Customer support isn’t always a cup of tea. Some days are good, others are bad; some are inspiring, others are stressful. A career that requires so much emotional labour and patience, why do I do what I do?
As a values-based individual, I am constantly motivated by the impact that I have on others through the work that I do. Whether it’s the direct or indirect value of the customer’s experience, long-term vision, paying it forward to the community, or fulfilling a purpose greater than oneself, my value of building the best world possible inspires me to do what I do each day. Perhaps the most obvious of motivation comes from direct and indirect customer experiences.
Direct and Indirect Customer Experiences
Sometimes customers tell you exactly how you’ve impacted them. They write you personal stories about how their lives have changed or what a positive experience they’ve had and you immediately feel good about what you do. Once, a customer (let’s call her Jessica) wrote in “What a happy Friday indeed!! You are a saint and should be celebrated. I will tell everyone here about how amazing X is, but you specifically Kay – you deserve it.” In her message, Jessica didn’t just give me praise, she also had a profound effect on my future work.
Two things happen to me as I receive direct positive feedback from customers:
- I receive immediate gratification of a job well done; and
- I am given a reputation to live up to.
In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes that one should “be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”. Carnegie knew the profound impact of giving someone a reputation to live up to. As a result of receiving that kind of praise from Jessica, I don’t want to let her or other customers down; I want to live up to the incredible standard of support they see in me.
Some of the impact that you have on customers’ experience, however, is indirect and it’s not always obvious in daily interactions. Stewart Butterfield’s article, We Don’t Sell Saddles Here, reminds me to think about the customer experience as a whole and the purpose and impact a business can have on the world; it’s not about the product, it’s about the innovation. “People buy ‘software’,” Butterfield states, “to address a need they already know they have or perform some specific task they need to perform…That’s why what we’re selling is organizational transformation. The software just happens to be the part we’re able to build and ship.” Ultimately, I view customer support not in terms of the product, but as helping customers transform the way they do things or how they think of themselves. For me, this encompasses a much larger threshold of impact on society at large and for the long-term.
In my experience, I’ve built relationships with customers that I’ve worked with over the years and even after leaving organizations, still make an effort to sustain those connections. Some of which have been the most genuine human connections and I imagine that we’ll continue to nourish those relationships for years to come. For me, the key has been to view relationships in measurements of a lifetime, not just in moments or a few years. This has shaped my own approach to connecting with those around me and that has made all the difference.
In his inspiring TEDTalk 3 Ways to Plan for the Very Long Term, Ari Wallach talks about how planning for the long-term positively affects how we solve problems and the impact that we can have in the world overall. After listening to his talk, I often ask myself, What do I want support to look like in the future? How do I want to experience support years from now? How does this make the world a better place? How will the next generation benefit? Recognizing that my actions have an impact on the industry as a whole and the future of customer support, I’m motivated to give my best today. Because interactions count.
But not just any interaction. The changing role of technology in our society presses the importance to remain human and personal with each connection. Never before has it been so important to remain human; it’s often what customers crave when they reach out to companies as more tasks become automated and more transactions are made by artificial intelligence. This importance of futuristic value on keeping things human impacts how I view the relationships I build and the community I am a part of.
Giving Back to the Community
Knowing that I am not alone in this struggle keeps me sane and makes me persevere after the hardest of days. After deciding to change industries and cities, I felt completely alone, without a network, and without a support system. It became increasingly important for me to find my tribe; people who have similar values and who envision a similar future. I started to volunteer with a local grassroots organization, going to tech networking events, and inviting strangers to coffee meetings. A little over 6 months ago, I joined the Support Driven community and I’ve gone so far as to declare that it has restored my faith in humanity. A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but it reflects my feelings of how much my heart expands when I interact with these community members who care about customers and relationships as much as I.
Being a part of the Support Driven community and knowing that I carry a legacy of generations that came before me, helps me recognize that I do not stand alone. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have so many people in my life who have afforded me opportunities to succeed. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. With intense gratitude, I can’t help but feel a strong desire and duty to give back to the community in ways that help others flourish, much as others have done for me.
Folks that have come before me have done the groundwork and knowing that their struggle and victories have become mine too, I know that I do not (and cannot) take my privileges lightly. It is with this conviction that I strive to give back to and further the work of the community as best I can. As Maya Angelou said, “I go forth along, and stand as ten thousand.”
Part of a Greater Purpose
I believe that each person’s life has value and purpose. Understanding that I am not living for myself but for something larger, impacts the interactions that I have on a daily basis and helps me remember to practice patience and compassion on the days when I have to have difficult interactions with others. When I recognize that principles and common goals are more important than pride or short-term setbacks, the conversations and connections that I create with others tend to be more meaningful and the difficult conversations less difficult.
Ultimately, knowing who I am drives and motivates what I do and how I do it. It is this sense of self which two years ago helped me to re-evaluate where I was and where I wanted to be and then make that leap of faith into the unknown and change. I strive to live my life in such a way as to have no regrets and that requires me to be very honest with myself. I often ask questions like: What am I doing? Do I enjoy it? What would make it better? How will this impact others? Is it worth it? The key part, is not being afraid of the answers and making the changes when those answers aren’t satisfying. Because what is life if you don’t come alive?
“Don’t ask what the world needs,” Howard Thurman says, “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I want to answer that call.
While the daily grind of a career in customer support is not always sunshine and rainbows, I’m constantly propelled forward by impact. Whether the impact is direct or indirect, long-term, community-wide, or personal, it is why I do what I do. Perhaps support is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.
This post is a part of and inspired by the Support Driven Spring 2017 Writing Challenge. Week one’s writing prompt asks: “What makes you excited about working in customer support? What keeps you going month after month?”