At different points in any given day, a customer service team lead might be delivering coaching and feedback, handling an escalated issue, managing a project, or analyzing customer feedback.
That’s a lot of different hats to wear.
But it’s also why customer service team leads play such a critical role in helping customer service teams thrive.
Without an effective team lead, it’s way harder to build a support team that meets or exceeds customer expectations.
With such a dynamic and fast-paced role, it’s no wonder that team leads need a wide range of different skills to be successful.
What is a customer service team lead?
A customer service team lead is the first-level supervisor of a team of customer service representatives. They’re typically the middle man between the frontline support agents and a customer service manager.
Customer service team leads are usually called on to adapt to whatever the support team might need in a given day or week, since—along with the manager—they’re responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team.
This includes things like:
- Training and coaching support agents on company policies, procedures, and products or services.
- Monitoring and evaluating their performance to ensure they’re meeting customer needs and company standards.
- Resolving customer complaints and escalating issues to higher levels of management as needed.
- Identifying and implementing process improvements to enhance the customer experience.
- Motivating and inspiring team members to achieve high levels of performance.
Think of a team lead as the swiss-army knife of your customer service team.
Or, to mix metaphors, if your support manager is the general of the army, then your team lead is the sergeant in the trenches with the troops. They’re responsible for helping them carry out each mission.
Team leads are the primary go-to person when the team needs guidance. They communicate with other teams across the company to ensure that their team members have the information and knowledge they need to do a great job. And they’re the first person to step in when there’s a crisis or issue affecting customers on a large scale.
In most companies, support team leads are usually the members of the leadership team that are in closest contact to real customers.
That means they often provide a very different perspective and can, at least metaphorically, represent the “voice of the customer” in the organization.
Relevant work experience for a customer service team lead
It’s hard to describe the ideal background or set of experience that someone needs to succeed in as a customer service team lead. Because it’s such a flexible role, transferable skills from a number of unrelated fields can be helpful.
Not to mention that the customer service culture and environment across companies can make a massive difference in what a team lead needs to bring to the table.
As an example, working in a large corporate environment—even within the customer service department—can still be a huge culture shock if you then move to an early-stage startup.
That being said, there are definitely some areas of experience that increase the odds of success for a new customer service team lead:
- Previous experience in customer service. Proven experience in providing excellent customer service is a massive plus. Team leads will be called on to handle complicated questions and resolve complex customer issues, all in a way that builds positive relationships and leads to customer satisfaction. It’s also significantly harder to coach agents and help them improve their performance without this direct experience.
- Leadership experience. Prior experience leading and managing teams will, unsurprisingly, always make a leadership position a little easier to adapt to. Informal experience gathered through leading projects, mentoring new employees, or even leading in non-work settings counts as well.
- Communication and problem-solving. These are foundational skills for customer support. Customer issues will always require an element of critical thinking and creative solutioning. Previous work experience in roles that require empathetic communication and creative problem-solving will have a huge impact on becoming a great team lead.
Many team leads are internal promotions, which often makes sense if you have strong individual contributors on your team. Because current team members already know your product and processes, it can make it relatively easy for them to shift into a team lead role.
If you promote someone into a team lead role, just be aware that it can introduce other challenges, like learning to coach their former peers.
Here are the top 6 leadership skills for an effective customer service lead
Support team leads often face common challenges in their roles:
- It can be hard to balance customer needs against the team’s needs (and against business priorities). An example might be rolling out chat support, and suddenly having to schedule every single break a team member can take. That may be necessary to provide customers with sufficient help, but it’s a pain for your team members.
- Customer service roles often have a high risk of burnout. Preventing burnout and maintaining a high team morale takes conscious and sustained effort.
- Handling high workloads during peaks is difficult. Where the rest of the business might be celebrating because of an increase in sales, the customer service team might be struggling to manage the increased workload.
If you’re fortunate enough to have—or to hire—a team lead with the below leadership skills, it’ll be far easier to meet challenges like these head-on.
1. Goal-setting for customer service & support
Like all team leads, customer service leads have to set goals for their teams that align with the broader business objectives.
Goals provide clarity and direction. They ensure that everyone is working towards a common purpose. They also help the team understand what they are working towards and how their individual contributions fit into the bigger picture. This is critical to building a highly engaged team.
Developing goal-setting as a skill involves a combination of self-awareness, strategic planning, and consistent practice. It’s a balancing act of trying to come up with goals that are ambitious enough that they push the team to achieve at a higher level than they would otherwise, while still being realistic enough that they feel motivating.
2. Inspiring and motivating team members
Inspiring and motivating the team is ultimately about creating a positive and supportive work environment that enables them to do their best. Customer service roles can feel like a Sisyphean task, where incoming tickets are endless and it’s an endless uphill battle.
That’s why having a motivating team lead is crucial. A motivated team is more likely to provide excellent service, while being productive and engaged.
Motivation starts in building important habits:
- Recognizing and rewarding outstanding performance.
- Organizing team-building activities.
- Fostering a positive work environment where people feel comfortable and can provide feedback without reproach.
It also involves understanding what motivates people on an intrinsic level and leaning intto their strengths.
3. Performance management
Performance management starts with setting clear expectations, typically in the form of performance metrics, like CSAT or number of tickets done per person.
These goals help team members understand what is expected of them and provide a basis for regular feedback and performance evaluations.
KPIs are part and parcel of customer service. Like any other types of goals, the key is to find ways to make them motivating and to use them as a tool that brings the entire team together. Tackling performance management in practice can include things like providing feedback on individual cases, shadowing agents, coaching, training, or implementing team-wide initiatives (like a quality assurance program).
4. Conflict resolution and problem-solving
Conflict resolution is another skill essential for team leads. It’s particularly important in customer support, where conflict won’t just happen between employees—it’ll happen with customers too.
Because as everyone working in support knows, it’s impossible to make every customer happy.
Addressing conflicts quickly and learning how to resolve them diplomatically makes all the difference.
The most typical example is the angry customer who wants a refund and insists on speaking to a manager. Both the customer and the agent in that situation will often rely on the team lead to solve the issue.
5. Process improvement
Since the support lead is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team, they need to be adept at identifying opportunities for workflow improvements.
That might look like:
- Implementing an internal knowledge base solution like Tettra to improve knowledge-sharing across teams.
- Streamlining the ticketing system to reduce response times.
- Improving scheduling of your agents to optimize coverage and availability.
- Designing internal communication processes with other teams (like product) to ensure the customer service team doesn’t get surprised.
This requires a really keen eye for spotting these inefficiencies, a solution-oriented mindset, and the ability to listen closely to the issues the team is experiencing.
6. Collaboration between service team members
The best customer service leads are the ones that find opportunities to collaborate, both within their team and across other teams.
Collaboration is a way to ensure that your support team is on the same page as other departments, which makes it easier to address customer needs holistically.
This can take a lot of shapes.
Your customer service team lead might work with your marketing team to develop a new customer satisfaction survey or with your product manager to create a process around collecting and reviewing feature requests.
There are virtually endless opportunities for your customer support team to have a bigger voice across your company.
3 essential communication skills for customer service leads
Communication is one of the most vital customer service skills.
You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you aren’t able to express yourself in a way that’s easy to understand and empathetic, you’ll still lose customers.
There are three main aspects to communicating well as a customer service team lead.
1. Communicating clearly
Great communication means being clear, concise, and consistent, across both verbal and written formats.
A customer service lead has to communicate with customers, team members, and other stakeholders. They need to be able to clearly explain complex concepts and provide accurate information, while being persuasive and helping the other person understand their point of view.
2. Active listening
Active listening is about understanding another person’s needs and perspective.
The goal of active listening in customer service is to build rapport with customers. Rather than taking a problem at face value, active listening helps you get to the root cause of a problem so you can address the real issue.
Active listening is also a key way for team leads to connect with team members and to build a team that feels valued and appreciated.
- More: Get to know you questions specifically for customer support teams ➡️
3. Expressing empathy
Both active listening and clear communication help with one last skill: expressing empathy.
Some research suggests that empathy is the most important leadership skill, because it has a major impact on employees’ engagement, motivation, and wellbeing. That carries on to customer service as well—a whopping 96% of consumers consider empathy essential to support interactions.
Empathy starts with putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand where they’re coming from. It involves connecting with customers (or employees) on an emotional level and demonstrating genuine care for their concerns.
Developing better customer service team leads
Developing leadership skills is an ongoing journey. Even people who’ve led teams for 20+ years will find themselves learning new skills from new problems they face each day.
And while leadership is a journey of personal growth, the tools you choose can significantly impact your effectiveness. By leveraging the right tools, you can speed up your learnings and create an environment where your entire team can flourish.
If you’re looking for ways to improve collaboration and set your customer service team up for success, Tettra can help.
It’s an internal knowledge base solution that uses smart workflows and AI to answer repetitive questions and to level up your documentation.
How Tettra Helps Your Customer Support and Customer Service Teams
With Tettra, you can:
- Get instant answers from a purpose-built AI, using your company documentation as a base.
- Use a ready-made Q&A workflow, enabling your team to ask questions to the larger team and get answers from the most reliable sources.
- Rely on a world-class knowledge base tool to store your documentation
- Leverage knowledge management features to keep your content up to date
Here’s more on how Tettra helps customer support teams specifically.
Nouran Smogluk is a customer support and success leader who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.