Annual Planning as a New Customer Support Leader

Illustration by Erik Blad
Illustration by Erik Blad

In Ask Help Scout, long-time customer service professional Mat “Patto” Patterson answers readers’ most challenging customer support delivery, leadership, and career questions.

Dear Patto,

I was recently promoted to Head of Customer Service for my six-person team. I’m excited about the chance to do some real planning for the next year, but I’ve never done it before. How should I get started, and where can I learn more?

Thanks!
Max Pankov

Dear Max,

Congratulations on the promotion! Planning as a leader for the first time can feel overwhelming (it sure did for me), but the good news is you’re starting with a lot of advantages.

Since you’ve been working in the queue with your colleagues, you already know what is working well, where the rough edges are, and what some of the challenges your team is facing are. Your work for the next year can be divided into three key areas: yourself, your team, and your company.

I’ll start with the company, because that encompasses the annual planning you’re most interested in.

Successful planning starts with understanding where your company is going, what the company goals are, and how your team is going to help meet them. Once you understand what your company really cares about, you can develop goals for your own team that will align well.

My Foundations of Great Service course will walk you through defining your team values, setting relevant goals, and planning for team and company growth. It’s worth working through, even though you have an existing team. The really short version is this:

  • Understand where you are today by collecting some baseline metrics so you can tell later what has changed.
  • Referring to your values, set some ambitious goals for your team to reach, imagining what it would look like if everything went perfectly. Maybe that’s about increasing speed or quality, opening new channels, or developing a closer relationship with internal decision-makers.
  • Then, select some metrics that will measure the behaviors and results most likely to move you toward those goals. Finally, work with your team on plans to hit your targets. Remember, data is a customer service manager’s best friend.

Good planning is essential, but you’ll still face some other challenges as you work to deliver on the plan. The biggest one will be making the team-member-to-leader shift. A caterpillar who has become a butterfly can’t keep crawling around eating and pretending to be bird poop. It must learn to fly, defend its territory, and bask glamorously in the sun.

And you, Max, must do the same. OK, this analogy isn’t perfect, but you get my point. When you’re a leader, you need to work differently than the queueterpillar you were before, because they are two different jobs with different goals.

Understand that your job now is to help your team succeed — not to do the work for them. In my experience, making that mental shift will require repeated attempts. So start with some habits to rethink when you become a manager, learn lessons for new managers, and maybe read The Making of a Manager.

Your team is the final element in your success in this new role — work to understand who they are as people, their goals, their challenges, and what they need from you to succeed. You know them as colleagues, and now you need to develop a relationship with them as their leader. Set up some effective one-on-one meetings, and keep at it.

Best of luck in the new role, Max. Can’t wait to see your butterfly wings!

Have a question for Patto?

Have a question for Patto?

Mathew Patterson
Mathew Patterson

After running a support team for years, Mat joined the marketing team at Help Scout, where we make excellent customer service achievable for companies of all sizes. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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