I’ve already shared how I believe in a career in Support, but I only recently outlined what career progression looks like within my own team. We’re a small and mighty crew but it’s time to articulate how one can expect to grow within the Support realm. 

Many are familiar with the traditional leadership path which I actually went through myself. I won’t spend too much time here since this is already alive & well at a lot of places:

The “typical” Support trajectory

But we also need a track for team members that don’t want to necessarily people-manage

Make no mistake, to manage others is not the only way to progress in your career. In fact, I’ve met some brilliant people (not only in Support, but in technical roles, marketing, sales, etc) who don’t necessarily want to manage others or perhaps aren’t well-suited for it. Think about it: the skills it takes to be an amazing troubleshooter or writer may be different than the skills it takes to manage and motivate a team. Or they may not be. We’re all unique. 

The benefits of a dual career path

I love research or journals when I can find them and stumbled upon this article about dual career paths within the tech industry. While it’s geared towards engineering, it was a great starting point for my own work and easily applicable to other disciplines. Before we dive in, I’ll highlight a couple of the top reasons they cited for setting up this dual path.

More Successful Hiring Practices

You can attract a larger set of candidates, including those that don’t necessarily see management as their ideal track.

Reduced Turnover

The Support industry can bleed employees, mostly when the gig is not-so-great to begin with, one that provides little to zero career growth. This is where this path really shines!

“Individuals who are encouraged to advance in areas they enjoy and excel in will derive greater job satisfaction and will be less likely to leave the company. Further, the opportunities offered by a technical (individual contributor) track may not exist at competitor organizations” — Dual Career Paths, Hill, Bradley (1992)

 

Let’s do this! Planning your Individual Contributor Track

Being I’ve never planned this sort of thing, there wasn’t a much better place to start than my own team. I was pointed to this article on how this marketer managed to grow her career without managing people. I absolutely recommend reading the article (marketer or not) but this image highlights the point. You don’t need to be a manager to lead. 

move-on-up-manager-vs-contributor-career-track
How I’ve Managed to Grow My Career Without Managing People Written by Pamela Vaughan | @pamelump

So what are some buckets Support Individual Contributors can own?

This is the fun part. There are SO many different options:

  • Help Center — owns educational customer-facing content 
  • Social Media Support — manages the most complicated of social replies 
  • Bug Queen / King — knows all things bugs
  • Product-specific — one person may know your Android app inside & out, another may take iOS, etc. 
  • Product / Support liaison– in charge of that relationship, may be involved with triage 
  • QA — reviews tickets for quality and shares feedback on how/what to improve
  • Fraud or Billing– owns chargebacks and invoicing 

Think about your specific needs, the career aspirations of your team, and try to find a “niche” that aligns.

Leadership Opportunities for all Customer Service Pros

While any process takes iteration(s), here’s the first pass at what progression “levels” might make sense. These are my own personal thoughts; your list may look different 🙂 

  • Product Knowledge & Skills (I,II, III)
  • Proactivity in improving customer experience (I,IIl, III)
  • Advocate for the customer; advocate for your peers (I, II, III)
  • Rallying the troops; ability to lead, direct others, and execute (I,II,III)

Some blend of the above might help guide the right level for the Individual Contributor. 

ict

Leave room for adaptability & iterate

People are ever-changing, so you may even want to move from one path to the other. You shouldn’t lock folks into one. I’m also new to this so I would absolutely love to hear what others are doing! There is a huge lack of resources in this area but I’m thrilled to know that a future in support exists.  

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