CX Agents: Product Managers in Training
It’s March 2021, and it’s a very warm day here in Lisbon, which is refreshing since we’ve had one of the coldest years ever. In reality, I think we all just missed central heating systems in our offices since a lot of us are working from home now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oh yeah, for those of you who do not know, it’s rare for a house in Portugal to have central heating or, well, good insulation, for that matter. It’s because we’re a “warm country.” I think they forget that we also have a season called Winter, but it is what it is.
I digress. This seems like the perfect time to write about something I’ve meant to for a long time now. It sounds ominous, I know, but it’s really not. I want to tell you why Support Agents make excellent Product Managers and why investing in your own people and their growth within the company is so important.
I’m in my third year as a Product Manager, and I just recently changed companies. I left Talkdesk, my nest, the company where I spent five years, and where I could evolve and grow professionally and as, you know, a human being. I like to say it was the company that raised me to be where I am today, that empowered me to make my own choices about where I saw myself in the world and what I wanted to be.
I’m not saying that the road that got me here was all rainbows and butterflies. It wasn’t, but it was definitely worth it. Why did I leave? I guess I needed to prove to myself that I could do this job somewhere else. So I started looking, and I fell in love with another company, Tymeshift. It seemed like the perfect place to be. It’s a small company that’s growing its business in an industry that I’m very familiar with. I somehow knew that my experience could help them and that we could achieve great things together. A few months later, here I am, and I’m 100% sure I made the right decision.
Making the change
Leaving my previous company was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m so glad I took the leap and that I found a place at Tymeshift. Because I changed companies, I now understand that it wasn’t just luck or the fact that I knew the product well that made me a good Product Manager. I know that it’s a combination of things that help me in the role.
Of course, some are personality traits and the fact that I worked as a Support Agent for almost ten years. I realized that there are many similarities between what we do in CX and what is expected of us in Product Management. Today, I hope to let you in on some of those similarities so that you can look within your company for people in CX who are searching for new opportunities. Or, if you’re an Agent or you have any other role within CX and are looking to change, maybe this information will help you take that step. You might just get lucky and change your life in the process.
I’m not going to tell you a lot more about my professional story; this is not a CV. Plus, you can read about the road I took to get here in our book, Undefined World. The book covers the career paths of 7 professionals who all started out in CX. We wanted to show how normal career shifts are and how many cool roles use foundational CX skills. One of those roles is obviously Product Manager (that’s why I’m writing this, after all).
But you should know a few things about me to get some context — specifically how I transitioned from a CX role into Product. It started when I saw a friend of mine, a Team Lead at the time, making that transition. Before I saw him do it, I had no idea that I could work in Product. I thought that my path was laid before me and that I’d work in CX for the rest of my life, so this was truly an eye-opener.
I started thinking about it and wondering what it would take. I talked to a lot of Product people to get a sense of what they did and realized that it kind of looked like my type of gig. So one August afternoon in 2018, I was walking around in the office, and I saw the company’s VP of Product (now Chief Product Officer) sitting on one of the couches.
I sat next to her and said, “So I wanna work for your team.”
To which she replied, and I’ll never forget it, “What? Yes! Can you start tomorrow?”
You see, apart from the friend I told you about, two other fellow Support friends of mine had joined her team as well. She already knew the value of having someone who understands the product inside out doing Product Management.
I didn’t start the next day, though. Instead, I wanted to go through the whole process to get the job. Maybe that’s my millennial mind at work. You know, a classic overachiever who can’t even think of having things handed to them combined with the constant need to prove myself. I had to have “the talk” with my Manager at the time, and I decided the best time to do this was after he gave me a stellar performance evaluation.
“So, what do you want to do next? What are the next steps so you can become a Manager?” He asked.
I replied, “You know what? I think I want to move to Product instead.”
The poor guy had no words. I loved working with him. He’s probably one of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with, so I’ll confess it was a bit hard for me to feel like I was leaving him. To top it off, he had recently joined the company and relied on me to be by his side managing the Support Team.
But being the amazing Manager he is, he spoke to HR and let them know I was interested in applying for the Associate Product Manager position (although reluctantly and with countless counteroffers). This kickstarted the process. Because the VP already knew the part of the product she wanted me to be responsible for, the first step was to have a conversation with the Director and Principal Product Manager of that area. Even though it was a very light and chill convo, I still felt like it was an interview, so I brought all the big guns that my Leo Rising had to offer. It paid off, and they decided to advance me to the next phase, which involved going through a product challenge.
These challenges are very common, and if you’re in Product Management, you probably know what I’m talking about. Depending on the company, of course, these can be a series of tasks that the candidate has to perform, culminating in a demo for an audience. In my particular case, I had to do a competitor analysis, think about a new feature that I would implement to improve a certain part of the product, and explain how I would implement it.
I’ve never in my life had to do something like that, and I had no clue how to present it. My first thought was to panic, of course. I already knew the feature that would be beneficial but explaining everything else was the problem. It’s important to remember that I was still doing my regular Team Lead job with the Support Team, so I had to find a way to balance the two. It was a stressful time, but I did the only thing I could do — I asked for help.
Even though I was already aware of some things that are part of a Product Manager’s role, I didn’t know the specifics, so I talked to some Product Managers at the company to find out more. Not only that, but I also wanted to understand how the relationship between Product, Product Design, and Engineering worked, so I made sure to talk to people from those departments as well.
This put me on the right track to do my presentation and nail it. Well, this and a lot of internet sleuthing and googling. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t a complete nervous wreck; I was. I knew that this moment was the chance I had been waiting for my whole life and could put me on an entirely different career path. I gave it my all, and around three months later, after I first told the VP I wanted in, I started as an Associate Product Manager.
Fast forward to now, working as a Product Manager for Tymeshift, dealing with a different product, and still going back to the lessons I learned and using many of the same techniques from back when I was in CX.
Where’s the overlap?
You ask questions
There’s a rule that hovers over every Support Agent’s head: “Do not make assumptions.” No matter how much you think or believe you’ve seen this issue before or you know what the customer is asking for, there’s always a risk of being wrong.
So unless it’s absolutely clear, you should reframe the question and ask other complementary questions to understand better what’s needed and gather more information that can help you solve the problem.
This is 100% true for a Product Manager. You need to understand what your customer wants, but most importantly, what your customer needs in order to validate solutions. And how do you do this? You ask them questions.
You solve problems
There you go! This is what every Customer Service Agent is paid to do. Your paycheck is directly tied to solving problems, and guess what? So is a Product Manager’s paycheck.
Whenever an Agent receives a call, email, chat, or whatever type of interaction with a customer, the focus should immediately be on finding a solution for whatever issue is coming their way. Very few people interact with Customer Service if everything is going well, unfortunately.
And guess what? It’s the same for a Product Manager. We find solutions for problems. Although most of the time, the answers are not as immediate as we would want them to be.
You use data to support solutions
As a Support Agent, you need to ensure that you investigate and have the correct information to give to your customers. Sometimes this can be used as data that you can present to them. For example, suppose a customer is complaining about their audio quality when placing a phone call. In that case, you can do a speed test to check their connection and use that data to let them know the problem might be with their internet service provider or somewhere in their network.
As a Product Manager, when you decide something or give a green light on starting a new feature, you need to have already done the legwork that supports the fact that that feature is what your product needs right now. This can be done in several ways, like talking to your customers to validate your solution, investigating competitors to check what they’re working on and what they have, using analytics apps to track similar features and if they’re being used or not, etc. No one solution fits all, but there’s definitely the need to gather data and present it as proof that what you’re going to build might be the right thing.
You are deeply involved in your product
This one is a given! But I still have to make a note of it. As a Support Agent, you need to know what you’re talking about, and you need to know your product and service like the back of your hand. Every nook and cranny needs to be checked. Sometimes you not only need to know the basics but also the workarounds and any other information that might be useful to give to your customers.
And if you’re a Product Manager, it is absolutely the same. You need to get to know your product before you start planning anything for it. If you work with a huge company that has/sells multiple products, you sometimes need to not only know about your product and what your team is developing but also how it connects and relates to the various parts of other products. That means it’s essential to take as much time as possible trying things out, asking questions, listening to customers, and, well, maybe even spend some time with your Customer Service team to learn what their pain points are.
You are a customer champion
A crucial one for sure. When you’re out in the trenches replying to customers every day, it can feel exhausting. Sometimes customers just aren’t on your side. Believe me; I’ve been there. Still, it’s important to listen to them and to vouch for their needs and what they want. The happier your customers are, the more the business will thrive. That first line of defense and contact comes from Support Agents who need to be the knights in shining armor that come to fight all demons.
And when you’re working in Product, you need to understand what makes your customers tick and listen to what they have to say. The problem is that we don’t talk to customers every day like Support Agents do, so what can we do? We need to make sure we establish these relationships regardless. Scheduling weekly or bi-weekly calls with some customers, having UX/UI tests to let them try out something we’re thinking of building so they can give feedback, asking them to be a part of a Private Beta or Early Adopters program, anything really that we can do to get facetime with customers, we should. After all, we wouldn’t be here without them.
What do you think?
Ok, that was a lot of words to say that your Support Agents can become a different breed of Product Managers. One that already contains the product knowledge you desperately crave and that is very much attuned to what your customers want. More importantly, what they need. I’ve seen enough success stories to know this is true.
The problem is that it’s not always the go-to when companies think about hiring PMs, so what can you do if you want to make that career shift? Not everyone can walk up to the VP of Product or the CPO and ask to make this change, so my advice is to build relationships with the Product Managers around you. This will give you an insight into what they do and if it’s possibly the right move for you. Apart from this, keep an eye out for the career opportunities inside your company and talk to your Manager and the people in your HR department if you want to make that career change. And if you’re thinking about applying for this job outside of your current company, let your intentions be heard. A good cover letter always helps when you’re applying as well.
If anyone out there has any ideas to add to this list, share them in the comments below. Or if you’re a Support Agent looking to make a change and you want to know what being in Product is like, drop me a line, and I’ll happily chat with you.
The books that inspired my path
● Inspired by Marty Cagan
● Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perri
● Hooked by Nir Eyal
● The Lean Startup by Eric Ries