Support Specialist, What's in a Name?

A couple weeks ago, when we were getting ready to hire additional members for our support team at Trello, I realized I had to name the role. Our other positions at are all nouns a potential candidate can identify with, e.g. "Designer" or "Android Developer," so putting just "Support" doesn't fit, and "Support Team Member" feels clunky and awkward. I also wasn't sure I wanted to call it a "Support" position. What to do?

On one end of the spectrum, companies have given their support team members bold names, such as:

  • "Happiness Hero" (via Carolyn Kopprasch at Buffer)
  • "Customer Champion" (via Jeff Vincent at Wistia)
  • "Happiness Engineer" (Wordpress)
Hi Jeff! With a smile like that, how can you go wrong recruiting a team of customer champions?

Hi Jeff! With a smile like that, how can you go wrong recruiting a team of customer champions?

To be sure, I strongly agree with why they chose those titles, namely, because they reinforce a belief that the making customers happy and championing their cause is fundamental to their business. However, I have a hard time getting behind those titles. Mathew Patterson, of Campaign Monitor, reasons that job titles aren't really important, which is why he avoids titles like that.

For me, I guess it's more that those titles feel a bit too fluffy (sorry guys!). Don't get me wrong, these folks run killer support teams. It's not so much that these titles are bad, but rather that I'm not sure I can ask someone to join my team as a "Happiness Hero" with a straight face. In short, it's just not me.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have vanilla titles like "Customer Service Representative" or "Customer Care Specialist." I lament that these titles have been abused so badly as to no longer be trusted. Customers don't trust that they'll get good service from someone with this title and job applicants don't trust that they'll get an excellent job with this title. I wish that weren't the case. "Customer" and "Service", seen in tandem, seems to perfectly embody the responsibilities of someone in this role: providing quality service to the humans who are your customers. Alas, it is lost. Thanks Comcast.

Enter Support

I ended up going with "Support Specialist." Why "Support"?

Support has two primary functions: 

  1. Interface with the customer and provide them excellent service
  2. Work with the development team to improve the product

We all know doing support involves talking directly to customers, but the second point—working with the rest of your team to improve the product—is ultimately why I went with "Support" over other terms.

Customer service is only a fraction of what we do in support. We're also shielding developers from a firehose of emails, triaging bugs, deciding which feature requests merit the attention of the product team, thinking about whether we need to hire another team member, writing documentation, and often a host of other things. We're helping customers, for sure, but we're also trying to help out everyone else. We expect to end up with an improved product and happier customers as a result.

Why "Specialist?"

After I settled on support, the next challenge was to come up with a noun that someone could identify with. I'm not terribly thrilled with specialist, but I think it's least bad option when compared to the likes of "Agent" or "Representative." One thing "Specialist" does have going for it, though, is that it clarifies that the person in that role is going to be handling both sides of support. This is someone who not only knows how to talk to customers; they also have a passion for improving the product.

Now that we've finished our first round of hiring, I'm excited to be welcoming two support specialists to our team!