customer service career paths

5 Career Building Roles for Customer Service Reps

Dania McDermottLast updated on January 2, 2024
7 min

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As a manager, it’s easy to get complacent.

You give your team flexibility around where to work. You aim to be as transparent as possible about upcoming business shifts and team pivots. You even got your boss to sign off on paying agents above market rate.

What more could they want?

As it turns out, a career. Almost 80 percent of employees would stay at a company longer given a solid career path.

This is especially good news for customer service managers wrestling with employee churn. With turnover costs averaging 21 percent of an individual’s annual salary, investing in support reps’ career goals is good business.

It’s also a way to forge an army of dynamic workers eager to embrace new challenges as your team and organization evolve.

Here are a few positions they might fill:

1. Onboarding Specialist

Why the role exists

Customer service representatives at small or early-stage companies field tons of questions from new users. Some of their requests are one-and-done, while others demand considerable time and attention. In either case, many of these interactions are avoidable. But reducing the burden on support requires educating customers post-sale.

What the role entailsOnboarding Specialist

Also known as an implementation specialist, the primary job of an onboarding specialist is to welcome new users to a platform through training, set up, and guidance. This function has two goals: reducing the number of calls, emails, and live chats frontline reps contend with, and increasing the odds of product adoption and long-term customer success.

At Aircall, our onboarding specialists achieve these goals with a three-step process:

  • Kick-off call: Configuring numbers, teams, and users

  • Admin training: Teaching primary user how to configure their account

  • User training: Showing everyone else on their team how to use Aircall

What to look for in agents

To succeed as an onboarding specialist, one must have equal parts product knowledge and people skills. Look to agents who can:

  • Teach users how to meet their objectives in a way that is both clear and compelling

  • Devise reasonable workarounds to ensure customers get what they need

  • Employ unwavering patience whether working 1-1 or in group trainings

  • Put a positive spin on product limitations or product fit

  • Gain energy and enjoyment from educating and speaking with customers at length

2. Quality Assurance Analyst

Why the role exists

Quality assurance (QA) programs may empower support teams to define and deliver better service, but their benefits come at a cost. From building a well-defined rubric to selecting and scoring conversations, it’s often too much for a support manager to handle on their own—not with the consistency needed to make QA effective.

What the role entailsSupport Quality Assurance Analyst

At a high-level, QA analysts help support managers prove the power of customer service. On the day-to-day, their role centers on reviewing and scoring agent-customer conversations against internal quality standards. They may also track trends at the individual and team level, offering managers (and agents) a data-driven view of how different approaches influence the customer experience.

What to look for in agents

Whether they’re known as QA Analysts or quality assurance specialists, these support wizards excel at connecting the dots between key agent behaviors and positive business outcomes—and they usually have the track record to prove it. Look to agents who:

  • Have a history of excellent customer conversations—they need the instincts and discernment to assess whether agents are hitting internal quality benchmarks

  • Are comfortable with data and/or spreadsheets—without a purpose-built tool, this is how most QA programs start

  • Possess the curiosity and drive to identify trends

Careering in Customer Service

3. Support Engineer

Why the role exists

Unavoidably complex products and services can create friction for frontline support reps. You might not expect agents to be experts in javascript, CSS, or even APIs, but many of your customers will. When agents can’t answer questions of a certain class—and routinely defer them to other teams—agents and engineers alike are less productive while customers wait longer for solutions.

What the role entailsSupport Engineer

Support engineering roles vary from company to company. Some support engineers interact regularly with customers, while others deal primarily with support reps. No matter how their responsibilities break down, they share a few core competencies.

First, they know their way around code. Second, they know how to communicate with customers. Third, they’re masters at troubleshooting—and they use it to go beyond what most agents can offer. This typically includes:

  • Performing code dives to identify root causes of a problem rather than proximate causes and symptoms

  • Assessing the impact of an issue and responding with appropriate next steps

  • Recognizing systemic problems and implementing short and long-term solutions

What to look for in agents

Potential support engineers possess more than coding skills. They’re adept at bridging the gap between support, engineering, and education. Look to agents who can:

  • Combine classic customer service skills (i.e. empathy and interpretation) with engineering skills (i.e. deep investigation and debugging)

  • Practice next issue avoidance (NIA), a fancy phrase for being proactive

  • Quantify and communicate the impact of technical issues to non-technical teams

  • Handle the switch from their own coding problems to other peoples’ problems

4. Product Support Specialist

Why the role exists

At many organizations, customer service and product only interact when they must. For support reps, this usually means reporting bugs and making the occasional feature request. For product, it means balancing these unexpected product issues with ongoing development needs.

It’s a challenging relationship for both sides. Support reps feel like their feedback falls on deaf ears, while people in product may appear to prefer working in silos.

Without visibility into each other’s domains, products stagnate, customers churn, and well-meaning companies fail to gain market share.

What the role entailsProduct Support Specialist

The chief goal of any product support position is to bridge the gap between teams.

For some businesses, this means focusing on process and technology improvements to make sure both teams report and respond to issues efficiently.

For others, product support roles take a holistic approach. At these organizations, efficiency is about finding ways to let the customer perspective inform business and product decisions without becoming a blocker to progress.

To do so, a product support specialist:

  • Becomes an extension of the product team by having regular, meaningful interactions (e.g. attending weekly backlog meetings)

  • Becomes an extension of the customer by voicing their needs in terms the product team can appreciate

  • Learns the product team’s development and release cycles, using this information to calibrate support’s expectations and help prioritize pipeline

What to look for in agents

To be successful in a product support position, customer service reps must be able to think beyond the scope of nice-to-have features and enhancements. Look to agents who:

  • Understand how the product drives the business forward

  • Can tell the difference between which features the business should fix vs. what support would like them to fix

  • Develop deep product knowledge, including customer use cases

As the VP of Technical Support at DreamHost, Andrea Silas learned a ton from building a product support role from scratch:

“In our experience, the ideal candidate for the role is detail-oriented, vocal, and persuasive, with a track record of being able to see the big picture when it comes to products and how they might impact the customer experience.”

5. Customer Education Manager

Why the role exists

Sometimes onboarding isn’t enough. When a product becomes essential to customers’ business operations—usually because it’s customizable and robust—forward-thinking companies look to make the most of their customer relationships.

But it’s not enough to hedge their bets on customer service. To engage customers at scale, industry leaders like Slack and Optimizely invest in their education.

In doing so, these organizations go beyond product training to help their customers become better at their jobs (and they usually maintain market share as a result).

What the role entailsCustomer Education Manager

A role in customer education is arguably one of the most dynamic positions a customer service rep can grow into.

Unlike onboarding specialists, customer education managers are charged with more than helping new users find their footing. They’re also responsible for driving customer success.

As one Head of Customer Education explained, they accomplish this with a set of programs aimed at:

  • Driving product adoption and customer retention through training

  • Reducing friction through content and documentation

  • Connecting users through community events and certifications

What to look for in agents

A role in customer education is best suited to those who thrive while wearing several hats. In addition to the people and product skills needed in onboarding specialists, look to agents who have:

  • A history of creating engaging educational resources that positively impact customer behaviors

  • An understanding of customer business practices and organizational structures

  • An authoritative, creative, and humble leadership style

  • The ability to work well with other teams, namely marketing and customer success

Forging careers in customer service

Carving career paths in customer service may seem like a no brainer in theory, but getting the executive support needed to push things forward can delay even the best manager’s intentions.

If you don’t have the authority to create new roles, do the next best thing: Use data to prove the need, emphasizing how the business will benefit.

Make sure to include your team when selling the idea internally. Agents who understand the need, purpose, and value of these positions are likely to stick around and vie for them.

Published on December 31, 2019.

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