Along with the practice of speaking kindly about yourself, there are a few key traits that make for excellent support team members. These can either be innate or something that you develop over the course of time. Either way, they are integral to any role in support and important to have.
Let’s just say it: sometimes customers can be frustrating. They don’t listen to you when you tell them something, they get angry at you over things that aren’t your fault…sometimes they can really grind your gears. But, at the same time, as support people, it’s important to understand that they are not necessarily angry at you as much as they are frustrated by the situation at hand. People working in support need to have a high level of patience, otherwise, you’ll spend your whole day grimacing and glowering and just generally being unhappy.
Patience and calm are integral in remaining grounded and being able to calm and assure your customer that everything is going to be okay. If you are flustered and your mind is all over the place, you’re probably going to make a silly mistake and cause yourself a lot of strife over nothing. So, patience, if you don’t already have it, is an important skill to cultivate in your life.
When your friends are talking to you, are you usually the one who is half-listening, half-scrolling through Instagram, or do you try to be fully attentive in whatever you do? If it’s the former, that kind of multitasking can be pretty problematic in the work place, but also isn’t very respectful to the people around you. Because support is a primarily people-centric job, it’s important that you treat people with respect. So, if you don’t already, being attentive, and listening directly when people are talking to you is a skill that you should start to work on in order to be an excellent support person.
Once you are deeply attentive, you can start to pick up on things that are implied rather than explicitly stated. By paying closer attention and getting to the bottom of things a more quickly, you can lower important metrics for your company and for your team.
Do you love talking and have the drive to ensure that any communication that you do is clear and to the point? Awesome! Support people need to have strong communication skills because that’s what makes up the entirety of most of their days. Whether it be via email, chat, social media, over the phone or on a video chat, people that work in support are always talking and trying to convey meaning to their customers. And, in the event that what they’re trying to say is not as clear as it could have been, it usually ends up meaning a longer or more complicated interaction both for the customer and for the support person.
But, don’t worry, even if you aren’t a master communicator with a degree in rhetoric or linguistics, you can still get a solid handle on this skill and be the best you can be. Entrepreneur has a great list of some of the best ways that you can improve your communication skills without needing to go back to school — beneficial both for in work, and out.
This is something that you will likely have to build as you gain time at the company. That being said, you can build up knowledge of whatever product you will be supporting by using it before you get hired. For example, if you are interviewing with a company that offers an organizational app, then use it during your day-to-day for organizational purposes. That way, once you get started with learning the internal tools and the real ins-and-outs of supporting them, you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
In support, there is always something to do. Do you have experience with managing a lot of moving pieces with one go? Maybe you have a hectic home life that you need to maintain balance with? If you’ve done either of those things, you likely have strong time management skills. If you find yourself getting distracted regularly, taking much longer to do something than you would expect, or running over on time that you’ve set for yourself, it might be that you have some trouble with time management. Luckily, there are tons of ways to improve time management, so you’re not cursed forever.
In support, it’s especially important to be able to manage your time. There are so many irons in the fire, especially if your company supports multiple channels, that to fall behind can really put a wrench in your day. Practice time management prior to coming onboard for a support role, and then continue to work at it as you grow to become a total support boss.
There will be times during a support interaction where something will totally flip: maybe a new piece of information about the issue will become uncovered, or maybe the customer will grow angry and shift their communication style on you. No matter what happens, you need to be able to shift and go with the flow to make sure that you get the customer the help that they need.
Some people are less comfortable with fluidity, and do a better job when they know what is coming and what to expect. But, support people especially need to have a competency in dealing with ambiguity. If you don’t feel comfortable with that kind of flexibility — the number of different tickets that you get spanning any number of topics and personalities might be overwhelming if you are the type of person who likes to dig down on a single project and make a ton of headway with your focus — support might not be the best industry for you.
Also known as persistence, tenacity is an important personality trait for a support person to have because it enables them to dive deep into a particular issue, even if they can’t find the answer at first. A good support person will have the drive to work until they get to the bottom of an issue, even if it means going far above and beyond what the normal expectation of their role might be. Tenacity isn’t necessarily something that can be developed, but it can be honed by someone caring deeply or believing in the mission behind what they are doing. There are some articles out in the world that talk about the best ways to develop perseverance and tenacity, though, so that might be a good start if you don’t feel that you are naturally driven person.
Some customers will just want to stay and talk for the sake of talking. This is particularly prevalent in the phone support and chat channels for support, which seem much more conversational than the other venues. Some customers also just don’t hear the word “no,” so, once you’ve told them that something isn’t possible or that you will not do something for them, they continue to message and persist.
Because of that, it’s important that support people have the ability to close, or the ability to shut down a customer’s effort and let them know that there’s no further discussion to be had. This can and should be done gently, which is why it is a skill, rather than just something that you can do. Customers need to be let down with respect and made to feel like they are cared about by your team. Depending on the context of the conversation, the close will be different. For example: if someone is being somewhat aggressive, then the close might need to be a bit more staunch and straightforward. If someone just seems to not recognize that the conversation is going nowhere, it can be a bit more gentle.
Empathy is probably the number one trait and skill in a customer support person’s toolbox. If you can’t or don’t care about your customers (or other people), you will not be able to do well in this role. Customers email in to support when they are frustrated, discouraged, feel stupid, or when something that they expected to work just isn’t working anymore. That’s a very sensitive point in time to talk to someone, and they are putting themselves in a place of vulnerability. If a support person comes at that place of vulnerability without any tact or empathy, it’s going to be a poor experience for the customer.
That being said, even the most empathetic of people can hit some speed bumps along the way in the form of stress, anger, or differing communication styles. If you are already a very empathetic person, work towards better understanding how to control yourself in those situations. If you are not already extremely empathetic, it might be worth it to practice in your day-to-day conversations with people at the grocery store or elsewhere in order to try to strengthen those muscles prior to taking on a role in this industry.
Products, whether digital or physical, are always changing. Because of that, it’s important for support people to be very curious — asking questions, testing things out, trying new ways of things — because they are the people that uncover potential holes in the product and pass it on to the product team to resolve. Similarly, an excellent support person is willing and able to admit what they don’t know and work to try to learn it from someone on their team.
So, are you the type of person to ask questions and then seek out the answer from someone if you can’t find one right in front of you? Awesome. That level of curiosity and drive to learn more will take you far in the support world, especially if you’re keen on writing documentation or learning center material for your customers. If you’re not particularly curious, or you aren’t the type to go out of your way to find answers to something you don’t already know, perhaps another profession in the tech world would be a better fit.