If you're closing in on the final months of your last semester in college, you might be putting the finishing touches on your thesis, studying for your final exams and starting to look for your first post-graduate job.
How's your stress level?
Whether you know exactly what you want to be when you grow up or you have no idea, job opportunities where you want to live can be competitive (and scarce) for recent college graduates with limited work experience. But you might find opportunities to work in customer support, where job opportunities are actually growing in the U.S.
You might have preconceived notions about customer support from your own customer support interactions — as a customer — that make you think a customer-facing role isn't for you. But I'm here to tell you that a customer support job can be a fantastic first step on the path toward a successful career, in almost any business function you might be interested in.
Keep reading this blog post to learn what skills and expertise you can gain from a first job in customer support, and how the experience will benefit you for the rest of your career.
Why New Graduates Should Get a Customer Support Job
1. Develop Your Emotional Intelligence
It's a given that you'll develop people skills while working in a customer-facing role. And although there can be challenges to working on the phones with customers all day, the skills and strategies you'll develop far outweigh those challenges.
You'll be helping customers solve a variety of different problems, which could have a huge impact on their personal or professional life, and your ability to empathize and wield social skills to build rapport with these people to get the information you need to help them will be critical. In the face of difficult customers or combative language, you'll need to tap into your sense of self-regulation to calmly and effectively de-escalate customers so you can better assist them. And those tough days when you don't feel like you can make another phone call (we all have them), tap into your senses of motivation and self-awareness to keep yourself on-track and positive so you can buckle down and get everything done.
(Because, simply put, there will always be an aspect of your job you don't love — even if you're a CEO — and digging into these will help you keep moving forward.)
Studies have shown that these people skills are linked more closely with success in the workplace than cognitive intelligence — especially when it comes to management. Starting your career in customer support sets you on the right track for building and growing these skills over the course of the rest of your working life. (Plus, they're helpful for effective interpersonal relationship communication and collaboration, too.)
2. Learn Your Product or Service, Inside and Out
In order to be successful in customer support, you need to understand (almost) every aspect of your product or service so you can quickly answer questions and resolve issues for your customers. But this isn't just a benefit for the people who will get the information they need ASAP — it's a big win for you, too.
Because learning about your product or service helps you become a subject matter expert, which can open a ton of different doors for you as you grow in your career (in or outside of customer support).
For example, by practicing teaching your customers how to use your product or service, you'll be able to specialize in training and onboarding new members of your customer support team and take on a leadership role that way. If you prefer writing, you might be able to start writing knowledge base articles or blog posts for your organization to supplement one-off customer support interactions. Or, you could use your creative side to create step-by-step product walkthrough videos to help your customers and build your online presence. Any avenue you decide to take it, an in-depth product or service knowledge will help you become an expert — on your team, within your organization and in your industry.
3. Build Transferable Skills
Building your subject matter expertise will help you grow within your customer support team — but you'll also learn valuable skills that you can use to snag a new role if you want to branch out even further.
Working with customers will teach you exactly how customers can use your company's product or service to achieve their goals, and you can use this knowledge and experience if you decided to move into sales. Social proof is an effective selling tool, and if you can tell prospects on the phone exactly how your product or service has helped other customers, they might be more interested in closing a deal with you.
Product knowledge is incredibly valuable for your marketing team, too. Whether you want to write for the blog, conduct product and market research or manage social media support channels, in-depth product expertise and killer communication skills could help you land a role on your marketing team.
If you know the product inside and out, you might be able to build it, too. If you develop some chops for product development — whether that consists of software engineering, outreach or vendor management — you might be able to use your wealth of knowledge to facilitate a transition away from the phones and behind-the-scenes helping build the product you're servicing.
4. Build a Network Within Your Organization
When you work in customer support, you might not always know the answer to a customer question. You might have to share customer feedback with important stakeholders. Or you might have insights to share that change how your company's leadership thinks about your ideal buyer persona.
To achieve any of the above, you'll have to pull knowledge from the people around you: your colleagues. If you can build a network of coworkers with different skillsets and expertise from you, not only will you be able to quickly and effectively get your job done, but you'll also build a network of new opportunities for growth and professional development, too.
5. Develop a Side Project
Here at HubSpot, we make sure our customer support reps spend time away from the phones — deliberately.
This time away from the queue accomplishes a few things. It gives customer support reps time to eat, take breaks, attend meetings, walk their dogs, etc. But more importantly, giving customer support reps time away from the call queue gives them time to spend working on side projects and other initiatives that can bring tremendous value to our organization — and to the reps themselves.
For example, one HubSpot customer support rep who specialized in social media decided to start a dedicated social media channel for rapid customer support on Twitter. They took the insights they learned on the phones with customers to conduct research and start an initiative they thought would be impactful — and they were right.
You'll learn a ton about your company's customers while you're on the phones, so make sure you're tracking those insights and dedicating them to a side project or initiative that could bring a lot of value to your organization — to your benefit.
(Plus, anyone who has a pulse on the voice of the customer has a ton of value to offer their team and other teams — so it's yet another benefit you could bring to the table for a promotion or transfer discussion with your manager.)
6. Learn How to Effectively Solve Problems
At the heart of it, customer support is about reactively helping your customers and solving their problems. And whether it's a quick fix or a multi-step process, every customer problem on your plate will require creative thinking, people skills and expertise to solve.
The ability to solve problems quickly, effectively and diplomatically is critical for any job there is, whether it's in customer support or not. The ability to problem-solve is the building block of being able to prioritize, project manage and resolve conflicts, and these skills are required if you want to earn promotions, manage a team and use your influence and expertise to achieve your goals.
Whether you aspire to a long career in the customer support space, or you're simply eager to get your foot in the door at an innovative company, a first job in customer support will teach you valuable skills that you'll need, again and again, over the course of your career.
This article was originally published on HubSpot. It is reprinted with permission.