This week, I spent some positively pleasant time with Pooja Mahtani!
Pooja is a Senior Manager in Tech Support at IQVIA, the “Human Data Science Company” which provides solutions that enable the work of life sciences companies.
Pooja has been at IQVIA for six months, and in leadership for more than seven years.
Hey Pooja! You and I first met at the Support Driven Leadership Summit in Boston last October. Nearly a year ago! That was a whirlwind of a couple of days, so thank you so much for spending a little more time today to tell me your story!
How did you get into Customer Support?
I started my career as a System Administrator at Iberia and as a Helpdesk Specialist at a local organization. I was finishing my BS in Computer Science and I came across these two opportunities. I was eager to be hands-on after all the learning, and I wanted to help people. Both these opportunities gave me experience providing technical support in two large offices.
Both roles changed over time, allowing me to develop and deliver training to employees and customers. I enjoyed the interactions with both stakeholder groups and helping them solve their problems very much.
I discovered I was good at both technical support and system administration work, but also training and coaching the customers. This is when I fell in love with Support as a career!
So it wasn’t so much that you chose CS, but once you were doing it, you grew to love it?
Yes! I was hesitant about my first role, but I soon knew I wanted more of it. I also tried to do some product development work, and I knew that was not what I wanted to do as a career. I enjoyed the human interaction and the coaching too much; I felt lonely when I was coding. It probably also didn’t suit me because I love being around people, and while I was coding, I was working from home on a contract basis. It just wasn’t for me.
So once you know CS was for you, what came next? How did you get into CS leadership?
I was very lucky to have a series of experiences around the world developing my support skills. I was promoted to Team Lead at MembersFirst, but my first step into true leadership happened at a company called Bullhorn.
I moved to Bullhorn as a Senior Technical Support Analyst, and after 6 months in the role, I was promoted to Supervisor. It was a great transition as I had gained the team’s respect by then and they knew I was there to support them in that new role. My team was happy for me, which helped a great deal, and I learned a lot about management and leadership because of it.
What did you find difficult as you stepped up into leadership?
My first conversations about poor performance were very tough. I cared for my reports deeply; I wanted to coach them and see them succeed. I had to learn that as a leader you must provide them with the tools and the support they need, but also give them space to learn and grow on their own. Doing it for them does not help them learn.
Do you think there are particular challenges to CS leadership?
The people who enter Customer Support, and are great at it, have distinct qualities. Managing and leading them takes special consideration. They are high empaths; most of the people who do well in CS do so because they care for people. Many start at an entry-level and it’s often their first office job. We need to coach them not only for their specific role, but also develop many other skills necessary to succeed professionally.
Some people enter CS as a stepping stone. We need to help them figure out what their next step is, either within CS or in other parts of the organization. It is very satisfying to coach your reports to grow within the business and see their success. But first, you need to show them what you see in them, and develop trust by giving them opportunities to expand their skills outside their comfort zone.
There is also a natural turnover that makes it hard to retain knowledge within the team, but it is highly beneficial to share that CS expertise with the rest of the organization.
Consequently, to be a good CS leader and succeed with these challenges you have to exhibit high levels of empathy. You need to be a team player, be able to serve the team as it needs it. And a good leader needs to inspire and lead the team to unknown territories, seeing both the short and long term benefits.
And how do you measure success?
Metrics are the easy part. We measure data around tickets (First contact resolution, CSAT, #Solves, etc.)
Team morale and engagement is harder to measure, but is key to the team’s success. My team is successful if they feel they are part of a team, they are engaged and are happy to be working with you/others in the team. A CS job is not an easy job, it can be very fast-paced, time-sensitive and constantly changing. All of this makes it very stressful at times. But what you can keep constant is their engagement within the team and with the rest of the organization.
You said metrics were straightforward, in that it’s ticket-based data. Can you tell me more about that?
Some metrics are very necessary to understand the performance of an individual and as a team. Some metrics are just signs that there might be some issue that needs further understanding. For example, CSAT is important, but I would not say that a low CSAT is something that measures performance. We need to look further to see if the reason is due to a problem with the product, something we are promising on the sales side that is not true, something that is not common knowledge within the team and needs further training, etc.
Metrics are important, but learning to read and weigh them appropriately is equally as important.
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to do as a leader?
Letting someone go because they are not the right fit. They might be working as hard as others but sometimes CS or the company is not the right fit for them. They might be suffering because of the pace of the company, or when they receive a call from an angry customer, or with the constant change of processes. I always want to give everyone 10000 chances to improve, but I learned that sometimes it’s best to stop and have a conversation with the person to see where this role is going and how it’s affecting them. Sometimes realizing this role is not the best fit for them is hard for them AND you, but dragging it out doesn’t help anyone.
Do you think your expectations of leadership have changed?
I think I was missing the gap between management and leadership.
I had great managers and mentors earlier in my career who taught me how I would like to manage and lead.
And then I had some not so good managers, who were good at the operational part (metrics, reports) but did not inspire nor had good leadership skills.
Learning that I wanted to be a manager mostly because I enjoyed leading and mentoring people took me a bit of time. Also, I didn’t know about the high emotional investment you make in each person who works on your team. Because of the qualities that a person in CS has, you get emotionally invested in them and want to see them succeed in all different areas. It is truly rewarding and I love this about being a leader, but it can also be exhausting if you don’t take care of yourself and set some boundaries.
And what about CS as a career, generally?
I don’t agree with the idea that Customer Service is just a stepping stone; that people don’t make careers within CS. Couldn’t be more wrong for me!
What do you know now, that you wish you knew then?
Empowering employees by delegating some of your tasks and responsibilities not only helps you but also helps them take accountability, and develop their skills and knowledge. It shows them what your role is all about and helps them bridge the gap.
What’s the best resource you can recommend?
Support Driven! I have learned so much from other peers and I wish I knew about it earlier!
We’ve all got a favourite customer experience story… what’s yours?
As a Level 1 agent, I was on the phone with someone who had a hard time with technology. I kept on reassuring them that it was ok, and we would take it slow and step by step. After an hour on the phone, we were successful! Not only I felt happy to help the customer, but the customer was so proud of themselves for accomplishing something they thought it was impossible. That made me even prouder!
And what are the worst customer experiences?
Customers who don’t listen to you as you are trying to help them and customers who want to talk to the manager, because they don’t believe that you, a female, could be the manager. Thankfully doesn’t happen too often.
Last one… What’s your favourite way of signing off an email?
Haha… no special way!
Thanks Pooja! Always a pleasure to talk to you. I’d love to hear more from you another time, about your strategies for dealing with that potential emotional burnout that happens in CS, both as a leader and an agent.
Watch this space for another Customer Support Leader next week!