While customer service is certainly a cost of doing business, if done well it can be a market differentiator and driver of innovation, retention and sales. That's according to Suhail Doshi, cofounder and CEO of the mobile and web analytics company Mixpanel. Even though he's come a long way since starting his company in an apartment with his cofounder, Tim Trefren, both founders still handle support tickets on a regular basis as one way to remain connected to their customer base and products. Doshi believes that for Mixpanel, customer service is just as valuable as engineering to the overall success of the business. As a result, he has positioned support at the center of the organization where it is uniquely empowered to meet customer needs. Here's Doshi's advice on how any company can build a rock star customer support team.

1. Find the "question behind the question."

Encourage support teams to spend time identifying the core of the question that their customers are asking to better understand what they actually want. No matter how simple a question may seem on its surface, there is a lesson that the support team can apply to improve the experience for other customers. For example, a customer requesting a copy of a receipt should prompt the support team to think about requesting a feature that makes the process easier moving forward.

2. Empower support teams to do what's best for the customer.

The support team should have direct lines to other teams within an organization, including product. Based on interactions with customers, support can provide direct feedback around new features, flag bugs and advocate for customers in a way that ultimately serves both the customer and the company overall. Customers want to feel listened to, and this can inspire lasting brand loyalty.

3. Build a relationship of trust with customers so they want to write in and interact.

Create a relationship with customers where they see support as a resource which can provide advice on how to best leverage the product, as well as how to use it in innovative ways. Strengthen that relationship over time by giving thorough feedback and establish support as experts in the product and the industry so they become a trusted resource.

4. Don't hold support teams to a number of tickets.

Recognize that each customer support inquiry is unique and should be handled accordingly. Forcing support to focus on tickets solved limits their ability to deliver truly personalized service and is a lost opportunity to cultivate true engagement that leads to long term customer engagements. 

5. Think of support as a profit center rather than a cost center.

Staffing a support department can involve significant operating costs, but customers who interact with support are getting value out of a product and are more likely to stay on as long term users.