This week, I talked to the super supporter Jon Schlueter!
Jon is the Manager of Customer Support at Hearsay Systems, which offers cloud technology to support financial services, empowering advisors to efficiently and compliantly use social media, and other channels to engage with customers, build stronger relationships and grow their business. Jon has been with Hearsay Systems for around three months, and in leadership for three years.
Hi Jon! Thanks so much for joining me today! I always like to get started with those early stages of a career. What did yours look like?
I started working for Apple Retail in 2009 and even though I was in consumer sales, I gravitated towards the Genius Bar to help out when I could – usually with line management and easy tasks since I wasn’t a Genius. However, helping customers in NYC back when there were only 3 Apple stores was a very demanding, and physically and emotionally draining role.
What drew you to making a career in Customer Support after that?
To be quite frank, I’m just good at it. I understand how to talk to people, how to treat others, and I’m technically capable to solve complex issues. I saw that most people in CS, whether technicians, support reps, or managers, didn’t know how to innovate and create a better user experience for their customers and their employees. So I’ve always been at the forefront trying to make a positive change.
Did you find that desire for change propelled you into a leadership role?
Yeah. I was a Customer Support Engineer working on support tickets with a team of two other CSEs. We had the best manager at the time, but he left to take on another opportunity. Even though we reported to someone else, I took it upon myself to start implementing KPIs and using analytics to understand where we can pick up some efficiencies. A few months later, I was then promoted to Manager of Customer Support.
The biggest challenge I faced, early on, was that I was working at a software startup and we were all running lean — which means everyone was at *beyond* full capacity. I had more of a player/coach role so I was still managing the team while taking support tickets. This lasted way longer than I wanted it to, but it was a small team at a small company.
Yeah, that’s quite often the way in the early stages. It’s certainly not sustainable, though, and it’s difficult to encourage leadership to move away from that model once it no longer scales.
It is, and it’s common in customer support, being so customer-facing right from the get-go. In CS leadership, being customer-facing and experiencing the customer’s pain and frustration is what makes it quite different from a lot of other leadership roles. You are responsible for upsells, renewals, and churn on top of all the other aspects of your role. However, I’m seeing a shift of other leaders (engineering managers, c-suite execs, etc.) begin to be more customer-facing.
And what do you think makes a good CS leader?
There are definitely a ton of skills I can start to list off, but recently, I’ve been leaning a lot towards Listening. This is the key to basic communication and allows you to understand customers, teammates, and even vendors. In a time when everyone’s attention span has dwindled down to almost nothing — including mine — listening is a huge help in understanding and preventing miscommunication.
How do you measure your team’s success? Do you rely on the typical metrics set?
Metrics are critical to look at so you can easily understand how to shift the business, provide feedback, develop teammates, make adjustments to the product, and more. I’m a very analytical person and I feel that metrics don’t necessarily paint the whole picture, but definitely point me in the right direction so I can investigate something further.
We use the obvious KPIs, such as time to first response, CSAT/NPS, and resolution time. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing more on the intangible aspects, such as written communication, troubleshooting theory, customer focus, and building better peer relationships. Focusing on these aspects should easily yield better KPI metrics by itself!
What advice would you give to a new leader in support?
Easy – solicit feedback and keep an open mind!
Is leadership just as you thought it would be? Looking back, what are the biggest gaps between your expectation and experience?
It’s a lot more people management — working with people’s lives as they get sick, married, become parents, lose loved ones and trying to understand how to manage the team through all of it. My naiveness saw leadership as working with other leaders to get shit done and make things better, which it is, but you can’t forget that you’re managing humans who have lives. Seems like a no-brainer, but once you get into the role, it’s very different and this is why some people choose to go back to individual performer roles.
I’ve also learned to develop more patience. I wish I’d thought about that at the beginning!
Good call! Last, but never least, how do you like to sign off?
Either “Thanks”, “Thank you”, or “Thank you so much”. Cheers, kind regards, etc. are a bit too informal. I *always* tell my team to avoid putting yourself in a bad position where you give the customer ammunition to get upset at you. This is something we all have control over and keeping it simple and right down the middle is my recommendation.
Thank you so much, Jon! Some great insights, there, and I’d love to talk to you another time about moving away from doing the work, to leading the work.
Watch this space for another CS Leaders interview next week!