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How 12 Years of Being an Athlete Prepared Me for Customer Success

If I told you that being a competitive athlete makes you great at customer service, you’d probably find that hard to believe.

If I were in your shoes, I’d probably find it hard to believe too.

But there is more to this story than meets the eye. Let me back up.

My Athletic Journey Once upon a time, I was a little girl who loved to swim. From the age of six, I have been a competitive athlete and have competed (and performed well) on almost all levels of competition: local YMCA meets all the way up to a hybrid Junior National Championship.

I train 6 times per week for 1.5–2hrs each practice and this year, I broke the 24-second barrier in the 50 free for the first time, clocking in with 23.92.

Not to brag, but I am an excellent athlete.

But my excellence does not come from myself: my coach plays a central role in my success as an athlete. What Makes a Great Coach The difference between a bad coach and a great coach, is the coach’s ability to connect with their athletes and the coach’s willingness to serve.

One of the things that I love the most about my coach is his ability to do both. Having been an elite athlete in his time and a national champion in the 100m fly, he connects with me and my team by sharing his own experiences to help inspire us and give us a picture of what it takes to be great.

Also, whether it is flying across the country to support a swimmer at a particular competition, or simply moving training times around to best suit the swimmers he has proven to me time and time again his willingness to serve by inconveniencing himself to benefit myself or my team.

So, when I started coaching myself by teaching swim lessons at the downtown YMCA, that is what I kept in mind.

Ability to Connect and Willingness to Serve.

Interestingly enough, those two things above are relevant not only in the world of athletics, but in the world of customer success as well.

What Makes a Great Customer Success Rep When teaching people how to swim and helping address their fears or discomfort around water, I always remember to:

  • Empathize with their struggles by sharing my own experiences to show them that I understand what they are going through.

  • Brainstorm various unique ways to help address their situation and help them learn to swim as quickly and easily as possible.

  • Acknowledge their personal life outside of the pool and how it can affect their performance or willingness to swim.

When serving customers and helping them answer their questions or resolve their concerns, I always remember to:

  • Empathize with their struggles regarding the service or product that they have questions about.

  • Brainstorm various unique ways to help address their situation and resolve their problem as quickly and easily as possible.

  • Acknowledge whatever negative (or positive) emotions they might have because of their personal experiences with the product or service.

Notice any similarities?

The same things that made my coach a great coach — and similarly made me a great coach — make me great at customer success as well.

How to See the World Through Other People’s Eyes Because I was an athlete with a great coach — and then a great coach of athletes as well — I learned how to see the world through the eyes of the people I served.

I saw the world through the eyes of someone eager but struggling to swim well and so I was able to teach effectively and with care.

I saw the world through the eyes of someone who wanted a product but had questions or who wanted a service but was dissatisfied and so was able to serve effectively and with care as well.

So, whether you are serving customers at an online apparel shop or serving at a neighborhood cafe, use your past experiences to advance your skills in customer success and service.

Remember when someone served you, remember what they did to make a positive impact on your life, and then replicate that same behavior with the customers you serve today. That is what I did, and that is how 12 years of being an athlete prepared me for customer success.


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