9 Must-Have Skills for Every Customer Service & Support Manager
You did it. You’ve worked your way up from your role as a high-achieving customer support rep on the front lines to managing your own customer support team; that’s no easy feat.
With this new role comes new responsibilities, experiences, and skills as your day-to-day work will no longer be the same. You’ll have to build upon your previous service rep disciplines — and add a few other skills you need to start exceeding goals in your new job, too.
To aid in your career progression, we’ll go through some must-have support manager skills you’ll have to lead your high-performing, reliable customer support team. And if you’re in a pinch, just straight to the topic you’re looking for below.
Support managers build relationships with employees, customers, and other management teams. As a people manager, you’re in charge of overseeing other people’s careers. You should make sure they stay on track with business goals and that they’re happy in their day-to-day workflow. This requires true dedication to your company and genuine investment in your team’s success.
Beyond managing your employees, you’ll also work with customers. When customers have special problems that reps can’t solve on their own, you’ll jump into to save the day. Sometimes this will require emotional intelligence to analyze customer needs and act quickly to fulfill them. The customer issues you’ll be working with will often be complex or time-sensitive escalations, and you have to expect the unexpected.
Lastly, you’ll have to exercise cross-team communication to report these issues and other metrics in your organization. For example, common or repeat issues with the product should be reported to product development. Or, if you’re noticing that your team is struggling to meet customer demand, you’ll have to connect with other support managers or executives to strategize a solution.
These are the core responsibilities of service and support manager positions. To successfully execute these tasks, you’ll have to possess specific skills. Let’s review that skillset in the section below.
Communication skills are essential for any manager to build, no matter what organizational function they work in. But they’re of particular importance to customer support manager in that:
Customer support managers should teach and coach their customer support reps to be able to handle tough customer calls and busy workloads.
Customer support managers should be able to communicate effectively with customers when issues are escalated to them.
Managers should effectively communicate to advocate for their team to other customer support and company leaders.
Customer support managers have to be able to communicate with different groups of people for different purposes — which is why it’s the first on our list.
How to Build This Skill: Customer support managers should constantly practice their written and in-personal communication skills by:
Regularly writing on a company blog, on Medium, or LinkedIn
Regularly speaking at team meetings, lunch and learns, or Toastmasters
Ask any teacher or coach: Patience is a crucial part of being successful. The same can be said for customer support managers — who are very specific types of teachers and coaches.
Managers should be patient when teaching new reps the basics of customer support, when coaching reps through tough situations or low performance, and when tackling complex issues with customers who might be angry, rude, or impolite.
Patience goes hand-in-hand with effective communication: If you sound or read as impatient, the person you’re communicating with won’t hear what you’re trying to say — they’ll only hear the frustration in your voice, and they’ll get frustrated too.
How to Build This Skill: When your initial reaction is impatience or frustration to something an employee, peer, or customer says, consciously practice thinking about the reason why they said it before jumping to your reaction.
This exercise will help build empathy (another skill on this list), and it will force you to take a moment to put yourself in the other person’s shoes — before jumping to a possibly impatient reaction that could shut the other person down. It’s your job as a manager to create an environment where people can be honest and open — so it’s on you to practice patience with everyone you speak with.
3. Problem Solving
As your department suggests, working in customer support means you’ll have to do your fair share of problem-solving. When you’re a support manager, you’ll have to do even more of it.
You should be available to help your employees solve problems in their customer careers or bigger ones in their professional development.
You’ll also have to solve bigger problems that come with leadership and management — helping determine budget priorities, proving ROI, changing broken processes, and internal company advocacy.
How to Build This Skill: Practice problem solving by asking those around you what challenges and obstacles they’re facing — your team members, your peers, or even your manager. Thinking and talking out problems that aren’t on your plate might inspire you with strategies you can use in your day-to-day.
Just as important to be diplomatic with customers as it is to be diplomatic with your staff.
Customer support managers should try to be tactful and diplomatic when it comes to navigating tricky conversations. You’ll have conversations where you have to deliver tough feedback or bad news to your employees, and you’ll have these when you have to talk to difficult customers about an issue in the heat of the moment.
Having to tell people things that might disappoint or frustrate them is part of being a manager. Where diplomacy can help is with phrasing and word choice, tone, and setting so that, even if you’re delivering bad news, the person you’re speaking to can understand your reasoning and feel respected by you and your decision.
How to Build This Skill: Learn diplomacy by watching how the diplomats do it. Study the speeches and debates of political and government leaders you believe in to see how they choose phrasing that includes instead of alienates its viewers. Oftentimes, you’ll find that, even when discussing their opponents, their phrasing and tone are still diplomatic because they focus on delivering the right message instead of skewing it by their emotions.
Motivation is another must-have for a successful manager. You’ll have to make sure that you’re intrinsically motivated to lead and inspire other people to make sure you can extrinsically motivate your employees to get up and do the job every day.
This is especially important for customer support managers because, let’s face it, customer support can be a grind. During periods where teams are understaffed or there’s a product bug, reps have to deal with a ton of incoming calls and frustrated, angry customers.
So knowing how to rally the troops during these times will help you and your team perform your best and take care of yourselves.
How to Build This Skill: Practice building a habit and sticking to it. Whether it’s making your bed every day, practicing yoga, or learning a foreign language, practice your intrinsic motivation, and bring the strategies you learned for motivating yourself with you into the office.
Nobody likes a micromanager — especially if that person is their manager at work.
A big part of being an effective manager is training your employees, coaching them — and then trusting them to do what you taught them on your own.
You can always provide constructive feedback if their work isn’t up to par, but you should delegate and let go a little so employees can make those mistakes — and learn from them — instead of you simply telling them what to do and how to do it every day.
How to Build This Skill: Delegate one of your daily or weekly tasks to an employee, and fully hand it off to them. Whether it’s sending team-wide emails, doing monthly or weekly reporting, or another in-depth task, practice growing your trust as a manager by showing them how it works and letting them do it themselves. They might make mistakes, or they might surprise you, but make sure to check in after the fact instead of stepping in to fix it for them.
As mentioned previously on this list, empathy is another critical skill for customer support managers to build, because it’s critical for working in a customer-facing role, and it’s important for any sort of people manager.
You’ll have to be empathetic to customers, employees, and your manager or director because each groups’ needs and priorities should be taken into account when making decisions and communicating with them.
The fact is, you’re never going to be able to please everyone as a manager. But by practicing empathy and being mindful of how your decisions impact others by putting yourself in their shoes, you’ll be able to provide insight into your decisions to help people understand the outcome.
How to Build This Skill: Practice reflecting listening in your conversations by repeating back what you hear to make sure you understand where your employees and peers are coming from. Repeat back what you hear, and the person you’re speaking with will either confirm that you correctly understand their intent, or they’ll clarify their thinking for you so your conversation can move forward without confusion.
Vision is a critical aspect of leadership. It’s really important to be able to rally the troops during tough times, keep them focused on the big picture, and have an idea of what goals you’re leading the team towards achieving.
Vision can be the difference between a manager who’s a mentor and a manager who’s effectively a project manager — and not a people manager.
This is part of why it’s so important to build communication skills as a manager: so you can deliver a message that keeps people inspired Monday through Friday, forty or more hours per week.
How to Build This Skill: Ask other managers, directors, and leaders you admire about the visions they’re working to achieve for that month, quarter, or year, and write down what inspires you personally. Then, use those learnings to build your own team goal, and share it with your direct reports for feedback.
9. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is often confused with empathy, but it’s a very different skill that support managers must possess. While empathy refers to your ability to relate to misfortune, emotional intelligence is your ability to interpret and respond to other people’s emotions.
This skill comes in handy when working with both employees and customers. As a people manager, employees will come to you when they have problems. You’ll have to analyze how the employee is feeling at that moment and respond to them appropriately. How well you identify and react to your coworkers’ emotions will influence your ability to retain them.
The same goes for customers. When customers escalate issues to the support manager, they expect an effective and efficient response. Emotional intelligence will help you understand the customer’s short- and long-term needs, preventing potential churn.
How to Build This Skill: One of the most effective ways to improve emotional intelligence is to practice active listening. Active listening is the practice of focusing on what the other person has to say rather than your response. By shifting your focus onto the other person, you’ll get more information from them and have a better understanding of their needs and goals.
Now we’ve gone through these must-have skills, but what’s it like to put them into practice? We asked a professional about the skills that helped them lead in their roles and grow into leaders.
How do you become a customer service leader?
Shadavia Jones, one of HubSpot’s Customer Success Managers shares an insightful take on how to become a leader from an individual contributor beginning.
Jones states, “Transitioning to people management requires that you shift your perspective from ‘doing’ to ‘delegating, empowering, and strategizing.’ When you’ve gotten used to working with customers directly, you often want to roll up your sleeves and immediately jump in to solve problems. You eventually have to let go and equip your team with the tools to problem-solve on their own and escalate when necessary.”
You have to reframe your thinking to better serve your customers, and there are different steps you can take to exercise your leadership muscles as follows.
1. Seek leadership opportunities that allow you to try your hand at people management.
“Some examples include becoming a mentor for new hires, asking your manager about becoming a Team Lead, and taking on a specialized/Subject Matter Expert role on your team.”
2. Become comfortable with data.
“People managers often have to make data-driven decisions. Build or ask for a report on your team’s day-to-day metrics, and use that data to help everyone operate more efficiently.”
3. Get involved in cross-functional projects.
“The more you collaborate with other teams, the more you’ll know about what the rest of the business is focused on, what their goals are, and how that all impacts your role in Customer Service/Success/Support. You’ll feel more prepared stepping into a Manager role when you have that bird’s eye view of the business.”
4. Participate in customer service leadership training.
If there’s an ability to engage in customer service leadership training in your organization, take full advantage of it. Otherwise, there are plenty of independent programs and certifications that can prepare you for role transition.
You can find free training courses and materials on customer service leadership in HubSpot Academy if you’re looking for somewhere to begin.
Manage Your Team Like a Pro
Being a support manager means you have to consider the needs of your customers and team members. As long as you approach this role with these skills in mind, your customer relationships and team productivity can grow better just as you do.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has since been updated from comprehensiveness.