This week, I heard the personal leadership story of Pekka Lehtinen!
Pekka is based in Finland, and is Customer Care Manager at HappyOrNot, the company responsible for creating the Smiley feedback system that put over 25,000 physical Smiley Terminals globally in airports and other public spaces. He has been with HappyOrNot for six years, and in leadership for most of that time.
Hi Pekka! Lovely to meet you, and thanks so much for sharing your story. Let’s start at the beginning, as always. Can you tell me about your journey into CS?
My first official support role was at IBM in Ireland. I was working for their outsourcing customers as a Finnish-speaking technical support person. We helped people solve their problems with Microsoft Windows, Office, Lotus Notes and the like. I had been doing similar tasks in the past as well, although not specifically as a support person. I got into Ireland and IBM after graduating and realising that there wasn’t a lot of IT work to go around in my home town of Rovaniemi, Finland. I didn’t really consider it as a support position for some reason, to me it was a technical role that could evolve into something else along those technical lines, maybe server maintenance, planning and such. Boy was I wrong 😄
And how about leadership?
I was made team lead quite soon after joining HappyOrNot, within 6 months or so. That’s the life in a startup I guess. The organization grew around me. I wasn’t the first support person at HappyOrNot, there was one other person as well, but as the team was growing, I got promoted to a team lead position because of my experience, but also because the other person went on maternity leave. I’ve never held a leadership role before and all I knew about leadership was based on what I’ve seen my past managers and leads doing.
HappyOrNot was about 20 people at the time. Being a team lead in support only meant that on top of the normal support responsibilities I was also doing 1-to-1s with my closest colleagues. We didn’t really have any practises or processes in place at the time so it was kinda cool, that I got to mould the support team to look how I wanted in terms of processes and tools we used. The hardest thing about the transition was the fact that we had just hired a support person in the US as well, and somehow we had to onboard that person from Finland and teach them everything we could through online communication
What did you find particularly tough at first?
Definitely onboarding the new support person in the US. We had so many things that weren’t written down at the time, and we had to teach them to work with a system that no one outside the company knew how to manage. Our co-founder and one of the longest-serving sales people who had moved from Finland to the US were a huge help though.
Do you think there are skills that make a particularly good CS leader?
I think this applies to all good leaders; they need to be there for their team, listen to their concerns and make sure that those concerns are addressed, even though the end result might not always be what they wanted. Teams need the safety and understanding that their leaders are on their side and understand the challenges they face.
How do you measure success?
We follow monthly KPIs with 1st reply time, FCR, Resolution time, Resolution SLA % and Happy Index, which is our CSAT and part of the HappyOrNot service. A year ago, we introduced OKRs to HappyOrNot and following the KPIs is now done through the OKR process. Each team member, save for the new hires, has the same KPI targets as the support team as a whole. We don’t get a lot of new hires, but now we’re trying to set targets for the new hires to meet as well as their onboarding progresses.
Metrics are good, but you shouldn’t take them at their face value. If an agent doesn’t meet their metric, it’s not a disaster or a situation where they would be put to a performance management plan. Instead, the situation should be investigated that what caused the metric to be bad. Was there anything to be done to save the situation in the first place? Is there anything the agent could learn from it to improve their skills in the future? Those are the questions to ask.
How do you nurture development in your team?
We have daily meetings where each agent gets to share something weird, useful or otherwise interesting they have seen that day. We open that up for the discussion and next best actions recommended by the team. We do the same also on our weeklies where both the EU and US teams participate. Part of our 2nd level support team responsibility is to also train the 1st level agents on the more technical matters, and if they receive a case from 1st level that they should have been able to solve on their own, the 2nd level will actually show the 1st level agent how it’s done so that they can learn.
On a more formal side, our monthly 1to1s cover variety of topics, including career development and we try to learn ways in those 1to1s to ensure that everyone can learn the skills they need to move forward in their career. We do also encourage actively finding all kinds of study resources outside of the company as well which the company could then pay for. This includes books and webinars, of course, but also university courses if necessary. We’ve had some people do university courses in service design for example.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a really good team. There are rarely any bigger issues or performance concerns. The hardest thing was when I eventually had to fire a person due to lack of performance. It’s something that I really hope I don’t have to do anymore as I felt so devastated during the whole process, especially knowing the kind of challenges this person would have to face later on.
How do you learn and work on your own development?
I took some courses from the local open university on managing employee satisfaction, and I have also participated in some leadership courses arranged by my workers’ union. Other than that, I try to read books whenever I can, and I participate in the discussions in Support Driven Slack community. I recommend starting from Support Driven and taking it from there. It’s a community that can help you with any problem or question you have, and point you in the right direction.
Do you have any stories of great customer experience?
I’m a board game geek and there is a store in Tampere that sells board games and all kinds of geeky stuff like videogames and figures. The staff there is unbelievable. Not only are they always friendly and happy to have you there, but they also know their products and are able to tell you anything you need to know about them.
For example, I went there a while back to buy a board game that I could play with my sister and niece. I explained the situation to the person who was helping me, and he asked a few questions about the type of games we normally play and the language requirements (my niece is learning English still) and they were able to offer me a perfect game that we all ended up enjoying. This is the kind of personal experience you lack in larger stores where the staff doesn’t have the time to spend with you, and where they have so many products that it’s hard to be an expert in all of them
Is there a correspondingly bad one?
I went to buy jeans from a large store in Tampere city centre a couple of years back. Now, I’m not a complex guy when it comes to clothing. I just want to go in, find the pair that fits me, and leave. Usually, this had been ok in this store. All their jeans were in the same spot and you could easily find the colour you wanted and the size you needed. Not this time though, they had changed the store layout, and each brand now has its own section. Levi’s is here, Lee Cooper over there etc. Just really annoying for someone who doesn’t care about the brand. I ended up leaving without ever talking to a person in the store. Why bother to waste my time to browse through so many different locations within the store for just a pair of pants.
You said I should ask you about an upcoming concert or festival..? Is there one you’re looking forward to?
Music is a big part of my life. I’m really looking forward to Rockfest at Tampere this June! I bought the tickets immediately when they started selling, and when they only had two bands announced, Nightwish and Iron Maiden. Maiden is always fun to see live, and Nightwish is the biggest Finnish heavy metal band at the moment and will have a new album released before the festival. It’s going to be a good one for sure \m/
Last, but perhaps most importantly, how do you sign off your emails?
At work? The same old boring that I guess everyone uses. In my personal inbox, “Remember to have fun!”
Always remember to have fun, indeed! Thanks so much, Pekka!
Watch this space for another awesome CS Leader next week!