8 Essential Skills Every Support Manager Must Have

support-manager-skills

You did it.

You worked your way up from your first role in customer support as a rep on the front lines, and now, you're managing a high-performing customer support team.

You might feel like all of your hard work has prepared you for this promotion, but when you actually start in the new role, you realize what a different skillset you need to build.

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And that's because being an excellent customer support rep is a completely different job than being an excellent customer support manager.

The good news is, you started building leadership skills by being a high-achieving rep -- but there are a few other skills you need to build to start exceeding goals in your new job, too. Review our list of skills every customer support manager needs below.

1. Communication

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 managers.

First, customer support managers need to teach and coach their customer support reps to be able to handle tough customer calls and busy workloads. 

Second, customer support managers need to be able to communicate effectively with customers when issues are escalated to them.

Finally, managers need to effectively communicate in order to advocate for their team to other customer support and company leaders.

Customer support managers need 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 on LinkedIn
  • Regularly speaking at team meetings, lunch and learns, or Toastmasters

2. Patience

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 need to 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 of frustration to something an employee, peer, or customer says, consciously practice thinking about the reason why they said it before jumping to your own 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. Remember, it's your job as 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 customer support manager, you'll have to do even more of it.

You'll need to be available to help your employees solve problems -- in their customer careers, or bigger ones in their professional development.

You'll also need 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 own manager. Thinking and talking out problems that aren't on your plate might inspire you with strategies you can use in your own day-to-day.

4. Diplomacy

A big part of working with customers is being diplomatic.

A big part of being a manager? You guessed it, being diplomatic.

Customer support managers need to be tactful and diplomatic when it comes to navigating tricky conversations. You'll have these conversations when 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 you can't address in that 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 is able to 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. Often times, you'll find that, even when discussing their opponents, their phrasing and tone are still diplomatic because they focus on delivering the right instead of their emotions.

5. Motivation

Motivation is another must-have for a successful manager. You need 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 own intrinsic motivation, and bring the strategies you learned for motivating yourself with you into the office.

6. Trust

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 need to 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.

7. Empathy

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 need to be empathetic to customers, employees, and your manager or director -- because you'll need to be able to take each groups' needs and priorities into account when making decisions and communicating 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.

8. Vision

Vision is a critical aspect of leadership. You need 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 over the course of 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.

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