Give Great Support by Supporting Your Customer Support Team

Give your support people opportunities to explore things that they are curious about, and help them get breaths of fresh air in the form of taking breaks or switching to a different task temporarily.

When people think of customer support, they often think about what they can do for them: how quickly can they respond, what kind of discounts can they offer me, how can they help me to better use the product?

But great customer support offers so much more than quick fingers and access to a discount button—73% of customers fall in love with a brand because of friendly customer service representatives. Friendly customer service representatives drive as much commitment to your brand as cheap prices and delightful marketing.

How can you make sure your customer support people stay friendly day-in and day-out? By supporting your support people.

By their nature, people that work in support are empaths. They are deeply committed to helping people and can sometimes absorb the energy of the people around them. Imagine being someone who is effectively a sponge for whatever emotions are being broadcast to them through conversation, and then trying to deal with angry, frustrated customers all day?

It’s exhausting! And, not only that, it can lead to a super-stressful place to work where people who naturally want to help others don’t always thrive.

Working in a place where you are unhappy is one of the largest drivers of disatisfaction and attrition—and poor customer support interactions. So, helping make sure your support people are supported is one of the best ways to boost both customer and employee retention. Let’s take a look at how to do it.

cGive them outlets

Many customer support people feel like the only thing that they are valued for is their contributions answering incoming tickets. Anyone who feels like they are destined to do the same thing day-in-and-day-out with little reprieve or challenge for growth is quickly going to get frustrated and disheartened.

Give your team outlets to flex their skills and you’ll start to see greater contributions and higher job satisfaction amongst your team members. Here are a few ways to do so:

Out of the queue time

Support people are some of the most insightful people at your company when it comes to what customers want.

If you limit their contributions to solely working within the queue or updating documentation, you also limit their opportunities to truly shine in other areas where they might be skilled.

Giving your employees the opportunity to contribute to outside projects makes them feel as though they are able to have an impact on the overall company as a whole, and like they have more of a stake in the company’s success. It also helps them feel like they are moving forward with your company and are a trusted and valued member of the team.

21.5% of employees that don’t feel recognized when they do great work have interviewed for a job in the last three months, compared to just 12.4% that do feel recognized.

By giving your team opportunities to shine and excel, you are keeping them happy and invested in your company’s mission and the happiness of your customers. It also allows them to reset and shift perspective from whatever they work on normally that might be frustrating them, kind of like a virtual palate cleanser.

Opportunities to specialize

After someone has been on your team for a while, you might notice that they start to exhibit interest or excellence in a specific area of support.

For example, maybe you notice that one of your team members totally rocks it out when they are handed more technical questions about your API, or maybe they have worked hard to build a relationship with your product or engineering teams. Work to continue to provide them with those opportunities and allow them to flex and grow into differentiated roles that can benefit your team while still keeping them engaged.

Just like out of the queue time, when you help someone shift into a more specialized role, you give them the opportunity to feel ownership over a part of the customer experience—that’s incredibly impactful for how they feel about your customer, too. Instead of just feeling like they are just a dispensable cog in the machine, they feel like they are able to affect change.

Channel switching

When you’re getting the same input in the exact same way on repeat, it can feel like torture.

This is especially true if the conversations that your employees are having are specifically related to something like a bug or a new product release—the same angry messages over and over can start to grate on the psyche of support people and make them feel like they’re never going to catch a break.

In turn, with no outlet, they might start to act more abrasively or aggressively towards your customers, taking their frustration out on them.

Switching channels can help alleviate some of that tension because people will usually communicate differently across different platforms.

So, for example, lots of people might be complaining on Twitter, but maybe only a few of the emails in the inbox are complaints.

Let your team members switch channels if they are starting to get fed up with the one that they are currently on, and you’ll likely find their tone shifting into something more positive after getting a little room to breathe.

An actual break

It is scientifically proven that taking short breaks from a main-focus task helps to improve focus. If none of these things are helping your employee to cool down, it might be time to offer a little break to reset. Maybe that looks like taking some time off to take a walk, maybe it looks like taking a whole afternoon or personal day or, if the issue is really deep, maybe it means that the employee needs to take a few days of staycation.

The important thing to remember is that you are offering this as a reprieve for your employee, not as a punishment. So, instead of saying something like “Hey Brad, I noticed that your CSAT has been dropping and your tone with your customers has been pretty negative.” try saying something like “Hey Brad, I notice that you’ve been having some rough interactions lately—is everything okay?

Give your employees the opportunity to talk to you about what might be going on, and then broach the topic of if they need a break and how you might be able to help them.

Remember, this is about supporting your employees so that they can support your customers better. Sometimes that might even mean recognizing that the customers are being unreasonable.

support peopleHow to talk to a customer support person after a rough interaction

If you’ve picked up on the fact that there’s an interaction in your inbox that could have gone better, take the time to assess all of the different facets of the conversation, and what could have changed. Maybe that means recognizing that there were opportunities for your employee to improve, but it also means understanding where a customer’s expectations might have been better set.

When you do start to prepare yourself for the conversation with your employee, even if it’s just a casual one, remember that the focus on the conversation should be on:

  • Addressing the issue so it doesn’t happen in the future,
  • Supporting your employee and their growth,
  • Setting up processes to proactively solve this issue moving forward, if possible.

This is especially important because your employee needs to feel like you are on their side and will advocate for them, even if they may have messed up.

Acknowledge

At the beginning of the conversation with your employee, acknowledge directly what happened.

This could be something like “I totally get that this customer was being unreasonable” or “it looks like a step in our support process was missing here, and our customer didn’t get the level of service that they were expecting for the cost of their plan.” Rather than beating around the bush, acknowledge the situation outright so both you and your employee are on the same page.

Even if you are having the conversation to provide them with constructive insights on their performance, they will appreciate knowing from the get-go where the conversation is going rather than waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Align

This is where you get on the same level as your employee.

This is incredibly important because it’s where you are able to either strengthen or weaken your relationship with your team member. In the event that you chastise them for poor behavior without trying to understand where it’s coming from, you lose out on the opportunity to build a stronger alliance.

This looks something like “I totally get that this was frustrating—this person was obviously being really aggressive. I think you did a great job defusing the situation with the tools that you had. What might you have done differently looking back on it, if anything?” This invites an open dialogue where both you and your team member can speak candidly.

Assure

Closing out the conversation, assure your team member that you’ve got their back and get where they’re coming from.

Remind them of the things that they did well during the conversation with their customer and reiterate any action items based on opportunities for things that they could have done better. The employee should leave understanding exactly how you feel and knowing that they are supported and valued.

This is also a great time to offer a break or shift to another channel if they need a refresh before going back into the fray.

support peopleConclusion

Customer interactions are much more than the nuts and bolts that make them up—someone can have perfect grammar and follow all of the rules in your support handbook, but still have poor interactions with customers if they don’t feel good about themselves or the work that they are doing.

Give your team members opportunities to flex their skills and explore things that they are curious about, and help them get breaths of fresh air in the form of taking breaks or switching to a different task temporarily.

Finally, help them to feel advocated for by having structured, constructive conversations that leave them knowing what they did well and where their opportunities for growth are. Once you’ve made sure that your support team is taken care of, they’ll make sure to take care of your customers.


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Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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