This week, let’s talk all things Customer with Chris Taylor!
Chris is a Customer Support Manager at Tyk.io, an open-source API Gateway and management platform, where he’s been for just a few months. Chris has been in leadership for about four years.
Hi, Chris! Let’s dig right in… Can you tell me first about the early stages of your career in Customer Support?
I left school at 16. In the UK that means I left with GCSE’s/High School Equivalent and for whatever reason didn’t go to university.
I got a job dealing with motor claims over the phone for a national company, Saga. There, I learned huge amounts
Eventually, I moved from the phones into a role as Resource Planner. Being on the phones in a contact centre is a really tough role with a lot of
Why did you choose a career in Customer Support?
To be honest, at the time it was the only thing around.
But, since I’ve gotten into the space the wealth of opportunities I’ve come across and been involved in has kept me engaged with the support community. It’s one of those careers you don’t necessarily need to go and study for; a lot of the skills for the job can be learned on the job.
And how did you get into leadership?
After starting on the phone in motor claims I became a resource manager. This involved planning and forecasting contacts for a 50-seat contact centre.
Then, I moved internally (at Saga) into the Holidays business. There, I did the same kind of work, moving into a Planning and Efficiency Manager role. I was responsible for overall support reporting, planning and operations management to ensure we were hitting relevant KPIs.
I got my first taste of people management in the Holidays area, too, with a team of two analysts.
Since then I’ve moved to Tyk and discovered a whole new niche in the support world!
Did you hit any early hurdles? What was
I’m naturally quite introverted and have struggled with the coaching skill. I’ve been lucky in that the mentors I’ve had recognise this in me, and have coached me in this area! The team I was leading was very receptive
I also went from reporting into operational leadership to reporting into the C-Suite relatively early in my career, which was a steep learning curve. Ultimately, though, it’s made me the relatively fearless employee you see today!
Do you think CS leadership is any different
There’s a lot to think about.
What skills make a good CS leader?
I think natural ‘Peopliness?’ – haha, being a “people” person helps!
An affinity with metrics and data really helps, too. This is my personal field of expertise. Pulling apart data to improve support is something every leader should feel comfortable with.
I think there’s still a trend in businesses to see Support as kind of an afterthought. I’ve seen this throughout my career in various roles and businesses.
Luckily, my current business, Tyk, puts a real focus on customer support and delivering superior interactions.
I feel that a good support leader needs to be able to articulate clearly the values and opportunities in customer support.
Is measuring the success of your team straightforward?
I’m a bit of an edge-case.
In my previous role at Saga this was easy: how accurate were the forecasts and plans, did we hit SLAs etc
I view it as a personal success to make support marketable, getting the external recognition we deserve and making life easier for the engineering teams.
And if we’re measuring, then we’re talking metrics
In one role the expectation was to report on everything we can see, which just lead to chaos! There was also an expectation to have a target and meet it for any metric that can be pulled out of thin air.
I think as support people sometimes we have this natural instinct to report on something, probably linking to my earlier point about articulating the value of support, without truly knowing the metric or even understanding if it’s relevant to us.
In my new role, I have about four or five metrics that I regularly review, and more can be brought into the picture when it is relevant to do so.
I always think the best thing you can do in life, career, and particularly CS is to learn… What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to learn?
I have an Advanced Diploma in Customer Contact Planning and Management from the University of Ulster and am currently working towards a BSc in the same. This is a degree qualification specialised in customer support (amazing!).
As part of this programme we learn about business cases and how to correctly construct an influential one to ‘win’. The learning curve was fine, but putting it into practice and actually ‘winning’ was another story.
I think the hardest thing for me to learn, which relates to this, was stakeholder management. Keeping your stakeholders informed, in the right way, is so important. You need to spend time identifying stakeholders and plotting them on a matrix (I have a good one if you want it).
Yes please! (Here!)
So, moving on, what’s the biggest gap between what you thought leadership would be like, and what it’s actually like?
I think we underestimate the amount of priorities leaders have on their plate. For example, my previous Director 6 direct reports (including me) all managing an aspect of the customer experience. If each of these people has 5 or 6 metrics, you’ve quickly got 30 targets to worry about.
Do you think there’s anything about CS leadership that people often misconstrue?
That we’re ticking boxes – we’re a cost centre. The Cost Centre argument really irritates me! I’ve proven time and time again the actual value of support.
Now, 90% or so of businesses are saying CX is extremely valuable and the differentiator for them in the market…. but they still undervalue their support operations.
What do you know now, that you wish you knew back when you started?
Don’t bullshit and hide things. Sure – you pull all the data together and can make it say what you want it to say, but what’s the point? If you’re hiding the problem, then you’re not solving the problem.
Do you have any favourite resources you can share?
The Best Service is No Service by Bill Price
The Professional Planning Forum
The Support Driven Slack community
What’s a great customer experience you’ve had?
My train got cancelled on the first day of my new job. It’s safe to say I was frantic!
The following morning the train guard gave us all a free coffee voucher, which I thought was a nice touch. It also came with info on how to reclaim lost train fare.
…and the worst?
I also have a real axe to grind against crappy chatbots. Just because they are there and can be used, doesn’t mean they should be used.
And last, but certainly, not least… what’s your favourite way of signing off an email?
“Cheers” It’s not formal and is alliterative with my name, ha!
Cheers, Chris! Thanks so much for sharing your story with me. Stakeholder identification and engagement is a real consideration when trying to demonstrate that CS is *not* that cost centre. I’d love to come back to you at some point and get more of your expertise on this!
Look out for another CS Leader in profile next week!