Most careers come with extra responsibilities, beyond what was outlined in the job description. In a fast paced field like customer relationship management (CRM) you should definitely expect to wear more than one hat and this is especially true for customer support executives.
As a customer service leader, you probably worked a customer service representative job for many years and honed your ability to communicate, problem solve, and guide others through issues with ease. Yet climbing the ladder to customer service executive, your role will expand and it can quickly feel like you are working many related jobs instead of just one.
Zendesk’s Chief Customer Officer, Elizabeth Zornes, has worked at almost every level of the call center throughout her career in support. We spoke with Zornes in order to distinguish the various roles most crucial to the work of a customer support executive.
First and foremost is the job of leading and managing your team of trusted agents. “In support, we have the privilege to engage with customers everyday,” Zornes told me, “but that also means support interactions will be what the customers remember about your company.” Your job as a customer support executive is to ensure that your team has the tools and skills needed to handle that responsibility.
This requires a keen sense for identifying patterns in the types of queries that users are coming with. For example, if a certain region is producing an extraordinary amount of delivery-related tickets, then being able to pick up on that and looking at finding a different supplier for that region could reduce your team’s workload and improve customer satisfaction (CSAT). Finding ways to optimize your team’s time and energy without sacrificing service quality is crucial.
Another aspect of being commander-in-chief of the support team is taking on the tougher tickets. “You’ve got to know when to unleash the resources,” Zornes says. If an agent cannot find a solution and redirects a customer to you it’s essential that as a customer support executive you must have the authority and wherewithal to deal with a customer’s complaint. Whether that means knowing an expert in another department to refer them to, or having the power to bend the rules, using the right resources at the right time is a fundamental part of setting up the customer service team to succeed.
Communication skills are what helped rise you to the level of executive, so better believe the same skills will come into play in your new role. You will obviously be speaking with frustrated clients, but sometimes it’s your own team and other executives that present roadblocks to maintaining your company’s CSAT.
A good diplomat is an individual who can quickly analyze information and identify what various parties prioritize in order to resolve issues in a congenial manner. This will require creative problem solving and thinking on your feet.
“We win as a team,” Zornes said about engaging the support team, “you’ve got to know what motivates each individual and enable them to take advantage of the skills they bring to the table.”
As the face of the organization’s customer care, executives must also have the confidence to advocate for customer needs whenever an organization is working on a new product or brand strategy. Often times, companies with limited resources may want to overlook customer service, but as the support team diplomat you have got to highlight the importance of staying customer-centric during an expansion or direction change.
Part of leading a team involves putting that team together and training them to be successful agents. “Without the right people, things will fall apart,” Zornes said about recruiting. While this process sometimes takes place in a department of its own, a support executive will often be involved with hiring new employees. This means you must develop a keen eye for talent, brush up on your interviewing skills and you might even have to craft the job descriptions that your employer puts out.
Once your team is assembled, you also have to make sure incoming agents are capable of representing your company well by excellent customer service. This means developing a training program and having manuals or guidelines available that agents can refer to if they are ever stumped by a customer’s question.
Any customer care executive should already be well versed in coaching people as that is an essential part of customer service. When clients call in seeking help, they usually appreciate learning how to deal with the issue on their own next time.
The importance of good communication cannot be overstated. But never underestimate the role of being a good listener as well. As a customer support executive, your agents will deal with a lot of unhappy customers—and that can begin to rub off.
“The job is very intense,” Zornes told me, “we are the last resource so pressure has built up and the customer is expressing themselves.”
Although agents are trained to deal with this kind of frustration, Zornes shared that sometimes it can become overwhelming, and that is when a good executive works as a tool to let their agents vent without losing focus for the rest of the day.
Additionally, difficult tickets will often be directed to you, so developing patience and listening skills is necessary to help you pick up on the nuances and either help the customer or direct them to an agent that can get it done. Zornes said she has seen many crises in her career but with that came a lot of joy and excitement from customers that received satisfactory assistance.
One of the most overlooked skills of a customer service job is the ability to perform under stress. Your job the support team’s chief listener is also to keep yourself and your agents calm. If tickets are piling up, find a systematic way to work through them. If a team member has had a particularly rattling phone call, let them walk around and get their thoughts together.
Maybe organize a weekly group yoga session or something, but helping your team with healthy stress management will ensure that every ticket gets tackled with positive energy and a smile.
While every support team needs a couple technical wizards that know all the ins and outs of your company’s product, once you’re at the level of executive it becomes less important to be an expert in these details. However, the role of technologist requires you to understand exactly how customers relate to your product.
Zornes agrees that as she climbed up the customer care ladder, her work became increasingly less technical. Yet the more overview she gained, the more she needed to position herself between the engineers, sales team and the user experience developers.
“You’ve got to understand how customers will use your product in their environment,” she said “that way if a query comes your way, you can quickly identify at which level the customer’s problem lies and direct them to people on your team with expertise in the field.”
Similarly, extensive literacy in computers or smartphones is not a prerequisite for a customer support executive. Yet you must stay up to date on technology trends such as apps, software or devices that users might be integrating with your own product.
The best way to guarantee that your team is succeeding is to make sure they are organized. Part of the support executive’s job is creating and maintaining schedules to make sure your team can provide support around the clock—or at least long enough to live up to your service level agreement.
“In support, you never know how many tickets you will have, or what language your first caller speaks,” said Zornes. This was clearly one of her favorite roles as a customer service executive.
“You’ve got to recognize patterns, look at markets and industry growth to make sure you have the best possible setup at any given time,” She shared, “It’s truly and art and a science.”
A customer support executive should also be the one establishing metrics for success. There are lots of key performance indicators (KPIs) out there, but as the leader of your team it will be your job to decide which of them are important to your company’s business and how they will be tracked. Likewise, there is a responsibility to keep close track of customer records and ensure agents are following up with clients in good time.
Clearly being a customer support executive is not for the faint of heart. A job with such multi-faceted responsibilities requires an organized leader with a mind for recruiting, training and negotiating. Yet the role also calls for empathy and patience. Understanding the versatility required as a support executive should help your organization determine what kind of individual is right for the job in your industry.