Career Launch

A Day in the Life of a Seasonal Customer Support Agent (and How that Job Helped Me Build My Career)

Jeremy Chevallier
December 2019

It was 11:55 p.m. on a cold, late December night.

I was one of a handful of phone agents left in the call center that night, trying impatiently to track down a customer’s lost Christmas card order. I was at least 20 hours into overtime already that week. Our call center closed in five minutes, but that didn’t stop me from doing what was necessary to serve the customer.

She’d called in furiously about 40 minutes before, demanding to know where her Christmas cards were and that we expedite them immediately.

She was one of at least a hundred others who’d ordered their holiday cards at the last minute and were suffering the consequences. Because, when you do things at the last minute, you’re just asking for Murphy’s Law to kick in.

Following our service policy, I’d taken notes on her story, tracked down her order, and placed her on hold to call FedEx on her behalf.

When I finally spoke to a FedEx representative, I learned the sad news I’d soon have to tell my customer: her cards would arrive Christmas Eve, by eight p.m. There was nothing FedEx could do about expediting the order—it was already in transit.

Needless to say, I got an earful when I hung up with FedEx and broke the news. I apologized and empathized, finally escalating the call to a supervisor at the customer’s request.

Once the call was out of my hands, I took a deep breath, clocked out, pushed in my seat, and said “good night” to my colleagues still trying to wrap up their last calls for the night. With a heavy heart, I biked home—not so much because of the customer’s unfortunate situation, but because I’ve always been easily affected by others’ emotions.

I suppose that’s generally a good thing. Being receptive and sympathetic are two of the many attributes it takes to be good in customer-facing roles. Still, it’s not easy to take the full wrath of a stressed-out customer when you wear your heart on your sleeve.

Luckily, these kinds of situations really only came up during the “Hellidays,” as we called them at TinyPrints. I’d been one of the roughly 60 people hired as seasonal customer support representatives (CSR) just a month before, with the expectation that about 90% of us would be laid off after the holiday rush.

I knew the only way to make it into the top 10% was to exceed performance expectations.

I rose to the challenge that winter, demonstrating a high quality of service and efficient work ethic. I took the offer to support live chat as well and installed a text expander program to turn shortcuts like “hh1” into “Hi there, thanks for live-chatting with us today. How can I help?” This little trick helped me become twice as fast with my live chat support.

By January, I felt relatively confident that I’d be kept around—but I didn’t have anything to go off of except a hunch. My negativity bias got the better of me, and I convinced myself I was done for.

The day they called us into the room, my heart was hammering against my chest, and I couldn’t talk to anyone else. I loved this job, not in spite of the high-stress calls, but, in fact, because of them. I genuinely loved helping distraught customers feel better about their situation (not to mention TinyPrints’ startup-like culture), and I was afraid to lose the opportunity to work there.

One by one, they called off the names of folks who were being laid off—or maybe the ones who were staying on, I can’t remember. My mind was in a tunnel-vision kind of focus, completely concentrated on hearing my name or the absence of it.

After what felt like hours, I finally got the news that I’d made the cut. I kept my job and would become a full-time employee, not seasonal. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.

Looking Back on Lessons and Leverage

Should you get a seasonal job?

Seasonal jobs often have a negative connotation, sounding more like a holdover job just to get by for a few months while you find something better.

The reality? Getting a seasonal job can unlock opportunities, like turning it into a full-time position, advancing through the company, or simply learning as much as possible and preparing yourself for the career you really want.

Don’t be afraid of seasonal jobs. Even if you expect it to end after a certain date, look at it as an opportunity to get your foot in the door and create leverage in your career path.

What should you become great at?

You don’t get to the top 10% of anything without serious hard work. But it also takes a genuine connection with the kind of work you’re doing.

As Gary Vee has said many times, “the ROI of a basketball for me is two torn meniscuses [sic]. The ROI of a basketball for Lebron James is a billion dollars.”

If you don’t have a natural gift for basketball, you can practice every day for the rest of your life and never become as good as Lebron was in high school. Instead, if you want to get into the top 10% of something, find things you’re naturally good at (and genuinely enjoy). Then you can put in the work to become excellent.

For me, that’s always meant working with people and technology. It was my innate empathy and early exposure to technology that allowed me to offer remarkable customer support later in life. And, thanks to that job, I learned some valuable skills that prepared me well for my career ahead.

How can you make the most of your situation?

Always remember this: even if you hate your current job, you can choose to learn and invest in yourself as a professional, to prepare you for your next opportunity. (In fact, opportunity has been defined as “where luck meets preparation.”) In this way, we’re always net-positive.

Perhaps the most important soft skill I learned as a customer support rep is the fragile art of communication: learning which words work best, saying exactly what you mean, and providing context.

My ability to communicate (both ways) has been invaluable in my work relationships, and even more so in my personal relationships. It’s a soft skill you can’t learn soon enough, and customer-facing roles like sales and customer success are great ways to learn it.

And the most valuable hard skill—and habit!—I gained during my customer success job was taking good notes during important phone calls. Many people struggle with this, and some prefer to avoid it so that they can focus entirely on the conversation itself.

But for me, taking notes live during a call is a process that helps me internalize what the other person is saying and be even more present in the conversation. This habit—and it really is a habit to build—has also been tremendously useful for my work as a freelancer and startup founder (taking notes during client calls and team meetings). It takes practice, to be sure, but it’s been well worth it for me.

How can you leverage any job experience to build your career?

The most common feedback I have for job seekers listing their past work experiences on a Crash pitch is to make it relevant to the role they’re pitching.

Making experience relevant means writing a couple of sentences explaining how that job, project, volunteer role, etc. prepared you for this next role, how it shaped your skills and personality to become a better [role you’re applying for].

My time at TinyPrints made me a better communicator, collaborator, note-taker, time manager, empath, and more. Even if I were to apply to a different kind of role, like sales, I could easily leverage that experience to make myself more attractive as a candidate. Consider these two variations of the same work experience:

Generic

Working phones and live chat at TinyPrints taught me to communicate as effectively as possible, to express empathy for customer concerns, and to be solution-focused.

Relevant

Working phones and live chat at TinyPrints taught me to communicate as effectively as possible, to express empathy for customer concerns, and to be solution-focused.

I’ll carry these traits forward into this sales position by being direct and transparent with prospects, empathizing with their concerns and objections to our solution, and taking detailed notes during my sales calls.

As you can see, with an extra two to three minutes of work, I’ve shown the hiring manager that I’m thinking ahead about the position I’m pitching for and how my past experience applies. This small amount of extra effort goes a long way in setting you apart from other candidates.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in customer success roles, check out our Crash Guide to Starting Your Customer Success Career in 2020 With No Experience.

If you’re ready to discover and pitch an awesome company hiring for a customer-facing role, create a Crash pitch to prove you’re the obvious choice for the job.

Finally, connect with our team on LinkedIn, and let us know if we can make any introductions to help you in your job hunt!

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