This week, I got serious about support with Simone Secci!
Simone is Head of Customer Support at Doodle, the polling and scheduling service that enables you to simply schedule events with groups of people, rather than playing email tag. He has been with Doodle for nearly two years, and in leadership for five.
Hi Simone! Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. We’ve worked together on Mastermind sessions for the last year or so, but I know our readers would love hearing more about your CS journey so far!
Let’s start at the beginning of that journey, if we may?
Sure! I started in tourism and the restaurant business in the early 2000s in a variety of roles all the way to obtain a certification in Food Protection from the city of New York. At the same time, because of my studies, I had a blog I used for academic purposes, that lead me to apply for my first tech support role at Tumblr (a blogging platform) where I stayed for 3 years, more or less.
After that, I joined a Support consultancy that my former manager created. There, I was promoted internally. I started training one person, which lead to managing that person in the same timezone (I was working remotely at the time), and then to managing multiple people in multiple timezones. My responsibilities grew with the size of the team.
I transitioned from tech support for social media and Trust and Safety to e-commerce. I had great mentors, that was instrumental to my growth. I learned a lot and fast, especially on the reporting side which I knew nothing about. Today I can say that is one of my strong suits.
Did you find anything particularly tough at first?
The accounting and revenue aspect in terms of being able to navigate databases and resolving billing problems and fraud attempts was new and complex, also understanding how physical goods are handled in support vs web products (things like reverse logistics, returns etc). I was working providing support for a company as an external support provider (a BPO if you will). So in a way account management was involved. It was my first management role but I had to win the trust of the client through clear communication, clear data and reassuring and calm demeanour in moments of crisis. When that happens, of course, it is important to ask for help around you, but also there is a lot of self-learning involved.
How do you feel about leadership now?
No one ever prepares you for how much company politics you’ll have to deal with. Being a good diplomat and a good listener are fundamental.
Firing people is the hardest thing. Doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for the right or wrong reasons. You are deciding regarding people’s ability to make a living and it should always be a last resort.
What do you think specifically makes for a good CS Leader?
After a few years doing this, these are the most important things to me:
- Make clear plans. Have a long-term vision and try to stick to it even when it’s hard and people around you push you in a different direction.
- Build processes top-down and bottom-up never only in one direction.
- Humans come before numbers.
- Back your choices in front of upper management with strong metrics and strategic thinking.
- Delegate when you can.
- Make your team’s voice heard. Connect them with key players directly, create dialogues with the rest of the people in the company. Visibility goes a long way.
I couldn’t agree more, really. Visibility for individual contributors is as important as for leaders. It’s key to their success. How do you manage their success otherwise?
First and foremost I manage a group of people, so their happiness (also how long they stick around) is the main measure of my success to me. Secondly the performance metrics of the team, which is a responsibility I share with them.
Those team metrics are instrumental, like I said before, to justify your vision to upper management in terms of forecasting, hiring and tools you’ll need to purchase. Individual metrics are less important and need to be referenced cautiously. A specialist will work on fewer contacts/emails/chats than a Tier 1 agent, the types of issue will influence the time spent by an agent on a single conversation, a user comment on a rating will tell you more about an agent’s performance and his struggles than his individual CSAT score.
And how do you help your team develop their skills and potential?
By listening and asking questions. Two questions I always ask are:
“Do you feel limited in your tasks? Why?”
“Would you like to receive training in specific areas?”
These two will usually tell me a lot. People’s individual paths and aspirations are important and I take them into considerations. Some people like to be mentors, others are great writers, some have a technical or sales background. I try to help them develop into roles that fit their inclinations when there is a possibility. I try to survey the team about my performance as a manager, too.
What about your own personal development, then?
I read everything I can and try to listen to other leaders and professionals in CS and in tech. Also, I try to think outside the box. I’m passionate about philosophy and psychology. I use that background to try to better my understanding of how to help people, being them my peers, my team or customers.
Do you have any favourite resources to recommend?
Support Driven is a great international online support community. Your local community (Try to look for one on meetup or similar platform) is just as important. No link or book can beat learning from other people.
Have you had any great experiences as a customer yourself?
Too many to mention! Airhelp being one of the latest. Many teams out there doing a great job. Express VPN team is always great. Zendesk’s folks were always good to me. Zapier has always been very helpful, too.
Without naming anyone, the largest, massive tech companies tend to be terrible at CS. Think of the first 3-4 names you can think when you think of tech. Those are all pretty bad at it. Too big to fail = Too big to care.
Finally, how do you like to sign off an email?
Kind Regards in English, Cordialmente in Italian, Mit freundlichen Grüßen in German.
Thank you again so much for your time, Simone! I really appreciate it.
Watch this space next week for another interview with an awesome CS Leader!