Agents or Ninjas? What Should You Call Your Support Team?


What is your job title? Does it accurately describe what you do? Your level of experience? Do you have to explain what it means every time someone asks what you do for a living?

There is a whole lot more to a job title than just a rank and a specialism. Some job titles are straightforward and explain exactly what a person does, like Air Traffic Controller or Graphic Designer.

Some can be ambiguous, with similar job titles having different functions.

For instance, the title Account Manager refers to someone who looks after a customer’s account once they have become a customer, while Account Executive can be another name for a sales person and often has very little to do with managing the customer’s account.

But titles can also be very different and have the same (or almost the same) function.

For instance, Growth Hacker is relatively new job title that describes the job typically described as Marketing Manager or VP of Marketing.

We recently had an office debate about what we should call people who work in support – Agents? Reps? Ninjas? Some of us prefer the term rep over agent, while others prefer the word agent over rep. (All of us agree that we don’t like ninja.)

Up till now here on the Kayako blog we’ve used the terms agents, reps and customer experience professionals interchangeably when we’ve been writing about customer experience teams (across support, service and success).

It’s one thing to not know what to call a group of industry professionals, and another for there not being an industry-wide consensus on what this job title should be or what it should mean.

Does a support agent do anything different from a customer service rep? What about a happiness facilitator, satisfaction manager or success associate? Does it even matter what this group of professionals is called? Who cares if the job gets done, right?

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customer service team names

Customer service team names? The customer doesn’t care (usually)

Often, a customer will not know whether the person they’re speaking to on the phone is a success associate or a support agent – they just care about getting their issue sorted.

For the right customer in the right context, being helped by a happiness facilitator or customer support genius can have positive connotations and can solidify a positive relationship with the company.

Being assisted by someone with titles like genius, guru or ninja can be reassuring to some customers, and can instil confidence in the company and its support team.

But for customers with ongoing issues, whose confidence has been shaken, dealing with a representative with a “fun” job title might rub an already frustrated customer up the wrong way.

The age of the rockstar ninja

Job titles mean more to the employees than they do to the customers.

Renaming customer support roles with euphemisms like happiness facilitator is an attempt to make the role more appealing, while using terms like ninja and guru have been inspired by Silicon Valley-style naming conventions for software engineers, who have popularised the rise of the rockstar and ninja in the tech world.

In his book Building Great Software Engineering Teams, Josh Tyler explains that inflated titles can also be seen as a way make employees feel more valued within the organisation, and seen as a way to attract and retain the best talent into these roles. But, it has its downsides as Josh explains:

“This emphasis on finding exceptional [employees] has contributed to a culture and vocabulary in which it’s not enough to hire someone proficient or competent – they need to be “rockstars” or “ninjas”.”

Ultimately, titles like this don’t necessarily help employees and can even cause problems by creating false expectations about a team member’s proficiency, and promotes a competitive culture above a collaborative one – which isn’t necessarily helpful in a support environment.

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So, do job titles matter?

They do matter – to a degree.

From a customer’s perspective, the title of the representative they are speaking to usually matters as much as the rep’s name. What matters to the customer is how that rep can help them to achieve what they want. The title of the person helping them is last on their list of concerns.

Where titles do matter is in terms of employee attraction, retention and morale. Having an industry-wide consensus on naming conventions isn’t necessary, but giving your team members names that accurately reflect what they do helps avoid confusion.

As Josh explains, “keeping the name simple will make it easier to have an open conversation about the expectations of the role and the things on which it’s important to focus.”

Be consistent and follow the industry

Although it might be tempting to give your team members creative titles, it’s not helpful to your employees’ careers. Be consistent and follow the industry when it comes to naming your team. Your job as a manager is not only to give growth to employees in the organization but also outside it – so it’s only fair that you give them a job title that reflects what they do.

The truth is, people will leave your organisation one day. Don’t make it difficult for them to demonstrate their experience against an obscure job title – give them a title that will help them progress and does justice to all the years they have put in your organisation.

The Customer Advocate

We’ve recently changed our customer support team titles to Customer Advocate from Support Engineers because it better describes what our customer support team does – advocate for our customers, both internally and externally.

We really like the title Customer Advocate. It’s an elegant way to convey what we think customer service really does. It’s also a really great way to advertise the role customer service plays at a company – active players and negotiators with the power to make things happen.

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Elizabeth Tobey, Director of Support at Tumblr, explains that regardless of the job title, “our purpose, no matter where we sit as community-minded professionals is this: facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the people who make your products and those that use them.”

So go ahead and be a ninja or a guru (or choose something unique from the Bullshit Job Title Generator) – customer support is about way more than job titles, it’s about doing the best by your customer and helping them to achieve the most from your product or service.

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