This week, I spent time with the “notable” Brittany Naylor!
Brittany is Customer Support Manager at Evernote, the ubiquitous note taking app that helps you capture and prioritize ideas, projects and to-do lists. I use it all the time! Brittany has been with Evernote for four months, and in Leadership for almost five years.
Hey Brittany! I’d love to chat about your early career, first. Can you tell me about that?
I found my love of customer support through my part time college job at a hotel. I found that I loved that everything we focused on was to enhance the customer’s experience. That level of care is what made me want to abandon my first chosen career path of becoming an archeologist, and jump feet first into the tech world starting with Apple Retail.
Apple Retail was an obvious jump from hospitality to CS because they view every aspect as an experience, down to the time it takes for a product box to open. Everything is designed to delight the customer. I have been striving every day since to build organizations that have as much care and focus on the customer.
Building is such an important part of leadership. How did you make that transition?
I have been in leadership for almost 5 years now. I left Apple to go work at a start-up as the 5th employee. I was tasked with using my experience to create a support department from the ground up. This transition was scary because I was doing something I had never done before. But I knew that I cared about the customer’s experience and as long as I kept that as my guiding North Star, I would succeed.
I built that team from just me, to 8 people over the course of 4 years. And as the team grew, I knew I needed to grow as a leader as well. Since I did not have many role models or mentors within the company, I found networks and communities to learn from. I have had a few amazing mentors over the years who helped shape me into the leader I am today.
So a tough set of challenges in your first lead role, then? How did you overcome them?
The biggest hurdle I had to jump over was retraining myself from being told what to do, to going out and doing what I thought needed to be done. There was a period of time where I felt like I had nothing to do! I would answer support emails and wait for a customer to call in. But didn’t know what else to do.
So I started branching out and trying new things like managing the social media for the company, or creating documentation on processes. From there, it just became second nature to never sit still. I found where the holes were in the company, and I did what I could to fill that space! It gave me a lot of well-rounded experience.
But it is difficult to go from being managed to doing the managing. Especially if you only have yourself to manage. What really got me through it all was finding something to be accountable to and sticking to that.
Yeah, you certainly have to be driven. Aside from accountability, what other skills do you think make for a good CS leader?
There are obvious skills that make any good leader. That can be a range of motivating, attention to detail, open communicator. But one still I am particularly passionate about is DELEGATING.
There has been this strange expectation that the people that work the hardest and do more work than everyone else are the ones who get the promotions. Those are the worst types of managers because they then expect that from their teams. That is how micromanaging manifests. There is no badge of honor in suffering.
The best managers are the ones who trust they hired the right people to do the right job, and use metrics as a way to stay aligned on goals. And don’t be afraid to delegate. That is how your team will grow and learn new skills as well. If you are doing too much as a leader consider creating a leveling structure to begin delegating some tasks to top performing employees and coach them on that.
How do you identify those top performers? And, for that matter, how do you measure success in general?
Metrics are necessary to understand the progress the team is making. It helps keep everyone accountable to the success of the company.
The pitfall is choosing the correct metrics. I do not like metrics that limit customer engagement. For example “Replies Per Solved” encourages agents to send long responses to customers and deters follow up questions to better troubleshoot the issue. This can lead to a plethora of detractors saying their problem was not resolved. I prefer to focus on responses per hour and handle time to monitor productivity.
Has your leadership experience differed from your early expectations?
I think the biggest gap in what I thought leadership would be like and what it actually was like was how lonely it can be.
You have to make hard decisions and won’t please everyone. You will have things that stress you out and you can’t talk to your co-workers about them. That is why a community like this is so important. Find a mentor. Find someone you can talk to. Find someone who will help you work through those tough decisions.
The hardest thing I do as a leader is respectfully disagree with other leaders. The hardest thing I have ever had to do as a leader is to make a pitch to the board on a change I felt was valuable to invest in for the benefit of not just the company, but the customer as well.
It took a lot of work for me to get all the details necessary and focus on data and facts, as well as align the pitch to how it contributed to the company’s mission statement, values, and goals. The whole process took me months of researching and data gathering to put together, but I felt so accomplished after! Despite the company still not moving forward with my pitch, I was able to take those skills I learned and apply it to any new project I was working on.
Do you continue to learn? How do you develop your own growth?
My personal development is highly fueled by networking. I love learning about what my other peers around the globe are doing, and sharing best practices. I have met many people at events like Support Driven Expo, Elevate CX, and Pulse by Gainsight.
But my favorite daily resource is CX Accelerator, a Slack group where you can be both asking questions and answering questions, participating in weekly CX challenges, and there is even a channel dedicated to wellbeing in the workplace.
I love networking and events, and they are what really push my development forward. I created my own community in Austin, Texas, called ATXCX. We meet every 2 months for dinner and drinks, and I organize a panel or a keynote speaker to help bring a good conversation or learning opportunity to the community. ATXCX just celebrated its’ 1-year anniversary!
Congratulations! On further happy notes, what was the best experience you ever had yourself, as a customer?
My best customer experience was at a hotel in New Orleans.
My husband and I had just gotten married a few months prior, and stopped for one night in NOLA before heading on to Florida for a family vacation. The front desk agent was casually chatting with my husband and I and we mentioned we were recently wed. She was very congratulatory and happy for us and upgraded our room to one with a gorgeous French Quarter view.
After exploring the city for a few hours, we came back to our hotel, to find they had decorated our room with flowers and left a bottle of very nice wine and a box of chocolates. – I have since only ever stayed at this hotel when traveling through NOLA ever since.
…and the worst?
All my worst experiences have been over the phone… if that tells you anything about how much I despise phone support!
Me too! I cut my support-teeth on the phones at Oracle. It was certainly a great learning experience, but seems dated as a channel, now. A good live phone chat is rare, but the companies that do them well are the ones who do everything well, anyway!
One final question for you, then: how do you sign off?
I always sign my emails with “Looking forward”. I want the recipient of my email to know I anticipate their response, or am eager for another interaction with that person.
That’s a great way to encourage two-way communication!
And thank you so much for this two-way communication, too, Brittany! “Looking forward” to talking to you again at some point!
Watch this space for more upcoming CS Leader interviews!