pornography, fake accounts, to name a few. Comparatively, it felt insignificant to my previous role, so much so that I contemplated leaving after only a few weeks.
Then, a realization struck: I needed a perspective shift. I understood that my role at Facebook wouldn't have the same magnitude of impact as being a teacher, but here, my influence could reach millions, albeit in a smaller way, rather than just 20. I was aiding in connecting people globally. I was contributing towards making the world more open and connected, Facebook's mission at the time. While Facebook's mission and legacy have evolved and become more complex over the years, this mindset shift a decade ago enabled me to continue a professional journey that profoundly transformed me. In my opinion, the key differentiators between successful customer support agents and those who struggle and burn out are mindset and approach.
I’ve got some bad news
Customer Support roles vary widely across companies, and often, they can be taxing. Sure, there are positive interactions, but you frequently encounter disgruntled customers who might not always be the most pleasant due to a negative experience with your company. Moreover, sometimes you have to deliver unfavorable news, which can provoke a hostile response. It's indeed a challenging role. However, as a customer support agent, you are the chief driver of customer satisfaction at your company. It is such a vital role, and I wish more agents perceived their role as such. Here are my three strategies for carving a successful path as a Customer Support agent:
Detect the pattern
Be the voice of the customer
Come up for air
Let's delve into each of these.
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Detect the pattern
It’s very easy as a customer support agent to get caught up in the daily ticket grind. However, the beauty of a customer support role lies in discerning the patterns in those tickets. Tickets provide customers a channel to signal the company about what's working and what isn't. By prioritizing and addressing the glitches, you get the chance to elevate the company to the next level. As a customer support agent, you are the first to know about any issues arising. Don't merely drive that issue towards resolution for that particular customer. Instead, take the time to note the trends you are observing. Here are some effective ways to do that:
Jot down the trend and its corresponding volume using a pen and paper.
Keep a manual tally in a spreadsheet.
Tag tickets in your ticketing system and pull reports (the most ideal and less manual method).
When you spot these trends and collect data around them, share them with your team and your manager, and work together to prioritize them. These trends often lead to crucial projects that help you acquire more skills and garner broader exposure within the company. For instance, in the early days of Facebook, the Customer Support teams would inadvertently delete the authentic accounts of celebrities due to the inability to mark them as real. Celebrity complaints piled up, but someone identified this trend and collaborated with the product team to devise a flagging mechanism, which are today's verification checkmarks. This not only helped to flag and protect these accounts but also revolutionized the way social media operates today. And all this was driven by Customer Support identified trends. There are numerous similar instances.
Trends can also guide workflow enhancements. If you find yourself repeating the same sequence of steps every time to address a specific issue type, it's a clear signal that you have an automation opportunity. You might be able to implement this through automation in your ticketing system (Salesforce macros, for example), or you might need to engage with your Engineering team to develop a solution. Regardless, these changes can considerably impact your support team, enabling them to accomplish more with less. Automation played a pivotal role at Facebook, assisting our teams in managing millions of incoming inquiries on a weekly basis.
Be the voice of the customer
Being the voice of the customer is a paramount role of a customer support agent. Your daily interactions with the customers not only make you the face of the company, but also an expert on customers' feedback and needs. Finding ways to relay this information to other departments, especially Product and Engineering, is crucial for making informed decisions. These communication pathways can take several forms:
Meetings between the Customer Support team and the Product/Engineering team. These meetings will look differently depending on the size and organization of the company. They can also happen anywhere from daily to quarterly, but I highly recommend these meetings take place.
A standing item on all company wide meeting for Customer Insights. Not only does this give people in the Customer Support team the opportunity to practice their presentation skills, but it also provides a forum with visibility from everyone in the company.
A weekly Slack post in the relevant company channel
A weekly or bi-monthly Customer insight newsletter that goes out to everyone at the company. Depending on the size of the company, the audience might be bigger or smaller.
These actions not only allow Customer Support agents to build new skills but also ensure that your company makes the right decisions with customer insights and trends guiding all decisions.
Come up for air
As mentioned earlier, the intensity of Customer Support roles can significantly differ across companies. In all roles, it's essential for the agent to occasionally step back from the negativity that the role might sometimes attract. Depending on the role, this might involve seeking regular therapy, ideally provided by the company when dealing with graphic content. Or it could be taking breaks throughout your day with colleagues to chat about anything unrelated to tickets. I've always found humor to be a potent tool in the workplace, as it lightens difficult situations. It was particularly impactful in the Customer Support roles I played. Make sure to prioritize and allot time for this to avoid burnout and to prevent everyone from falling into a rut due to the challenging conversations they face.
Take a step back
Customer Support agents are integral to a company's success. As an agent, it's easy to view your work as repetitive or insignificant, but push yourself to comprehend how you fit into the bigger picture. Start seeing yourself as a detective finding trends and insights in the customer experience, insights that will ultimately enhance your company and customer experience!