My very first job was as a wall coverings specialist, which was really just a fancy title for “paint mixer.”
Outside the confines of a home improvement, or paint, store, paint mixing isn’t a particularly useful skill. But that’s only if you ignore everything else that goes along with mixing paint.
The actual mixing of paint was really only one aspect of the job. I interacted with customers to help them pick the right type of paint, which helped me improve my communication skills. I took inventory, which helped me hone my attention to detail. Both of which are skills useful in almost any job. They’re what we call transferable skills.
Though most jobs do teach you some transferable skills, there are some that teach more than most. One example that comes immediately to mind is customer support. With it being a multidisciplinary position, you end up learning tons of skills. Most of which are applicable to many other jobs.
Below are 9 transferable (and desirable) skills you gain working in customer support.
A lot of the time customers just know that something isn’t working right, but don’t know exactly why. In order to offer them assistance, you first need to know what’s causing their issue. Unless it’s something you’ve encountered before or is a documented issue, you have to troubleshoot.
Though we tend to think about troubleshooting as it relates to more technical products and issues, really what it is is problem solving. You start with a problem, find the root cause, and look for a solution. It teaches you to think in a linear, and logical, fashion.
You’re able to apply that same thought process to most problems you encounter, whether you’re in a technical role or not. Once you know the framework, you’re able to apply it in many different scenarios.
If there’s one thing that’s undoubtedly true about customer support, it’s that it’s a team sport. Though many support agents are individual contributors, they rely on their teams as a whole to deliver outstanding support.
For example, maybe there’s a customer, or issue, another agent previously worked on. You might reach out to them to get more insight. It’s also quite common for support people to work with people outside their immediate team. If you work in software it’s basically inevitable that you’ll interact with an engineering team to get a bug fixed, or report feature requests.
Being able to work with others is crucial for basically any job, especially since many businesses are moving toward working cross-functionally. Though we may not think about teamwork as a skill, it absolutely is. And support people are absolutely ahead of the curve on developing it.
Being that 91% of consumers use email every day, it should come as no surprise that support agents tend to spend a decent amount of time responding to inquiries through email. And answering questions – even routine ones – effectively requires clear and concise writing.
Each day most support agents probably write at least 30 emails. Inherently, the messages vary in complexity, length, and audience quite widely. After a little while, it adds up to a lot of practice writing. And as the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.
There’s hardly a job out there that wouldn’t benefit from strong writing skills. Being an astute writer can help you craft compelling copy for an outside audience. Or, it could come in handy when making a pitch internally to get a project off the ground, or buy-in from other team members, or leadership.
And as we all transition toward more asynchronous communication, being able to communicate clearly through writing will only continue to get more important.
Some say empathy is a superpower. And I tend to agree. Working in support challenges you to take a step back and consider things from a different viewpoint. Some people you interact with are product experts and want the highest level explanations, whereas others are beginners and need things broken down a little more.
Your ability to properly serve someone is largely dependent on your ability to understand them. Without building your empathy muscle, that would be really difficult to do. And the applications for empathy are near-endless.
Whether it’s communicating interpersonally with a co-worker, or creating a new marketing campaign to sell your latest product or service, empathy helps you connect with others in a meaningful way.
When you work in customer support there are usually a lot of different things vying for your time. You have to respond to new messages, and update open cases. You may also help build out self service content, or QA other agent tickets to ensure quality across the board.
Beyond that, support people also get pulled into outside projects a decent bit, too, because of their proximity to customers. Managing all those different responsibilities can be very difficult to do if you don’t manage your time effectively. Access to the right tools – like a good help desk – can help make time management easier, but it’s still a skill you need to cultivate.
Time management really is a great skill to have for nearly every aspect of life, be it personal or professional. It helps you prioritize tasks and set realistic timelines for projects. Having that clarity lets you set expectations properly for others, making for even better outcomes.
Many support problems aren’t easily fixed. Whether you work for a software company and there’s a bug that’s causing trouble, or you have a customer simply struggling to grasp an idea, working in customer support teaches you how to stick with an issue and follow it to its resolution.
Persistence is basically a requirement for success in professional life, making it a very valuable skill to cultivate. It’s a good trait for someone in sales to help close more deals and overcome objections. It’s also a core skill for an engineer or project manager to come up with solutions to complex problems.
Individual persistence could even rub off on others making the overall team stronger. All of it adds up to a big win for people individually and their organization as a whole.
Working in support you’re presented with a lot of issues people face. Some of them are straightforward and have relatively simple, or known, solutions. However, there are other cases that come your way that seem to be enigmas.
The issue makes no sense and no one knows why it’s happening. Finding the answer requires persistence (as we noted above) but also a sense of curiosity. Being a support agent forces you to be curious and seek out answers where others may simply throw their hands up and walk away because it’s your job to serve.
Curiosity is a great skill in many areas because it can help you find answers and opportunities where others might not see them. (If you ever need a lesson on why curiosity is great, this clip from Ted Lasso does a superb job).
What someone says, and what they actually mean can be very different things. It’s a lesson you learn quickly working in customer support. If you’re not paying close attention, it’s possible you might miss something, making things more difficult for everyone involved.
As a support agent, you become pretty attuned to giving your full attention to an issue because it’s what’s needed to get the job done. It’s a practice usually referred to as active listening. Really what it means is that you’re giving your full, undivided, attention to the conversation you’re having.
Active listening is a great skill to have for anyone interacting with customers – such as salespeople, account managers, and marketing professionals. Listening actively helps you better understand the people you’re communicating with, and can help set up more meaningful conversations and deeper insights.
Working in customer support you inevitably interact with a wide variety of people and issues. Some customers are very savvy, whereas others need a little more of your time. Similarly, some issues require following up with multiple people and teams.
When those longer interactions happen, or when you’re an intermediary between a customer and another team trying to get an issue resolved, you need to have patience. Having patience helps you keep those customer interactions and cross departmental interactions positive and moving in a positive direction.
Any job you do is going to require being patient at some time or other. Whether it’s waiting on a co-worker to follow up with you, or getting a response from a client, or getting a new initiative pushed through. All of it requires patience. The more you have, the easier many aspects of life and work will be.
Some skills you learn are universal, others specific, but most live somewhere in the middle. In order to make the most of those transferable skills, you first need to recognize them for what they are. Once you reorient yourself to do that, you may be surprised to find a whole new world of possibilities opening up.
So, make sure you don’t discredit past experience simply because it’s not an exact match for a future aspiration. Instead, look for building blocks it provided you with, and use those to propel yourself forward toward success.