This week, I’m thrilled to be talking to the highly knowledgeable Natalie Ruhl!
Natalie is Global Director of Community Operations at SoundCloud, the world’s largest music and audio platform, which lets people discover and enjoy the greatest selection of music from the most diverse creator community on earth. Natalie is based in Berlin, and has been with SoundCloud for two and a half years, and in leadership for about seven altogether.
Hallo Natalie! Thanks so much for chatting with me about support today! We’ve known each other for about a year now, and have talked about support a lot in that time, but today, I’d really like to know more about your personal journey, forging this amazing CS career. So, can we start at the very beginning? Where did it all start?
Hah, that question always makes me a bit nostalgic. I feel I learnt so much in my first role!
At first, it was just a way for me to catch a break from university. I really enjoyed university but the very theoretical work often left me feeling a little like I didn’t produce or accomplish anything real. I started to look for jobs and, through a friend, I landed in CS. This seemed like a great fit, because I really enjoyed talking to people. The company I started working for sold goods of all sorts across the whole of Europe via a webshop, eBay and what was the early days of Amazon Marketplace. I started there as a first level support agent on phone and email and stayed there for 3 years.
How did you move from front line support to leadership?
Between that first job and my first leadership role, I spent a year in paid online marketing and SEO because I was curious about how to drive customers and conversions, and how to bring that back to CS. After that, I got the opportunity to build out customised CS strategies and solutions for new companies in a business incubator. And from there I got approached by an e-commerce startup that allowed me to build up their CS from scratch and build my own team. And that became my first leadership role.
So it wasn’t really a transition as much as a leap and I had a. lot. to. learn.!
I took every opportunity. And the setbacks and failures became challenges and opportunities. It was a mindset I learnt especially when working with people and as a leader.
What challenges did you face early on?
Clear communication! Ever had that feeling you were perfectly clear on something but the results after were absolutely not what you expected?
Yup, that was a challenge. In my head, everything was very clear, but it took me a lot of listening, asking questions and understanding to get there. But, wow, was that worth it!
So, clear communication is key. What about other skills? What makes for a good CS leader?
I will say “translation” skills make a good CS leader. Being a translator and advocate for the team towards leadership as well as vice versa is an important part of my job.
Success looks different from the different angles and I like to provide these different angles to my different audiences, too. In that sense, I almost feel oftentimes that CS speaks a different language to other departments because often the work is so different than, let’s say, engineering, business or finance.
I like to use a good mix of metrics that illustrate my point. Another really important pillar for success and development for me is qualitative reporting. Getting messages across in the customers’ own voice is powerful, especially when talking to non-support folks.
Has leadership been different to how you thought it might be?
I oddly never really thought about leadership roles much when I was still an IC. I never knew what leadership was about until I was in it, I didn’t have very hands-on managers or managers that were interested in my growth in my early roles. I only thought about it in terms of power, never about responsibility and that changed very quickly when I got into a leadership position.
If I think about leadership now, it is a lot about adapting from a micro to a macro view. It’s about being in the present as well as already in the future in my mind. And it’s about going back and forth between those, constantly.
That can be challenging. So yes, it turned out a lot different than I thought it would be, but I really like it and am glad I took that leap.
From a personal point of view, how do you keep on top of your game? How do you keep developing?
Talking to other leaders across CS and other functions is a big resource for me. Continuous exchange and knowledge sharing, and continuously encouraging people around me to give feedback. Those are my biggest drivers for personal development. And I read a lot of books; always have, always will.
Final couple of questions now: first, do you have any particularly worthy stories of customer experience?
Yes! I wanna thank AirBnB for the best customer experience ever. I woke up in an apartment in Lisbon without water and electricity and they were brilliant in helping us out of that situation!
And finally, what’s your favourite way of signing off?
I’m not ashamed, Charlotte… My favourite is “Best“… pure convenience and I don’t think about it much if I’m honest.
Gah, you were doing so well, too! 😉 Seriously, though, best wishes to you, too, Natalie. Thank you so much for your time!
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