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What Makes a Successful Customer Service Leader? Insights From 6 Experts

Customer service11 MIN READFeb 1, 2023


A successful leader guides, mentors, and inspires. With a great manager at the helm, a team is better than the mere sum of its parts. But what makes a successful customer service leader? Six industry experts weigh in on what running a customer service department looks like in 2023. 

Don’t doubt that this advice holds for anyone working in customer service – whether you’re a manager, leader, or climbing the rungs up. 

Find below advice from customer service trailblazers, harking from Belgian unicorns to the realms of Web3 to Google. They each share nuggets of knowledge primed for ambitious ears.

Knowledge is power

1. Turn your team into product advocates

One of the first things I noticed at Google was that customer satisfaction increased when customers were recommended different technical features. If customer support has a good connection with the product, they know what’s being developed, and go beyond just answering the question itself. And this is a two-way street. Agents can also be the customer’s advocate and connect feedback back to the product team.
Inna Grynova
Inna Grynova
Shares, ex-Google

Inna brings to light the often underlooked value of a customer service team as a growth driver. Support agents are in a more unique customer facing role than other teams. They have a deep understanding of both product and customer needs. As a customer service leader, it is crucial to recognize the potential in support-driven growth. 

What is support driven growth?

Support-driven growth focuses on using exceptional customer service and support as a key driver for upselling products and decreasing churn. But it also hits the bottom line more indirectly. By addressing customer needs promptly and effectively, you can increase loyalty, reduce churn, and generate positive word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, these principles extend beyond traditional business models, as evidenced by the fact that 90% of Instagram users follow a business account, indicating the powerful role of customer engagement and relationship-building in the digital age.

How to adopt support driven growth

  1. Prioritize customer satisfaction in decision making,
  2. Use customer support data to inform product development,
  3. Truly engage with customers to leverage personalization. 
Listen to more from Inna in our podcast about hiring and supporting teams at scale.

2. Highlight excellent performance

Empowering support agents is really valuable as it helps to combat burnout. To make them feel like they’re a part of a collaborative process, you have to move beyond lip service and actually put actions in place to make your team feel heard. For example, at Fi we use Zendesk, and a lot of our most successful macros – a canned response, if you will – have come from our team directly. We literally take a team member’s words and make it process for the entire team.
Arielle Yoder
Arielle Yoder

Use as a reference guide for other agents

By highlighting the best responses of their top performers, Fi is able to showcase their team’s excellence. Using these responses as templates for the rest of the team can enhance consistency, efficiency and overall performance. This approach allows agents to feel as if they are part of a collaborative process. 

Once you identify your top customer service performers, you can look at work through their lens to understand new ways around many problems. Analyze how they operate to pluck out best practices, like: 

  • Researching information to resolve issues faster,
  • How to manage multiple live chats simultaneously,
  • How they prioritize tickets. 

Improve motivation and engagement

This method also makes your agents inherently more invested in overall team success. It enhances their understanding of company goals and strategies – and how each agent’s role contributes to achieving them. 

Employees who feel they contribute meaningful work are also far more engaged

Your top performers perform well for a reason – and you don’t want to lose them. Expanding their sphere of influence is a mutually beneficial method of motivating your top agents and inspiring other team members. 

Creating a collaborative environment for customer service agents is not only essential for their job satisfaction. It also ensures that the company provides the best possible customer service. Ultimately, your top performers know best how to improve customer satisfaction (which, after all, is the aim of our game). Reward them.

Listen to more from Arielle in our podcast about making everyone feel part of the pack.

3. Interact with customers (yes, you)

A lot of managers are not doing enough frontline work. So the distance between them and the people that they’re managing is often too big. A better connection with your people means doing the same job.
Ines van Dijk
Ines van Dijk
Support Quality Consultant

Make your agents’ jobs easier

  • Over half of agents say that dealing with upset customers is their biggest challenge.
  • Over 20% say they are not empowered to make the right decisions for their customers.
    Hubspot’s State of Service Report 2022

Don’t be the manager that holds your team back. Walk in their shoes. Sit in their chairs and handle some tickets to recognize at ground level the roadblocks that could be easily lifted from above. Experience firsthand the specific needs and nuanced concerns of customers, as well as any pain points or challenges that the team may be facing.

Anticipate burnout

Ines is a customer service QA consultant who worked in high-demand support teams for much of her early career. Burnout is rife in customer service, and she advocates that managers should know the warning signs for burnout within their team. 

Retaining customer service agents is an issue we see customer service managers struggle with time after time. In order to keep talent, you must recognize when the going is getting too tough. 

But you cannot judge your team’s stress levels without sitting at their desks. As a customer service manager, you may have previous experience as an agent or have reviewed enough customer interactions to feel as though you are still directly communicating with customers. But service and expectations change rapidly. Sitting in the driver’s seat periodically will help you understand how to steer your team from a strategic point of view. 

It’ll also help you with the following tip…

Listen to more from Ines in our podcast about overcoming burnout in support.

4. Prioritize the customer in your strategy

 Some companies design their support for the company. Their strategy is set to implement ways to make their work easier, or automations to improve things internally. But you need to first look at who your customers are, examine your personas. What different types of service do they want?
Stephanie Robilliard
Stephanie Robilliard

Malcolm Gladwell tells a story in a famous Ted talk about spaghetti sauce. In the 80s, Prego’s sauce was struggling – that is, their tomato spaghetti sauce was not selling well. Was it too spicy? Too plain? 

They hired a psychophysicist (really) to find out the problem. He conducted a mass study on American tomato sauce taste preferences (really), and what he found was that there wasn’t one optimal sauce. Americans either liked their sauce spicy, plain, or chunky. There are three optimal sauces. 

Why am I talking about pasta sauce?

Well, the moral of the story is that different customers want different things. AI and automation, for example, are currently having their day in the sun, but that doesn’t mean everyone should jump on the bandwagon. 

Zendesk’s CX Trend Report found that 75% of millennials believe AI will improve customer service quality; only 42% of boomers do. And our Benchmark Survey 2023 found that when contacting enterprise companies, customers are more likely to opt for video support than when contacting smaller companies.

Make sure that your support strategy, and what you are offering, panders to your customer personas, not your team. 

Listen to more from Stephanie in our podcast about creating an open feedback culture.

Quality customer support

5. Set up (or nourish) your community

A growing trend that I see is related to community management. You set up some sort of ambassador programs where the users help each other with general questions on your social media channels. If other customers can help provide explanations, the feedback is often far better received.
Clemens Behrend
Clemens Behrend
Web3 Support Consultant

Investing in a community:

  1. Lets customers discover solutions independently
  2. Invigorates customer engagement & loyalty
  3. Offers a space for you to gather unique customer service insights through indirect feedback

Customers have a port of call to find answers before reaching out to the support team. Yes, you may have your FAQs as a means to that end, but a community adds the extra layer of customer collaboration. Lisa has an issue that Marco managed to solve last week – we talked earlier about shared agent knowledge: this is shared customer knowledge

This concept is nothing new. Apple is famous for its thriving peer-to-peer support community – last year, it launched an “Apple Community+” program to reward top contributors. Airbnb fosters Local Host Clubs so that nearby hosts can share resources. And eBay’s flourishing discussion forums are the best place for sellers to share success tips & insights. 

You don’t have to be a global enterprise to ignite a community 

Services like Better Mode and Higher Logic let you hit the ground running with customizable platforms for your customers to digitally conglomerate. 

We couldn’t end this section without inviting you to our own friendly community of customer service aficionados: Quality Tribe!

Listen to more from Clemens in our podcast about harnessing the power of AI in CX.

6. Open the floor for feedback 

We have an open leadership process, a flatarchy where there’s a certain structure in place, but it’s also extremely open. Anyone can reach out to anyone in Slack, or set up a time for a chat. This openness works because we challenge each other.
Christian Osmundsen
Christian Osmundsen

A flatarchy is an organizational structure that decentralizes decision-making. Although there still exists a chain of command, the floor is agreeably open to input from every employee. 

However, you do not need to embrace this concept formally to take inspiration from Christian. Respecting your employee’s opinions is sometimes as simple as asking for them. Establish during 1:1s or open team discussions that everyone’s input is considered. 

Accepting feedback on tools and processes is one thing, but a resilient manager should also be eager to hear personal feedback. Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, cites their unorthodox approach to constructive criticism as a building block of their success. 

After all, who can measure success better than your own team? 

Listen to more from Christian in our podcast about focusing on quality in a scale-up.

Looking for more? Visit our entire catalog of Quality Conversations, our podcast where we explore the best in customer service. Hear from experts in different industries (like the clever folks above) and gain valuable, unique insights and advice.

Quality Conversations podcast

Written by

Grace Cartwright
Grace is perpetually working on a book called "Why do I have so many spare chargers and none are the one I need?" In her spare time, she writes for Klaus.

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