Career Paths for Customer Service Agents at Help Scout

Every day the Help Scout Customers Team delivers friendly, helpful support via email, chat, and social channels on all manner of topics from features and functionality to billing, onboarding, and integrations. Beyond directly answering questions, they are consultants, helping our customers figure out and master all the ins and outs of the software.

Help Scout is still a small company, and our Customers Team finds itself not just delivering great support for a constantly improving and expanding product, but also delivering elements of our sales, finance, business development, and marketing functions.

So when our Head of Customers Team, Abigail Phillips, is hiring new team members, she is looking for people with a diverse set of skills and a willingness to constantly learn. Those folks are out there, but they are in high demand and always looking to grow. Keeping them engaged and satisfied in their roles means giving them plenty of opportunities to progress in their careers.

Here’s what that looks like at Help Scout.

Career growth for customer support agents

As in many small companies, there is no clearly defined “corporate ladder” for Help Scout’s Customers Team members to clamber up. Instead, Help Scout offers two broad paths for customer support career growth: Generalist and Specialist.

Generalists

Every new member of the Customers Team starts in a Generalist role, as they learn about Help Scout’s products and approach to customer service. A Generalist’s work includes:

  • Offering frontline email and chat support for customers and prospective customers.
  • Handling phone calls, product demonstrations, and customer training as required.
  • Improving internal and external documentation, and maintaining Saved Replies and Workflows.
  • Collecting and reporting on customer experiences to the product teams.
  • Recording product issues and documenting feature requests.
  • Acting as a knowledge resource for the rest of the company, particularly during Whole Company Support times.

Generalists focus on deepening their product knowledge and sharpening their customer support skills. For people who decide to stay on the Generalist path, career progress comes from developing a deep expertise in Help Scout’s products and finding ways to use that expertise to both deliver better service to customers and to educate and support their colleagues across the company.

Team members can rise up through the skill levels and salary bands while continuing to focus on frontline support work. As they progress, both Help Scout and our customers benefit from all of that valuable knowledge and experience.

Generalists may also end up in Coach roles, acting as trainers and resources for new colleagues. Sarah-Mei Estrada is currently a Coach on the Customers Team:

“I love being a coach! It means I get to work with smart, fun, empathetic people every day. One of my favorite things is to learn about my teammates: How are they currently feeling about their work? What are ways they'd like to grow themselves or impact the team? I really appreciate being able to support them as they continually progress.”
Sarah-Mei Estrada

Sarah-Mei Estrada, Coach

Specialists

Customers Team Specialists spend time out of the main queue, working on their particular speciality. The split between frontline support work and specializations will vary depending on the level of experience and the type of work involved, but it typically begins at 20% “out of queue” time and may rise as high as 80%.

Currently, there are three specialities available:

Growth Specialist

Mission: Improve product adoption and retention by serving as a partner and consultant to potential and current Help Scout customers.

Responsibilities outside the general queue include:

  • Strategic leadership for Support-Driven Growth initiatives
  • Maintaining a tight working relationship with our Marketing and Sales teams and assisting with new engagement experiments and marketing/blog efforts.
  • Conducting trial and pretrial consultations with qualified potential customers.
  • Connecting larger potential customers with our account executives.
  • Reaching out to customers at key moments in their experiences to help them get the most from their usage.
  • Developing ideas for how to educate our customers on the “why” of using a help desk, instead of just the “how.”
  • Conducting weekly product tours and webinars in a one-to-many format.

Read more: The Skills You Need for a Support-Driven Growth Role

Culture Specialist

Mission: Improve the health, happiness, and training of our team as we grow, and be an advocate for company culture.

Responsibilities include:

  • Helping to onboard new team members.
  • Organizing and evangelizing our Whole Company Support efforts.
  • Leading internal training initiatives.
  • Developing and running programs to build the team’s closeness and happiness.
  • Managing internal documentation and resources for team culture and onboarding.
  • Working closely with our People Ops team on culture-building activities.
  • Answering community questions (for example, in the Support-Driven Slack group).
  • Supporting our customers on social media channels and being a public voice of the company.
“I used to undervalue my natural ‘soft skills’, but now I see the huge business impact that community building has at Help Scout. Creating happier, more connected customers and staff really contributes to building better products and a more successful company. It’s a great opportunity for me to grow in my role and play to my strengths.”
Kristi Thompson

Kristi Thompson, Customers Team Culture Specialist

Product Specialist

Mission: Be the voice of the customer for our Engineering, Product, and Design teams, and nurture product discussions within the Customers team.

Responsibilities include:

  • Actively building a closer working relationship with our Product teams.
  • Helping collate, prioritize, and elaborate on bugs and improvements so they are more easily actioned.
  • Taking the lead on managing unexpected outages and downtime.
  • Leading the creation of new customer-facing documentation.
  • Identifying ways to reduce incoming support through product improvements.
  • Tracking and reporting on themes and trends in customer questions.
  • Building internal technical documentation for the Customers team.
  • Leading discussions on privacy and security issues impacting the Customers Team.
“Being a Product Specialist is rewarding on so many levels. Not only do I get to spend my days working with customers and the support team, I also work with both product and engineering by providing customer insights on ongoing projects. It offers a direct line to help impact how the product changes and evolves, while staying connected with our customers. For me, it’s the best of both worlds!”
Elyse Roach

Elyse Roach, Customers Team Product Specialist

Following a Customers Team career path

Abigail begins the process of helping her new team members plan their career growth with Help Scout even before they are officially hired. During the interview process, candidates answer a few questions about what they are most personally interested in and where their experience and skills lie.

That helps give prospective team members a sense of the options available, but it also helps maintain a diverse and well-balanced team makeup in the long term. After joining, new members are heads-down learning the product, meeting customers through their support requests, and settling in to the company culture.

Once a team member has reached a high level of performance (and has a minimum of six months experience), they’ll start chatting with Abigail about their abilities, their interests, and what specializations the team currently needs most.

Key features of the Customers team career model

  • Team members are never locked in. They can test the waters, try some sample projects, and move between specialities over time.
  • Specialities are not fixed. The Customers Team continues to evolve, and there is potential for new specialities to be added. If team members can identify an opportunity that interests them and show how it will be a multiplier for the rest of the team, they could potentially take it on.
  • Generalist roles are highly valued as the “general practitioners” of support. You can grow skills and your compensation without being a specialist.

Future growth at Help Scout

Help Scout continues to grow, and as the company adds people there are new opportunities and new complexities to manage. Historically, customer service has had a reputation as a career cul-de-sac, but with the rise of Support-Driven Growth, we foresee support and service skills as being highly valued in all parts of the working world.

If you have any questions about how career growth works at Help Scout, or what we look for from our new Customer Champions, let us know in the comments below!

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.