The Service and Support Professional’s World
Although there are many commonalities across service and support professional’s roles, it can be challenging to define a path that leads through various levels of responsibility to ensure high marks in customer satisfaction for the service and support organization. To address this need for a well-defined career path, more than 200 companies that represent the areas of technical support, field service and customer relations united as the Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA) in 1989. The organization’s member companies identified numerous common needs across the industry and together, recognized that it would be more efficient to address concerns on a united, rather than a fragmented, front. The SSPA has addressed this task from two standpoints: the individual within the service and support organization, and the service and support function in the organization as a whole.
To develop a team of service and support professionals that achieves high marks for customer satisfaction and other key areas, it is important to implement a plan that identifies skills that are critical at key levels in the workplace. To begin this process, the organization must identify the skills needed for a specific position and measure each individual’s knowledge against the identified skill sets. Once skills are identified and gaps in knowledge are uncovered, training can be matched to the skills that are needed. Eventually, tools can be used to test the knowledge, or the skills are observed in the workplace to confirm competency levels.
At a recent meeting for the Service & Support Training Standards & Best Practices Committee, SSPA member companies identified more than a dozen technical skills that they believed were commonly needed across all companies in the industry, as well as more than two dozen non-technical skills that are needed across the industry. For both the technical and non-technical dichotomy of skills, it was determined that a means to achieve, measure and recognize skill levels was strongly needed. One of the means to recognize skill level for the service and support organizations is through the use of certifications.
The Value of Certification
Certification is valuable and relevant at the industry level, the organizational level within the industry and at the individual level within the organization. Beginning at the individual level, the utilization of certification can echo and further define roles and the career paths for the individual. The career path for a service and support professional may lead to a supervisor- and then a management-level position. An alternate career path, given other skill sets and interests, may lead to a job as a senior support professional expert. The latter is recognized as holding in-depth knowledge in a specific technical area, in-depth historical product knowledge and well-honed soft skills.
Service & Support Professional
Entry-level skills for the service and support professional include specific technical training, as well as communication skills, business competencies, and relationship and time management.
Typical roles and responsibilities at this level include responding to customer calls, documenting the call and attentively listening to the caller in order to skillfully deploy techniques, such as open- and closed-ended questions to quickly understand and identify the issue. Technical support professionals help customers by focusing on solutions and strive to achieve customer satisfaction by quickly and effectively responding to callers.
If it is necessary to direct the call to another person, the technical support professional learns to route the call in a professional manner for both technical and non-technical customer service issues. It is important for technical support professionals to sense a caller’s frustration level and respond in an empathetic manner, while helping them focus on moving toward a resolution. A technical support professional must understand company policy to know when to escalate calls. If the customer’s issue cannot be resolved at the current time, the technical support professional develops a plan to resolve it and maintains appropriate contact with the customer to update them on the progress.
Advanced Service & Support Professionals and Experts
Seasoned professionals build an internal knowledge base as a result of their career experience with the customer. They can give the customer proactive advice to avoid problems. They also can share their knowledge with other divisions within the organization, such as product development, to enhance quality and performance. The advanced technical support professional has developed superior skills in many areas such as troubleshooting, communication, analytical skills, problem-solving and technical expertise. Strong interpersonal and teamwork skills are highly valued. This group of professionals may back up entry-level professionals and serve as mentors to them.
For advanced technical support professionals who thrive in this environment, the career path option may be toward an expert-level service and support professional. Experts are highly valued for their extensive internal technical knowledge base and mastery of soft skills.
If a service and support professional wants to pursue a supervisory career path, the skill set encompasses many of those skills needed for the lower-level job roles, as well as additional new competencies. An example of new skills to be demonstrated at the supervisor level are ones for developing, monitoring and improving the performance of team members and the related metrics, as well as team leadership.
Beyond supervisor skills, service and support professionals may consider taking the career path to management. The skill set for a manager requires new competencies and different types of responsibilities that appeal to some technical support professionals, but not others.
Although experience is highly valued for both expert-level technical support professionals and those in management positions, the difference in skill sets and competencies is significant. A good technical support professional needs to carefully evaluate the roles performed by a manager versus the roles performed by an expert. Being a good technical support professional may translate differently in advanced career paths. In fact, skills developed and the job satisfaction acquired as a technical support professional may not transfer if the individual does not clearly understand the differences in these career paths. One person may find management more rewarding, while another might find the expert-level role more rewarding.
Skills for managers include organizing, staffing, motivating, delegating, monitoring and planning functions. A blend of people management skills, technical management skills and a mastery of detailed support operations is highly valued.
Management-level professionals must take responsibility for their actions and the actions of those who report to them. They must make solid decisions and demonstrate leadership by example. They also must manage staff issues, including training, hiring, terminating, improving morale and retention, and confirming that individual performance objectives are sufficient so that the department will meet its performance objectives. While implementing remedial solutions for past performance, the manager must strategically plan for future goals and objectives and confirm that the tactical-level metrics are sufficient to meet the future goals. Managers develop and manage budgets and variances, and take responsibility for profits and losses. They also manage customer relationships and understand the core metrics for the service and support center’s success. Manager