Actually, you don't want to speak to a manager. Here's why.

I'm gonna get it out of the way now: this thought essay isn't about Karens, and it isn't about whether asking for a manager is rude or entitled. 

What I will tell you is this: I, as a manager, am going to be much worse at helping you than my team is. If you want to know why you really, really don't want my help, please read on.

What does a manager do, really?

It can vary, but the gist of a support manager's role is to ensure that their team of direct reports is engaged, successful in their work, and developing skills to further their careers.

While managers often come from a background of working in a support queue—and usually continue to work in the queue in some limited capacity—a majority of their time will likely be spent in a variety of meetings, working on projects, and crafting documentation. Here's a super casual week for me:

Amanda's busy calendar

Generally speaking, a support manager probably spends anywhere from zero to four hours of a 40-hour week answering customer inquiries. At many companies, these hours are specifically spent answering "escalations"—emails where a customer has requested to speak with a manager.

With this basic definition of how a manager spends their time and focus, we can further explore why they're usually not the best person to go to in order to solve a customer's problem.

We're busy bees

A manager's primary responsibility is managing their team. The specifics of this will naturally vary depending on the environment and the company, but usually this will mean somewhere between five to ten direct reports who spend the majority of their time supporting customers. You know support representatives by many titles, but for consistency, here I'll be using the title we use at Zapier: Customer Champion.

One of a manager's main responsibilities is facilitating one-to-one meetings with their reports, which focus on their performance and development. These meetings are usually either weekly or every other week for 30 minutes to an hour. In my experience, it takes around an hour to prepare for a one-to-one—you'll spend this time reviewing their performance metrics and recent work, including customer satisfaction, and reading through interactions that stand out (positively and constructively) in order to provide detailed feedback to support them.

If a manager has 10 direct reports to meet with weekly, that's 20 hours of pre-scheduled time. Every week. 

There are other meetings too: team meetings with your reports, meetings with other managers, training sessions to make sure you're delivering and developing in your own role. With all these meetings, consistent time to work in the queue is hard to come by. 

What does this mean for someone who has asked to speak with a manager? It means the turnaround time for the next response just skyrocketed. 

Your ticket went from being the top priority for a Customer Champion to being one of many competing priorities on my plate. I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can, but it won't be as timely as one of my reports could manage. 

I don't know as much as they do

Our Customer Champions are brilliant. Most support teams are filled to the brim with whip-smart, intuitive people who are effective at troubleshooting and intimately familiar with how the product works. 

When the majority of your time is spent working directly with customers, you become attuned to the key terms and behavior of a product, as well as knowledge of internal and external resources that make you more efficient. 

"I've seen this error before," "I had a question like this the other day," or "I just filed a bug about this—let me go find it."

Those were common thoughts I had when I was more regularly in the queue. I could average around six replies an hour with answers that usually provided one or more solutions to get someone what they needed. Nowadays? My thought process is more like:

"I know what the answer used to be—let me go check a guide," "Huh, I've never seen this before, I wonder if I can find another similar ticket," and "Can anybody take a look at this with me?"

It might take a Customer Champion 30 minutes to get to the bottom of what's happening. Get me involved, and we're looking at more like three hours and asking the team for help. It's not fast. 

I trust my team

My team is the best at what they do. If they ask for my involvement, the first thing I'm going to do is get their insight into the situation. What do they think is happening here? What's the ideal outcome?

They've likely already offered you the best we can provide. They've given you the maximum refund, they've suggested a workaround to keep things functioning while we wait for a bug to be fixed, and if they were unsure or (as definitely happens) they wanted more for you, they've already asked me, and we've come to a solution together. 

It's my role to make decisions that are balanced for both the needs of the customer and the company. If you're looking for a refund that's not in line with our refund policy, and my Champion said it wasn't possible, they're right. The reply you receive from me will be the same message, in perhaps a slightly firmer tone.

Managers do not exist to bend rules—we're here to create and maintain fair rules.

So I'm just never going to talk to a manager again?

You might have occasion to speak to a manager again—even I still do sometimes. I consider it an absolute last resort, as it tends to create lengthy hurdles that I don't really want to sit through while trying to get a problem solved.

Most of the time, if a Champion makes a mistake, the best thing to do is patiently give them the opportunity to fix it themselves. They're up to the task. 

That said, if you have a truly poor experience and feel that you need to speak to someone else about the incident, we'll be here for you. That's a promise.

As someone who's worked in support for more than a decade, I have profoundly high expectations for the help I should be receiving from another team. While I might have small quibbles with things here and there, I'm rarely left disappointed. Part of the reason why is usually that I've got the context of what's going on behind the screens. If you're interested in learning some trade secrets that'll help your support experience go faster and smoother, check them out here.

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