Many people ask me, “why have you stayed in the same organization for so long? What was it that made you stay? Did you ever look for other jobs or are you in it for life and will you be here until your retirement?”
Well, I haven’t had a single thought about retirement! But staying and working in an organization entirely depends on its culture. When you’re at the right place, you don’t end up spending time in an office, rather you feel more like it’s your second home.
A quick back story on my customer service career
Being in Jalandhar city (not a metropolitan city), we don’t have a long list of IT organizations to build up our career. Thankfully, we had Kayako operations available there.
I came onboard at Kayako with 5-6 years of experience working in a Network Operations Center. I joined our Customer Support Team as a Technical Support Executive in 2009. Yet, even with a few years of experience, the role was new and challenging. It took a 2-3 week training period before I was ready to start working on real conversations and start handling customer inquiries.
At this time Kayako was offering the second version of the product via download and the the cloud version was fairly new. When I first started, there was fewer customers, support conversations, and team members to provide support. Now, we offer a totally different product (while still supporting the classic version), resulting in a stockpile of loyal customers, more new customers, and an increase in support conversations!
How do you stay interested and loyal to a company for 9 years?
These are the four areas I think are vital for keeping your customer service career alive:
- Develop Skills
- Embrace a culture of change
- Become a master of giving and receiving feedback
Most of my friends would often say, “Oh, it’s Monday again” when they think about work. But that’s not the case with me. Working in Kayako, I never categorized myself to thank-God-it’s-friday group. Reason being, the team, the culture, the work, and the new challenges and lessons that come with it. I always look forward to learning more every day.
In a recent discussion with one of my teammates, we came up with a statement:
“People appreciate working in an organization for years when their skills grow with the organization. And organizations consider employees with longer tenure valuable because they know the company has reaped rewards from their improved skills.”
Every individual wants to fine tune their skills needed for their profile. And it was the same here, whether we talk about technical skills or communication skills. Kayako ensures that our team’s grasp of English and technical skills should be the best it can be. To make the most out of it, we got training in:
- PHP/MySQL – Our product was developed in PHP and MySQL, and not that everyone joining the team knows every bit of PHP or MySQL.
- English voice and accent training – Being in Support, we need to ensure that our communication skills should be up to the mark.
- Help in Other courses – If any of us wanted to join a course of our own interest, we have got the policy to join the course and organization helped us by bearing half of the cost.
But that’s just mandatory training. Kayako has allowed me to develop further skills through working with so many different functions. And I love every bit of it, I’ve worked with:
- The Engineering team to test bugs and patches.
- Content team to write technical documentation.
- Growth/Marketing team for blogging and product webinars.
- Arranged support meetups in our office.
- The Sales team in giving technical demos and trial abandonment.
- Manage VIP customers
This all happened because I like and believe in what I do.
Embrace a culture of change
During 9 years, I’ve seen so many changes within the team, organization, people, policies. I can say I’ve literally witnessed Kayako transform.
Be adaptable to role changes
Two years into Kayako I got promoted to a Team Leader in Support, and then the Support Manager. Both of these roles were classic people wrangling roles. Next, I moved to an individual contributor role as a Customer Success Manager.
The path from an individual contributor to a people wrangler was challenging. As an Individual Contributor, I was more focused on my skill set and giving my very best to the tasks I handled. As a People Wrangler, I was more focused on bringing my team members to the same level and help them to grow and succeed.
After six years, Kayako made a few changes in the team structure. This led me to shift to an Individual contributor role as a ‘Technical Consultant’. Yet, this new IC role is a bit different, I started working on projects. My new role revolved around bigger projects linked to the organization’s goals. Again a new challenge.
Nine years I’ve worked as both a People Wrangler (someone who loves to support people in helping them grow and succeed), and an Individual Contributor (someone who loves doing things and does them at a high standard). Believe me, every stage taught me new lessons that changed and improved me. Every role has taught me something new and every person sitting next to me has helped me improve myself.
Change with the organization
Keeping up with organizational changes relied on building solid foundations for delivering great customer support. Early on, I focused my learnings on getting better at handling customers, cross-department issues, and being the voice of the customer.
But I was passionate to keep learning and growing. I did this through working in different areas and roles to develop my customer support skills:
- Soft skills such as empathy, communication skills, and absorbing feedback.
- Hard skills like delivering presentations, expanding HTML/CSS knowledge, and a lot more.
But, working in a changing team organizational structure is a different story.
Early on in Kayako, our team structure consisted of 5-6 people working in our Support team. We eventually grew to 25 members in Support. You can imagine the incremental grow. With new people coming in, we had to adopt new strategies. It changed so significantly that it didn’t actually feel like I was working for the same organization.
Scaling from 5 to 25 was never an easy job, especially when you’re working as a team lead wrangling people. But to get the team to the next level, I applied the same mantra as I did for increasing my own skills – work on the individual strengths of each team member and elevate them to the next level. It involved providing regular training to bring all to the same level of product knowledge.
Do these skills come naturally? No. It’s the culture helping you build your skills, and the people you’re surrounded with.
During the initial phase, our culture was far from where it is now. We had very strict HR policies, limited leaves, and bonded login hours. Now, things are drastically different. We redefined our values and came up with beneficial policies which were employee-centric. (You can read our culture stories, here.)
Along with culture change, our Support department was reshuffled, new policies were introduced, unlimited leave is offered, work from home is allowed, no fixed login hours, no late entry, etc. Finally, the Support team was converted to the empowered customer support team it is today. And the lesson behind these changes was:
Become a master of giving and receiving feedback
You should know and understand every bit of feedback you want to deliver. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working as an individual contributor as in a team management role. Whether delivering it to a colleague, or accepting it from others. You must do it in the way which makes it easy for others to handle and extract the positivity. Be open and listen to others and accept their opinions. (Trust me, it really works)
Once you accept your views, your mistakes, and your success, you’re empowered enough to handle everyone around you. Be yourself. Be humble. Lend your ears. Try to learn from everyone. Make a mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up and move on.
Get feedback from everywhere you can
I always believe in getting feedback on how I am doing. This not only helps me to improve but also motivates me for my accomplishments. We have a ‘self-assessment’ process to know what we have accomplished in last quarter and what others think about our way of working. It allows us to understand different approaches to handle identical situations. I always prefer to take the feedback and absorb it in a positive way. And this is how it is followed here. Example –
Feedback the generic way: I went through your reply, if you have added this extra point, it would have been wonderful. Noted! (this is how you feel, right)
Feedback at Kayako: You handled this situation following a good approach, it worked, great! To add, if I were in your place, I would have handled it in another way. Here are a few suggestions (ask your team member to compare and pick which approach would work best for them, then discuss why they choose it) — Interesting!
You can easily make out the difference in above example. The way we use to deliver feedback helps to understand the approach for future, making it vulnerable to accept it without any constraints.
What’s next in my customer service career?
My journey until now is wonderful and astounding. With a sturdy skill set under my belt, I feel I have developed both hard and soft skills to handle issues as they come along.
My hard skills are the foundations of my product knowledge and ability, but I have to keep learning. My soft skills allow me to acknowledge and offer more acceptance (and patience) for a new, evolving environment.
With 9 years in one team—oh yes I got the title “Mom” from various team members! And with that I have made a long list of friends. But even with 9 years accomplished in customer service, I feel like I am just getting started!