It can be hard to predict, especially in the tech industry, the jobs and skills of tomorrow. Still, it’s possible to build a solid foundation in the meantime—especially for those honing widely applicable skills as front-line support agents. Take it from Leah Guest, whose training ground in Tier 1 support became a jumping-off point for her current position as a Voice of the Customer Platform Coordinator at Zendesk.
Before her first day on the job, Leah had her sights set on becoming a user experience designer. Though the role she was looking for wasn’t available at that moment, she worked hard to position herself as the logical choice when the timing was right. Starting as a Tier 1 customer advocate at Zendesk’s San Francisco office, Leah rose the support ranks to become a Tier 2 technical support engineer, and now holds a role that didn’t even exist when she started—one that combines her support expertise and UX aspirations in a completely unexpected way.
Figuring a role on the support team would allow her to master the product and become known across teams for her expertise, Leah made the right call. She now helps collect customer feedback in order to align Zendesk’s product roadmap with the needs and pain points of customers. Looking back on her career journey, Leah shares four tips for anyone looking to grow in their support role—or perhaps spread their wings into new territory.
1. Meet, greet, and maintain connections with anyone you find interesting, regardless of their team or title
Seeking out unofficial mentors is a great way to apply a growth mindset while also learning important business context. That’s why Leah was quick to grab coffee with anyone on the design or product teams who were willing to discuss how they could better work with the Advocacy team.
“I was doing this to create a connection with designers or project managers who I wanted to help me down the line, but I started getting very invested in my own support department,” Leah says. “I wanted to learn how we could work together to improve our product.”
The unexpected spark Leah experienced as a liaison between the Zendesk product and customers left her wondering if, perhaps, remaining in a support role was the best move. The uncertainty, though a bit scary, motivated her to explore more areas of the Zendesk business and product.
Before long, everyone was getting a coffee invite—anyone involved in an interesting project was fair game. These meetings served as Leah’s unofficial education into the Advocacy team, where she learned new things and networked with folks in other roles. For example, she was able to assist with a Voice of the Customer project before even applying for the team, and with an early access program with the product team. Even if people don’t need help at that moment, they’ll remember your name when the time is right, Leah advises.
“I started to realize that there were so many directions I could grow within support,” Leah says. “The experience that I had gained as a Tier 1 advocate, where I knew about every part of the product and saw hundreds of different customer use cases a week, made it super easy to market myself for new positions.”
2. Even if you don’t think you’re ready, go for the role
Don’t be afraid to apply for open roles in higher levels, especially if you’ve already started networking and doing the legwork to learn more about the business.
“I didn’t apply for a Tier 2 support role the first time it became available because I didn’t think I was qualified, and I regretted it,” Leah says. “Even if you don’t get a role, you’ll learn and grow from the experience.”
3. That said, put in some extra work—but try not to think of it as work
Excelling at your current role while exploring new growth opportunities is one of the biggest challenges, Leah says.
“When I was working on side projects for the Voice of the Customer program, I was still expected to maintain the same high metrics for my support role,” Leah recalls. “I’ve internally transferred twice now, and both times, I had already put in work that was required of the job before I got the promotion.”
But putting in the effort is well worth it in the end. When Leah was a Tier 1 agent with aspirations for Tier 2, for example, she took the initiative to reach out and ask those agents about the tools and skills they used to solve the tickets. She took a similar approach before her current role opened on the Voice of the Customer team. Leah met with her current manager to present a problem statement, a write-up of a customer’s real-life issue, to Zendesk product team leaders. In the end, that presentation served as a roadmap for features that addressed the issues.
“I was able to point to the success of projects I had already done to position myself as a desirable candidate, and it worked!” she says.
4. Don’t be set on a title
“What really intrigued me about a support job was the fact that I was going to have the opportunity to really become an expert at a product, and I knew companies would find that valuable,” Leah says. “Voice of the Customer wasn’t even a job when I started at Zendesk. Be open to new opportunities and other roles and paths. You might surprise yourself with where your career will take you.”
More first-hand career tips from Zendesk advocates:
Carl McDowell approaches every support ticket like a puzzle—learn what drives him to solve them.
Esperanza “Zsa” Trias, on how to grow in your support role
Teresa Rosado-Sanna, takes an international approach to customer support—and real life.
Abel Martin, on building great internal partnerships
Arthur Mori, on what everyone should know about Tier 1 support
Benjamin Towne, on mentoring and offering constructive criticism
Rodney Lewis, on setting up an internal shadowing program
Sarah Kay, on her move from advocate to data analyst
Ramona Lopez, on rolling out an advocate recognition program
Aurash Pourmand, on practicing customer empathy
Anna Lee Ledesma, on the skill every great chat agent needs to have
Mark Fado, on providing dedicated 1:1 client support
Justin Helley, on advocacy training and development
Guillaume Deleeuw, on problem-solving in Tier 2 technical support
DeShawn Witter, on providing support in your community