5 ways to thrive in your customer support role

Tyler Robertson
Tyler Robertson / Published April 29, 2020

Customer support is hard.

It's hard for all of the reasons you already know: you help folks that are frustrated or confused all day, every day. And while having empathy makes you better at it, it also means that their frustration takes its toll on you. Nobody comes to support while they're having a good day, or thinks to themselves, "Everything is working perfectly, I should reach out to a support team about this!"

Remote support adds a layer: there's no "going to look in the back" when you need to get away from an irate customer. When an issue only exists on the screen and in your head, it follows you around wherever you go. The line between what is/isn't work becomes fuzzy, and when you're genuinely trying to do good work, that gray area can become overwhelming.

I've been a Customer Champion at Zapier for a little over a year now, meaning if you've ever written to us at contact@zapier.com or via our contact page, there's a non-zero chance that we've interacted. Over the past year, I've compiled a list of tips for making the most of a remote support position. If you're looking to get into a support role, or change up how you approach your current role, it's a list I wrote for you.

1. Keep a journal

When your primary role is to answer questions, there are always more questions. There are days where each question blends into the next, and on those days where all of your replies have to be "Could you send me a screenshot?", it's easy to put in eight hours and not really feel like you've accomplished anything.

Instead of letting this lead to a spiral of impostor syndrome, or of feeling left behind while your co-workers complete cool projects around you, write down what you do accomplish.

Every day, rain or shine, make a small little note of what you did that day. Maybe you helped a customer dig into a complicated problem, or put in a bug report with a metric ton of notes. Or maybe you spent a good chunk of the day in Slack, helping answer questions for newer teammates. Even if they don't feel like much in the moment, keep a record of those things. Over time, you'll be able to see in writing that you've been working your butt off every day. And, if nothing else, you'll be that cool person that keeps a daily journal.

Because I'm a nerd and I work at Zapier, I automated my journal to have it save my notes and mood to a spreadsheet. I also have a friendly reminder in Slack at the end of each day.

Tyler's reminder to himself to fill out his journal

2. Be proud of the work you do

Historically, I don't tell people about my job. I don't like listing it on social media, I don't use LinkedIn anymore, and I don't bring it up at family events. When family members ask what I do, I mumble something about "IT" and offer to fix their WiFi to avoid the rest of the conversation. Largely, this is because where I come from, customer support was the job you took if you failed at everything else—and hadn't yet stooped to food service.

(Incidentally, all of my jobs have been in either customer support or food service.)

When you come from an environment that has that kind of attitude, it can be tough to look at yourself in the mirror: you're sinking eight hours into a job that your parents wouldn't care about (much less respect). You have to, have to, find a way to respect yourself and the work that you do.

The good news? If you look at the numbers, that respect will come easy. Customer service affects all aspects of a business: your work can increase customer retention, brand loyalty, and basically every other metric a company measures. I'm lucky to work somewhere that holds customer service in high esteem, but if you're not so lucky, you'll need to do that for yourself.

3. Take breaks

This feels like a simple one, but it's something I still struggle with. When you work at a computer all day, with Twitter right there at your fingertips and whatever funny thing that just happened in Slack, it's really easy to feel like you've taken a break as long as you're not talking to a customer.

But breaks from customers aren't breaks from work.

You'll be so much more productive if you give yourself the time to stop working and go eat that bagel you've been wanting, compared to forcing yourself to work through the hunger and accidentally typing the word "bagel" six times into your reply to that bagel email.

4. Ask for feedback

When I was nine, my best friend got a skateboard. We took it down to the local park, which had a quarter-pipe, on a day when we knew no one would be there. We took turns standing at the top of the ramp, skateboard under one foot and looking down. When you're nine years old, barely as tall as the quarter-pipe, the drop down may as well be a cliff face. There was no way we could do this half-heartedly—once you drop, you drop.

Eventually my friend shouted, "You just have to commit!", grabbed the skateboard, climbed up to the top of the quarter-pipe, put the board under his feet, and dropped in.

He still has the scar.

Asking for feedback in a customer support role is really similar: it's scary as hell, and you just have to commit to it.

Why is it scary? If I ask for feedback on a ticket I've worked on, and the feedback is, "Uh yeah, you shouldn't have said any of this," I can't unwrite those emails. All the times I've screwed up in this job live on in the permanent record of our customers' inboxes. (I mean, uh, they would, in a hypothetical world where I've ever made mistakes—is it hot in here?)

But this is why we have to commit and ask for that feedback: we'll always have the scars of our mistakes, and with feedback, we can learn and grow from them. At some point, you just have to take the plunge. It gets easier after that, and eventually it will become second nature, but you have to take that leap.

Plus, the risks are way less painful than skateboarding.

5. When all else fails, entertain yourself with a GIF

Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec giving two thumbs up

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