This week, I’m delighted to hang out with Hilary Dudek!
Hilary is Director of Customer Support for North America at Glooko, the remote patient monitoring platform for diabetes, enabling patients to easily track and proactively manage all aspects of their diabetes care. Hilary has been at Glooko for around eight months, and in leadership for over three years.
Hi Hilary! Thank you so much for spending some time with me today! First, I always like to take people back to the beginning. Can you tell me how you got into CS?
I majored in music in college, and always worked some sort of job in either the food industry, hospitality or customer support. My first inkling that I enjoyed doing support work was at my first real job, a pizza place. I loved my coworkers and enjoyed making pizza, but my favorite was when I got to go up front and talk to all the customers, taking their orders and payments. A few years later, I moved into a front desk receptionist role at a trendy boutique hotel, and I was hooked. People are fascinating (and exhausting and wonderful and all the things), and being in customer service/support, you get to be a part of the show. I love it.
My first foray into providing email support was at a Michigan company called myCharge; you can find their portable chargers in most states. There wasn’t a solid process in place for handling troubleshooting inquiries and warranty returns, so I helped launch Zendesk and took over the support efforts. I’ve been in tech support (and using Zendesk) ever since.
And how did you move into leadership?
I was one of the first two support agents at my last company, Handshake; I worked hard as an agent and wore many hats, including creating and hosting external product trainings, writing documentation, and onboarding new hires. It made sense to eventually move into a leadership role as our team grew. When I changed organisations, I moved into a director role.
When you first made that move, what were your early challenges?
One of the toughest parts was finding the sweet spot between my friendships with my former teammates, and actually managing them and earning their respect.
Did you find you developed any particular strategies for that?
The easiest strategy (in theory, hard in practice) was to cease any sort of venting and complaining with them. I listened to them if they wanted to, but I worked hard to curb my instinct to join in, and instead only vented laterally, or up. The second strategy I used was delegation; I assigned tasks and deadlines and while I always tried to take into account the interests of my team members, at the end of the day, I was the one responsible for ensuring projects were progressing, and they respected that.
Did you find anything else difficult in those early months?
Hmmm….one of the first hard lessons I had to learn when I first switched to management is: it’s okay to not be in the ticket queues, in fact, you shouldn’t be there most of the time! Delegating tasks was another one that felt incredibly uncomfortable at first; my helpful instincts would kick in and I’d think, “oh hell, I can just knock this out quickly”. However, doing that habitually can create bottlenecks for the team (because I’m occupied with a million small tasks that I could have delegated), and doesn’t empower the team to learn and grow.
How else do you nurture growth in your team?
I like to listen to them, and I keep my ear to the ground for changes and needs within the company. As my team individuals identify what they really like doing, I can spot areas that they can make an impact on the business.
How do you measure your team’s success? Purely in terms of that business impact, or other factors and metrics, too?
It’s a combination of how we are tracking towards our goals (SLA times, first reply times, CSAT, etc.), team happiness, and customer advocacy (using our voices to affect change within the product that impacts customer happiness).
Like everything, metrics have their place. You need some sort of data set to showcase the good work your team is doing, identify weaknesses in the product or in the user experience, and to request additional resources. However, you can abuse metrics as a leader, for example by placing an inordinate amount of weight on the number of solves per agent per hour.
For sure! Data is important, but it needs context, and that part of the art of being a great CS leader. Do you think there are other key skills?
Yes! Empathy, communication (written and oral), and the ability to really listen. Also, humility. I hire people who are smarter and better than me, because I want a team who can really succeed.
And how do you set yourself up for success? How do you foster your own development?
I read a lot. Because I really like what I do, my team and my career are usually in the back of my mind, so I could be reading something that isn’t necessarily work-related, and I’ll find nuggets of wisdom to apply towards work. I also strongly recommend attending the events hosted by Support Driven, or working with a mentor. The Support Driven Community is a great resource. I love knowing I have an entire gathering of supporters and support leaders within one Slack community, there to offer advice, encouragement, and ideas.
What do you see yourself doing next?
I think it would be really exciting to make a name for myself as the person to call when a company has a support team that needs some TLC. The Mary Poppins of Customer Support, if you will. I’d come on board, build or rehab the support team, get everyone moving and grooving, and then after a few years, move on to the next company who needs help.
That would be awesome!
What about your own experiences as a customer? Do you have any stories of great customer experience to share?
Speck phone cases have some really awesome support people working for them, as does Otterbox. Anytime I’ve needed a warranty replacement for a phone case, they’ve been prompt, helpful, and also a little playful, which I always love.
My own bit of playful, inspired by a bit of an article and thread from earlier in 2019: what’s your favourite signoff?
Is it bad that I dislike most signoffs? They sound so stilted sometimes to me….I’d have to go with ‘warmly’ or ‘warm regards’. 🙃
Both good! Thanks so much, and warmly, for your time today, Hilary! I think I want to be Mary Poppins, too!
Watch this space for another interview with an awesome CS Leader very soon!