This week I talked customers and careers with Rob Kuczynski!
Rob is Director of Services at Ubersmith, where he heads up the support team for the subscription management software company. He’s been with them for almost five years, and in leadership for about nine years altogether.
Hello Rob! Thank you for joining me today!
I’d love to talk about the start of your career in Customer Support. Where did it all begin?
Out of college, I worked jobs where there was no dedicated IT staff and I was often the youngest person. This made me the de facto computer person. Over time, it became a career.
Eventually, I was looking to leave my SaaS support job due to a management change. The person who hired me actually got elected to our state legislature, and so I decided to take stock. A good friend sent me an opening at his company. He had often done this over the years, but the Director of Support role was the first one I was truly qualified for. I had both support and management experience, but this is the first time I’ve put them together.
Was it an easy transition for you?
There were a few challenges. I was the first dedicated support leader they hired, but they already had an entrenched support staff in place. Due to the nature of our product (and the fact that we have a lot of non-SaaS customers), the support staff was a pair of long-term Linux sysadmins. They were both older and more technically capable than me. They were knowledgeable and really talented, but had a way of doing things and weren’t used to much oversight. Out of the gate, I had to learn the product, learn new skills, get the queue under control, and hold my team to account in a way they weren’t used to.
I basically needed to get all those things under control until I could make the policy and technical changes I wanted to. Five years on, this work feels like it’s just beginning.
What do you think makes a good CS leader?
You need to be empathetic, both to your team and your customers. Sometimes you need to foster empathy in your team for your customers and vice versa. That doesn’t mean you can give people what they want, but you need to know where they’re coming from. I think above all clarity is the most important thing. Customers need to know what you will and won’t do. Your team needs to know what is expected of them. Leadership and corporate need to know what you want from them, even if they’re going to say no.
I always hear that support professionals need and require so-called soft skills, but I’ve found they’re much more important in leadership. As middle management, my day to day is largely ruled by the attitudes of the people above and below me. Sometimes it feels like therapy, sometimes it feels like gossip, but building connections and moving information throughout your company can be incredibly powerful.
What’s your approach to metrics and measuring success?
Given the nature of our sector, I look at the types of tickets each team member can handle, how quickly they handle them, and the impression they leave on customers and their non-support colleagues.
You should have a short, easily digestible answer when the CEO wants to know how the support department is doing. Numbers can help with that, but if you don’t provide context the narrative will write itself. I’m still working on figuring out what metrics are best for our company’s business.
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to do?
In short, living up to my ethical ideals. When I was younger, I felt powerless to stop or even comment on bad behaviour I saw in the workplace. Even now that I have some authority and responsibility, it can feel easier in the moment to let things slide if a superior or direct report does something you think they shouldn’t do. Consistently calling out what I know is wrong does help me sleep better at night, though.
Do you actively pursue your own personal development?
I’ll admit that this is an ongoing challenge. I think the best thing is for me personally is to just try things. I have lots of bookmarks for books and articles I want to get to, but having a project where I can use that knowledge immediately will get me to actually read something. Whatever the problem du jour my customers or colleagues are focused on can feel more important, so I’m learning how to carve out time that is dedicated to those projects.
The Support Driven Community and their events have been really good for me. Given the size of my company, I’m the only one with my problems. Being able to connect with people who are going what I’m going through has been really helpful. I learn new things all the time and I feel less alone.
How do you encourage such further learning in your team?
Never underestimate the power of the small project that takes someone out of the queue.
Very true! Now, as well as helping customer, we are also customers ourselves….do you have any stories of a great customer experience?
The first time I travelled to Asia I immediately contracted the worst food poisoning of my life. It was terrible. I was alone, far from home, wickedly jet-lagged, and I could barely leave my hotel room. I let housekeeping in once the first few days and they immediately deduced that I was ill. For the rest of my stay, they gave me extra bottled water, blankets, and towels without me asking. I didn’t need to ask for anything and made all the difference when I was in a bad place.
What about the other end of the scale… any terrible experiences?
For years I had jobs where I had to fly domestically 1-2 times a year out of a smaller airport. It’s the worst combination because I never acquired any sort of status or accumulated significant miles. Also, I could never fly direct and my shorter connections to my home airport were often cancelled. I profiled to airline staff like a not valuable casual traveller that was slightly inconvenienced when that wasn’t exactly the case. The casual indifference across the industry was palpable as I never received any sort of accommodation for being stranded and having hours of travel pushed to sometimes days.
And my signature question for last… how do you sign your emails?
“Thank you,” is one I use a lot, but getting to strategically deploy a “have a nice weekend!” always feels the best.
Thanks, Rob! Have a great weekend, yourself!
Come back soon for another interview with an awesome CS Leader!