Invest In Your People

By Justin Smith

Setting up your customer success or support team requires a lot of up-front work to ensure that the moving pieces are functioning at the right pace. So, what happens once you've gotten to the place where your team is firing on all cylinders? Congrats (first of all), but now there are other aspects to managing that you should keep an eye on. A crucial aspect of leadership is developing your direct reports. Many managers let people development take a back seat, either because they want to keep their team focused on the task at hand or because they are worried that the best employees will gain new skills and leave the team. Instead, top companies get the most out of their investment in employees by developing and growing their careers within the company.

Take time with your people

The weekly meeting is an often over-looked practice when managing people. Holding one-on-one meetings with your team members is an essential part of cultivating a work relationship with your employees (see the article Kristen Hayer wrote about effective one-on-ones). In many cases, this is the only chance that you have to sit and gather information from the people that you’re working with. Unfortunately, one-on-one meetings tend to be the most disposable item on a manager’s agenda, often rescheduled or postponed in favor of other activities. I would argue that they should be the cornerstone of your schedule. Use this time to get to know your people. Everyone has specific desires and motivations for the work that they do. You can finely tune job fit by spending this time trying to understand employees and learning what they bring to the table.

Recognize yourself as an advocate

Nothing is more disheartening than working for a person who does not seem to care about you. We’ve all had managers that did more self-service than team investment. Part of your management role should be tending to the people who are keeping things running smoothly. If their main focus is the customer, your focus should be making sure that your employees have what they need to create an amazing customer experience. This includes both proper tools and effective motivation. As a boss, you have to make the connection that your achievements are only going to come from your team’s great results. Push them to be amazing, celebrate with them when they are, and do not be afraid to help them when they need a little bit of encouragement. Part of advocating can include being a mentor, or identifying the mentors that can help someone get to the next level.

Be involved outside of your department

Having an ear to the ground is a huge asset for your team. Being familiar with the various departments and leaders around your organization is important for your own interactions, but will also allow you to get people from your team involved in the cross-functional activities that can boost their career. If you know there's a project that needs more hands involved, you can suggest the participation of people from your team. This can provide great exposure for top performing employees, and can demonstrate to other leaders that you’re invested in collaboration.

One example of how this can work is a program we implemented at VerticalResponse called “Project Odyssey”. Support team members who achieved their goals for the prior quarter qualified to participate in a once-a-week internship with another department in the company. Over time this program resulted in team members moving into marketing, product, engineering and sales, and when they moved they took our customer success approach and vision with them. Although people sometimes moved to other teams, the overall result was lower turnover because team members were motivated to stay and develop their careers through the program.

Let's face it. A support role is not a career role for many people. There are definitely cases where someone absolutely loves what they do and can do it (well) for a long time. However, in most cases you have roughly 1-2 years before an employee will want to try something different. This does not mean that your company has to lose a trained and knowledgeable employee. By understanding what your team members are interested in, advocating for their development, and looking for cross-functional opportunities, you’ll be able to help your company retain the best and brightest.

Customer success and support are challenging roles. The Success League provides training, coaching and resources for customer success leaders who want to develop a top performing team and create an exceptional customer experience.

Justin Smith - Justin is an enthusiastic and determined customer advocate, who builds and leads award-winning technical support organizations.  For almost a decade, Justin has worked with customer-centric companies like FedEx and VerticalResponse to create exceptional client care experiences. He is an advisor and photographer for The Success League, and works for Revinate. Justin holds a BA from UC Davis, and resides in Oakland, CA