Landing a customer support manager role is a dream for many individual contributors building their careers in support. When it finally happens, there is a lot of change to adjust to. As you move through the whirlwind, it's natural to lean on some of the habits you developed as an individual contributor (IC).
However, success is measured differently now that you're a manager. You have to build new thought processes and considerations into your day-to-day schedule and manage a whole slew of new team members and responsibilities that you might not have dealt with before. Here are the best ways to manage the shift, even if you're starting from scratch.
If you've started a job as a customer support manager, you're already succeeding. Seriously! The fact that the company believes that you can do the work is a huge sign pointing toward you being able to do the work. That said, here are a few steps you can follow to guarantee success in your new role.
Understand your starting point
You can't measure what isn’t defined. The first step in being successful in a new role is understanding the definition of success. Take a moment to understand the historical performance of your team. Look into key metrics like:
Customer effort score
First response resolution
Better yet, talk with your team and other cross-functional teams that they work closely with to understand what is important to them. After all, your success is the success of your team. Understand how they've been doing historically, and you'll be well on your way to understanding what needs to improve moving forward.
Set goals for yourself
Even though the overall work of your team will determine success, you should still set goals and benchmarks for yourself to chart your progress. There are a few critical areas of focus that you should dive into to get started. Orient yourself to your new position by getting to know your people, your company, your product, and your customers.
From there, pick one metric or issue that feels most important and impactful for you. For instance, if during your observation and orientation period you noticed that documentation really needed improvement, set that as your main goal.
Set whatever goal you make for yourself in both tangible metrics and softer, more interpersonal observances. Address one project at a time as you start to get your sea legs.
Measure your effectiveness
As part of observing and orienting to your new role, you will likely learn about many things your team is doing well and some that they aren't. While you can use the metrics that you defined as benchmarks to measure your effectiveness in your new role, there is one other fundamental way to understand how you are doing.
The best barometer for your success as a manager is how your team feels. Use tools like employer NPS (eNPS) to get anonymous feedback about how your team or others that you work with cross-functionally feel about your performance. Or, if you've built up enough rapport over the orienting and observing stage, you can ask them directly for feedback. These insights, directly from your team members, can serve as a super effective measuring stick for your performance.
11 strategies for the new customer support manager
With your metrics in mind and a solid base of knowledge about your team, you can start doing the work of management. Here are eleven strategies to employ.
1. Empower your people
Most new support managers misunderstand that their success is no longer measured by clearing the queue, literally or figuratively. Directly resolving one problem after another doesn't make you a successful people leader. What makes you successful is creating the conditions that empower your direct reports to solve problems themselves.
Instead of doing everything yourself, you'll create a culture of independent thinking and doing. Your team will feel empowered to take the initiative as they see fit, and confident because you've helped them develop problem-solving skills of their own.
2. Learn to ask "why"
Support professionals always start from a place of "yes" when working with customers. As a support manager, this is another old habit you'll have to combat sometimes. Instead, you'll need to advocate for your team to both the customer and to the company at large, and sometimes that means setting boundaries that feel uncomfortable at first.
For example, let's say your product team is releasing a new, complex feature, and they ask if your direct reports can handle an expected 10% increase in ticket volume. Your impulse is probably to say "sure!" But that's likely to strain your team, which could harm morale. Instead, try "Yes, and we'll need to adjust our service-level agreement to accommodate the higher workload." This response accommodates your internal partner's request and protects your team's time and sanity.
3. Find beauty in growth
There's nothing more satisfying to a support IC than coming up with the perfect response to a complex ticket. Striking just the right balance of empathy, information, and guidance is immeasurably gratifying. However, people aren’t tickets, and you can’t expect them to be perfect.
One of your primary responsibilities as a manager is to help your team members grow and develop professionally. You should provide them with opportunities to strengthen their skills and widen their scopes. Instead of expecting perfection from your team, expect (and praise and reward) progress. In moments where things don’t go as planned, encourage learning and give constructive insights on what could shift next time.
4. Think bigger picture
Rather than just focusing on your own work, you must consider how your team performs and contributes to the broader company. It's essential to ensure that your team's work contributes to the company's overall goals.
Whenever you're considering making a change to a process or practice, ask yourself if you are the best person to be doing the work and why. If the answer isn't something to the effect of "it will help my team fulfill our mission" or "it will help us contribute to a company goal," you're probably thinking too individually.
5. Work alongside your team
There's nothing better you can do to cultivate trust with a new team than show them that you aren't afraid to get your hands dirty. When things get hectic or the inbox starts to feel a little painful for your team, roll up your sleeves and hop into the queue.
It can be easy to fall back into old habits, however, especially if the queue is something that you are comfortable working in. Don’t hop in there every day for no reason. Instead of relying on old things that you know you do well, you should be trying to flex and grow in new areas as a support manager.
Always be willing to challenge your assumptions, especially if you are coming from another company to manage a new team. It never hurts to question your own beliefs.
For instance, you may assume that priorities, like the importance of a quick response, are the same at all companies. However, maybe your new customers don't care about an immediate answer as long as they get a complete response the first time. Any time you find yourself assuming something, experiment, dive into data, and double-check your gut feeling.
7. Document everything
One of the best times to uncover breaking points within current processes is during onboarding. As you learn the ropes during the onboarding process, document everything you learn and any opportunities you see. Later, use these notes to have conversations with your team members about their decision-making processes and where things might shift.
Similarly, as you start to create your new processes and experiments, be sure to document both your hypotheses and your findings so you can keep track of what you’re currently doing and so others can learn from your process in the future.
8. Understand your data
While there are ways to manipulate data that may make it less truthful or meaningful, one of the best things you can do in your new role is to understand the data itself. For instance, it’s good to know what data you would like to have that you don't have already, to understand what the data you currently have means, and to correlate that data cross-functionally.
Say, for instance, you think it would be beneficial to have product usage data points, but your company doesn't currently have anything in place to track that. Knowing this gives you the leverage to build it into any future planning or strategizing that you’re doing as you start off your role.
9. Build relationships with your employees
Cultivate a regular practice of one-on-ones where you talk about things outside of metrics and performance in the inbox. Ask about interests at work and outside of work and be sure to share yours, too. It can be a great way to bond and build rapport.
Knowing about interests and passions can help you progress your ICs along meaningful career paths, too. For instance, if you know that one of your team members is passionate about writing and video creation, that might extend to creating onboarding guides or recorded videos for your docs. The better you get to know people, the more you can help them grow.
10. Offer and invite feedback
If it does not already exist within the team that you have inherited, strive to cultivate a culture of openness and honesty. Not only does that mean offering both constructive and positive insights to your team members, but inviting them back for yourself as well.
Many companies implement a quarterly eNPS for their employee groups, but you could do something on a smaller scale for your new team. For instance, consider sending out a Google Forms survey once a month asking for open-ended feedback.
Once you have enough rapport built with your team members, you can ask for this kind of insight directly in one-on-one meetings or even in a group setting. However, many employees may be leery of providing direct insights to a superior, so consider how you respond and how open you are when they do. All it takes is one poor response to scare a person away from offering you direct commentary in the future.
11. Learn and share the responsibility of setting goals
As a new support manager, it's indeed up to you to set the strategies and goals for your team. However, as a potentially new person to both the company and the team, your team members may have better insights into the work that needs to be done than you do. They may also have more realistic expectations of what can be done and how long it will take.
When you are creating new strategies or planning out things like OKRs or quarterly goals, work with your team directly to figure them out. The more collaborative the process, the more buy-in you will create across the group. The more buy-in, the more likely you are to succeed team-wide across your projects.
Grow your career as a support manager
Making the jump from individual contributor to manager is an incredible opportunity, and it means taking on a lot of new responsibilities and challenges. This includes shifting your thinking in several profound ways. You're unlikely to get it all right the first time, and that's OK. What's important is that you're committed to your customers and your team and you continue building your skills as a manager. Enjoy the ride!