Customer Advocacy

How to hire a customer service unicorn

I have a strong passion for customer service and over time, I’ve transitioned from representative to Senior Advocate, to my current role as a manager. It’s my first time being on the other side of things, being the hiring manager, from selling the idea that we needed a new hire, to writing the requisition, to searching for the perfect candidate– that customer service unicorn.


The customer service unicorn is a breath of fresh air in a world of terrible customer service. He or she goes beyond closing tickets, aiming to delight, pushing internally for change on behalf of the customer, rallying the troops to make customers happy. 

But how do I find this customer service unicorn? 

Above all, I look for empathy.

Hiring managers and recruiters make the mistake of thinking you have to “have experience” in the same field, but what’s really desirable is a person with a history of high empathy jobs. They worked at the local coffee shop, as an office manager, or maybe they volunteer, working with kids on the weekend, keeping calm, even in the midst of bonkers tots. It’ not even necessary to have this history of high-empathy roles, but just an above-average empathetic spirit.

Patience is huge

After all, you may deal with people of all sorts of technical aptitudes, and it’s important to break things down step by step, with kindness- never being condescending or rude.

Good communication is a must.

This is non-negotiable. I almost wrote down “excellent writing is a must,” but then I realized I make typos all the time. It’s really about being a good communicator– whether that be writing, live chat, over the phone, in-person, or whatever. At a lot of startups, you’re going to be communicating over email, so your writing has to be clear, helpful, kind, personal. That’s a lot to fit in! You don’t have to be perfect, but you want to solve problems and leave people thinking, “Wow, that was refreshing.

A super star hire is a wrangler of the troops

We are living in a new era of support. The customer service unicorn doesn’t use scripts; the job cannot be automated. They are eras ahead of just responding to email. If they don’t know the answer, they find out. If a bug needs to be fixed, they make sure engineering gets it done! If a package needs to get out the door, they talk to whoever they need to make it happen! When a feature is requested over & over, they take initiative, schedule a sync with Product and amplify the customer’s voice to all major stakeholders.

Agree and Commit, Disagree and Commit.

The awesome community at Support Driven shared this slogan with me this week, and this is so ridiculously applicable to our world. As a Customer Advocate, you can’t always get buy-in for a bug fix or feature. While you absolutely need to express your views and push for the customer, when a decision is officially made (as long as it’s not unethical or against your moral compass), ultimately you need to move on and get back to being an enthusiastic, supportive member of the team.


So far, I’ve had amazing luck with great hires. One thing to keep in mind is that a person doesn’t absolutely have to check off all your boxes. Here are some examples:

  • Ticketing system experience (like Zendesk, HelpScout etc.)
  • Google docs, spreadsheet master, not afraid of querying a database
  • Reporting tools such as Google Analytics or MixPanel
  • Social Media Monitoring (HootSuite, Sprout Social etc.)

All of the above might be nice, but they are all “Google-able;” they can all be learned. Heck, I got my first job by saying I knew Google Analytics and SEO, and by the time I started my first day, this was 100% true. I spent the last couple of months of college learning online marketing (through, SEO Moz, and Google Analytics courses) making sure I could hit the ground running on day one.

Nothing is going to beat a person with a genuine desire to DO CUSTOMER SERVICE with empathy and grace; don’t get blindsided by checking off boxes, and go build your unicorn team.

Customer Support: The Emotional Roller Coaster

giant_dipperAnswering customer support emails all day can be no joke. If the last few years in community and customer happiness roles have taught me one thing, it is that you cannot please everybody. Even when you try and walk them patiently through issues, even when you answer emails at 11PM on your own time; some are never satisfied. There are days when being called stupid and asking to “talk to someone else who knows what they are doing” can hurt. There arethose days when I reply to difficult people (that’s putting it nicely) in a smart tone, thinking they won’t be able to catch my snarkiness. Then I regret it when they do…

There are the racists too; I am so glad I don’t have to deal with that but really, no one should. It’s disturbing to read and hear the things some people say. I hated it even more when it would happen to my mom. She is Peruvian and spent over twenty years working at a call center. Occasionally, callers would think she was in India or the Middle East, even though she was working out of the Bay Area (not that it really matters) and they would throw insults at her. She would play along with it and have some fun pretending to be based out of wherever the caller thought. Back then, I thought she was a tad crazy for making up fake stories about her life and where she lived (why wasn’t she setting them straight?!) but now I understand. I could probably learn a thing or two from the “brush it of and enjoy yourself” spirit. One insult can disintegrate my entire day.

When I think about the future and wonder if I want to be doing something like helping customers five years from now, my answer is yes. I love community building; I love creating enthusiastic brand loyalists and taking every chance to really “wow” someone. Odds are that any company out there is going to have a small sample of customers that make you cringe. I can relate customer support to that terribly exciting relationship that had its high-highs, and low-lows, and I still think I can change some people by delighting them with helpful replies, empathy, and transparency. And if not, I’ll try to have a little fun with it and stop taking it so personally.

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