This time, I talked to the terrific Jonna Tolvanen!
Jonna is based in Berlin as a Head of Customer Support at ALSO, one of the biggest IT distributors in Europe. She works on the consumptional business side, providing technical support for resellers around the globe for all the cloud based services in ALSO’s Cloud Marketplace.
Jonna has been with ALSO since 2014, aside from a 10 month stint with another organisation, during which her former manager eventually suggested she rejoin ALSO. She’s been in leadership for about 10 years.
Hallo Jonna! Thanks so much for joining me today. I’d love talk to you first about your support career. Can you tell me how you got started?
I never chose CS particularly; I think it chose me! I have been working my whole life in different customer service positions.
Mainly because it was easy to find part-time job in that field while studying. But at the same time I also noticed that I enjoyed it: helping customers was natural to me.
That’s a sentiment I think everyone shares in support! What was your first ‘proper’ support job?
In 2009 I applied to a position in a small Finnish start-up to join them as their first support representative.
I studied information technology and majored in data networks, and I always thought I would be working in that area. I enjoyed the challenges I was offered; it was technical support so doing my job also fulfilled my need to constantly learn something new, but at the same time, I had a lot of interaction with the customers, I was able to help them, and while my job was very independent, the position was able to feed my internal desire for entrepreneurship.
It soon turned out to be a more than just a normal support job; I noticed that I was establishing processes, creating tons of internal and external documentation and improving our ticketing system. I did not have any previous experience about those things, but I just used my common sense and thought what would make sense for customers.
After few months, the workload was so high that we started to recruit more people to work with me, and I became a manager for our support function.
I had demonstrated a high work ethic, I had shown results and that I was very keen about what I was doing, so I guess that was an easy decision: give me full responsibility of the support function and hire more support representatives to keep things moving!
I had never interviewed candidates, so I needed to read about interviewing and think about good questions to understand potential of the candidates.
That move into leadership is always an interesting one. Did it run smoothly for you?
I am honest here; my transition to leadership was not the best. I was very bad leader at the beginning.
I guess my biggest challenge was delegation. It was very difficult for me to let go and let others to do daily operational tasks. Even if I asked some of my team members to do certain tasks, I ended up doing those myself.
It was really hard, finding a balance between taking care of tickets and the manager role. Taking care of tickets was much easier as I knew the topic and fulfilling my manager duties was totally new – so I found myself often working in the queue, helping my team members with the workload.
I was terrible! I just wanted to get things done and fast. I did not think about my own behavior or how I was seen in my team member eyes. It was also difficult for me to let go operational tasks (like handling tickets) and concentrate more on the actual leadership and departmental responsibility.
But, I have always been keen in developing myself and I have taken my career seriously. I’ve never had a role model or anyone that I could have talked to about being a manager, so I needed to learn the hard way: by making lots of mistakes and in some point realizing myself what I was doing wrong.
But, I believe, when you realise things you need to improve on your own, the willingness to change is much higher.
Do you have any thoughts about CS leadership in particular, now that you’ve overcome some of those challenges the hard way?
I agree what Meredith said in her interview: a CS leader needs to bend and flex based on the business needs. I don’t think it is like that in other departments. That requires certain mindset from the leader and also from the whole CS team. You need to be able to change direction when needed, you need to be able to build and adjust processes and make sure that your team remains well-informed, so that they can provide correct information to the customers.
When working in complex environment and with a lot of different products, it is important to keep up constant communication with other departments, so that you know what is happening and what of those things might have an impact on the support team. Impact could be a need to change or build a new process or increased ticket volume. This means that being data-driven and also process-oriented is important. Also, being able to talk about complex technical topics in more consumer friendly way can be beneficial!
What does success look like for your team?
My team’s success is measured by very traditional metrics: CSAT, First Response Time and Customer Wait Time. However, these numbers do not tell the whole truth, so also manual checks in order to see if the quality matches our internal targets are needed.
I have also set up department-wide OKRs, which are currently mainly focused on milestones that are related to bigger projects: those projects which will take our customer support to the next level.
What do you wish you had known earlier in your career?
When working in technical support where questions are about different vendor’s products and as well as our own platform, I have learned the importance of ticket categorisation and reporting. Without having a really good understanding of why customers are contacting you, it is impossible to reduce the incoming tickets, improve the public knowledge base and organise appropriate training for the support representatives on any hot topics.
Do you have any favourite resources to recommend?
Resources I recommend are not directly related to CS, but in general on how to get things done. I would suggest reading anything about the productivity and time blocking, like The 12 Week Year or Getting Things Done.
I believe that having a well-planned week as a leader is super important. We all know how unexpected things happen and we need to jump in to put out the fires. Without actual plans and goals for the week, it is too easy to just jump from random task to another, and then realised that nothing really important was done during the day.
If you have a good plan for the day, it is okay when something unplanned happens, as you always have your plan to fall back to and continue what you were working on.
Do you have any great customer experiences stories to tell?
I am still waiting for having that ‘WOW’ moment as a customer. My expectations are very high, so if I need customer service, it usually seems to be just a normal encounter: I get my question answered and that’s it.
With high standards, I bet you have some horror stories, then!
Yes! I had a bad experience here in Berlin. I had ordered a suitcase online and worked from home on the delivery day, so that I was there to receive the parcel. It didn’t arrive.
Eventually, I checked the tracking info: it had been delivered to a store near me, but I hadn’t received any notifications. The store was already closed, so I needed to wait until the next day. When I asked, they said they’d already given out a big parcel the day before (while I was waiting at home!). It seems some kids had taken the delivery notification that was glued to my building door and picked up the parcel, claiming “our dad is sick, and he was not able to pickup the packet himself”.
Of course, the shop owner hadn’t checked their ID. The actual cardboard box of my parcel was left next to my building door!
I contacted the delivery company to tell them was stolen. They took no responsibility for their delivery team, saying I needed to contact the seller. I exchanged a few frustrated emails with the seller: they also tried to blame the delivery company (!). Eventually they sent a new one, which I had delivered to the office. But now I always avoid using that delivery company, whenever possible!
Delivery companies are tiresome the world over! Last question, then… what’s your favourite way to sign off an email?
Sorry, I don’t use anything special. But I think beginnings of the email are important, so how I start my emails is to say “hi” in the language of the receiver. As I work in an international company, I start my emails “sveiks”, “hei”, “hej”, “hallo”, “bonjour”, or whatever is appropriate. I believe that is polite, shows respect and acknowledges different cultures. People are positively surprised also in meetings when I say ”hi” in their language!
Vielen Dank, Jonna! I might have to ask about favourite greetings, now, too! Please tell us when you find that ‘WOW’ moment as a customer – I know it’ll be a pretty amazing one!
Check back with us here at Customer Support Leaders next week, for another interview!