Every time someone asks me how I got to where I am today and I go down the long list of coffee and food service jobs I've had, their mouth is agape. How could someone who is seemingly successful in the tech industry have been slinging espresso just a few short years ago? The truth is that there are more than a few similarities between working in a restaurant, as a barista, or as a waiter and our friendly neighborhood customer support person. What are they, you might ask? Hold on to your butts, because I'm about to tell ya.
My last job in coffee was at a coffee shop here in Boston called Wired Puppy. I was the opening barista which meant that I had to get up at around 4 AM, get to the cafe prior to the trains running, bake 60 muffins, 12 scones, brew 8 huge canister's worth of coffee and prepare the cafe for the rest of the day, all while taking customers' orders and making their fancy latte drinks. I was the only one there until around 7AM when a second barista would come in and help assist me through the morning rush.
That might not sound like it, but it's a lot of pressure.
If I didn't show up on time or overslept, the whole process of the cafe would be hosed for the day, and they would constantly be playing catch up, trying to bake more, trying to make sure iced tea was ready, running out of coffee...you get the drift. A lot of that was a deep-seated commitment to perfection, knowing what had to be done and doing it. This is incredibly important in a support role—your customers are depending on you, your teammates are depending on you, your company is depending on you. You need to get there and bake the metaphorical muffins.
Patience and Acknowledgement
People come into coffee shops or restaurants and bring all their anger and emotions with them. Maybe their boyfriend just broke up with them, or they got bad news, or they just started their day off on the wrong foot. To them it is a huge deal that there is 2% milk in their latte instead of skim, or that their muffin wasn't heated to exactly the right temperature. A good barista, waitress, bartender or other food-servicer understands that these small details can be a huge detail, and will always pay attention to, acknowledge and correct any mistakes that have been made. They'll remake the drink, get a new muffin, or maybe even offer a free credit for next time.
In support, there is a whole lot more nuance, but people will still bring their outside pain and frustrations into an interaction. If a person has handled a customer getting really angry, and maybe even yelling at them over using sugar-free hazelnut syrup over regular, they will also be able to handle an aggressive customer over email, chat or phone with patience and understanding. They are already natural mediators.
Practice and Memorization
When you first start serving, waitressing or being a barista there is a lot that needs to be learned. There are tricks to doing things that will help speed up your processes, people that will be able to help you do things that you wouldn't otherwise be able to, and tools that you won't even know about until a few months in. This is all even before you are tasked with learning the immense process of how to make a perfect latte, or a drink, or even plate a meal properly.
I liken these to the soft and hard skills that are required in support. The little practices, like learning that you can brew a vat of iced tea in the time that it takes for a batch of muffins to cook, are similar to finding the tricks of the trade like which screenshot sharing tool works for you. The big practices, like learning how to make cappuccino foam properly, can be likened to something like learning how to use Chrome Extensions to debug a nonfunctional script. Both people in food service and support people practice these tricks and methods tirelessly and essentially memorize them in order to boost efficiency and multitask.
Obviously there is a lot more to support than that: natural aptitude towards technology, overall demeanor, culture fit, and so on. But, if you can find someone that has worked in food service as a waiter, barista or bartender, you can rest assured that they have the grounding bits needed to excel in support.