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Josef Szotten, head of customer support for Capsule CRM, shares his story about building a career in customer support. Josef tells us how he got started in support and reveals the turning point that got him thinking about customer support as a career.

How did you get into customer support?
I started off doing on site support for a big software company. It was very hands on! I took care of everything from troubleshooting to training.

Making that personal connection with the customer is great and you really get to know them. You can build relationships which really help later when you’re doing phone or email support and it’s shaped my approach to support. Building that type of relationship can be a challenge when you only do remote support.

When did you realize support could be a career?
With the first job, I can’t say that I wanted to do support as a career. There was a lot of stress, the system was unreliable and the support from the development team was lacking.

It wasn’t until I started at my current position, Customer Support at Capsule CRM, that I started seeing the potential for a career in support. While some tasks are the same, the job changes so much when you work for a company that values customer support. It didn’t take long for me to understand that taking care of customers wasn’t just about answering questions.

Supporting a SaaS product means getting questions like “how do I use xyz?” as well as questions around how to improve the customer’s business – what some call ‘customer success’. In addition to that, there’s also creating documentation and videos, training customers and more. When you realise there are so many facets to the job, you can see how much there is to grow and learn.

The idea of spending your whole life answering emails can be discouraging. When you get into it though, you see how there’s so much more to support and that’s part of what drives me.

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Where do you find inspiration?
My life in support took a big turn when I attended UserConf NYC 2013. For a while, I felt like there were so many communities and events for developers and designers, but there was nothing for support. I had a tough time finding anything about getting better at support. So when I saw a link to UserConf in Richard White’s email signature, I jumped at it. I had never heard of it before, but I had to go. It didn’t hurt that it was in NYC, which I love visiting.

I’m very grateful to my boss as he encouraged me to go. He had heard of Sarah Hatter as well, which helped. At the time I had no clue who she was. Oh how lost I was. Her Support Handbook is never far from my reach these days. How did I miss all this?

How would you describe the experience at UserConf?
Having never been to a conference, I didn’t really know what to expect. I went alone as well, since I was the only person on support at my company. Still, it wasn’t hard to notice that this conference was different.

From the get go, you knew that the attendees came first. The ‘concierge service’ is brilliant. Anything you might need during the conference, just tweet it and it will appear at the next break. Feeling cold? Here’s a jumper. In need of some caffeine? Starbucks run! Signed copy of The Support Handbook? Coming right up.

There were no 2 hour talks about concepts and vague ideas. It was all concrete useful topics where I always felt like “I can use this right now” after each talk. Each speaker was more inspiring than the next. All competing for the most amusing slides and not to forget, the most stylish shoes. I realised how many things I was doing wrong and how many things I could do better. I couldn’t wait to go back to work and use what I had learned to give our customers a better experience. Afterwards, we got the chance to talk to everyone and ask more questions. UserConf introduced me to a huge community of support professionals. The speakers were great but there’s just as much to learn from the attendees.

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Why is the community important to you?
At the conference, I randomly went for a coffee with Mathew Patterson of Campaign Monitor and his story is an inspiration for me. It turns out he and I had something in common – we both were the first support people at our respective companies. Now he manages a huge support team that’s spread around the world.

The community in the Support Driven chat room has been great. Conferences are great for learning about the work we do, but the chat room has been a great way to share more personal experiences around tools, hacks and specific scenarios. Anything from a process to bring our all hands support in your company to speeding up your ticket answering with TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro, Alfred and more.

The support role, in the sense that we see it – not in a big call center sense with scripts, is a fairly new one and getting involved in the community makes all the difference.

Where else have you found inspiration?
I have no idea how I found the SupportOps site and later the podcast, but again, I jumped on it straight away. Here are people that talk about exactly what’s on my mind all the time. How did they get inside my head? It turns out we all share a lot of the same experiences.

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What’s next for you?
In the beginning it was a lot about answering support tickets and just getting through the day. Now I feel like I know our customers so well and I want to make use of that knowledge when it comes to product design and help tools. I would love to host online training sessions and make videos about our product. I want to do more than teach people how to use a feature, I want to help them grow their businesses.

As we grow our support team I’m hoping to get more time for those things. I’m almost a bit scared that as the team grows I won’t have as much direct interaction with the customers. At the same time, I can’t wait to pass on my experiences to more people. I want to inspire like I was inspired.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the customer for me and I’ll look for any place I can to help them out.