Five Considerations for Mentoring Customer Support Leaders

The beginning of the year is a good time to take a fresh look at things, and how you may want to change direction in the New Year. Of course I’m not sure there is a bad time. Stepping back to ask the right questions and plan for adjustments can pay dividends. Recently I was involved in a conversation with a colleague who was doing this sort of review from a career perspective and asked one question that spurred a great deal of discussion.

The question was simple enough, “Based on your career path, what advice do you have for others pursuing career advancement in a services organization?” This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question. I’ve been asked this question in mentoring situations and have also had the opportunity to speak to groups on this topic. Based on a reflection of my experiences, here are five things that have played a key role in my growth.

1.  Gather as much breadth of experience as you can.
Over my 25-year career, I have worked in virtually every aspect of Support Services and Quality and Supply Chain Management, holding multiple roles in logistics, service readiness, service alliances, and field and call center management—at local, regional, and global levels—and in multiple industries. This breadth of experience has played a big role in my ability to understand the overall business and add value. Don’t just think of progression as upward. You can progress laterally as well. Sometimes in your career you may even want to do something that looks like a downward progression to gather experience—because it gets harder as you progress upwards.

2.  Look for the positive in people. Help others be successful.
There are employees in the organization who are doing a great job and just need a little encouragement to be successful. I learned the value of encouragement firsthand when a senior vice president at a previous employer told me that I would someday be running the Services business. I had just been named a director—and was both humbled and shocked by his comment.

That executive had no idea the impact that statement made on me. He told me I had potential beyond what I would have actually thought for myself. From that moment on, I thought differently about myself, and then I acted differently with other people. Search out people who have potential but may not know it. Help them see the potential in themselves. Look for opportunities to develop that potential and put them in positions that challenge them. Force them to create breadth in their experience so that they continue to learn and evolve.

The bottom line is that positive feedback can be very powerful. Take a minute—take 15 seconds—to say to somebody, ‘You did a great job. I really like the way you did this.’ They may be smiling the rest of the day.

3.  Learn from everyone—be an observer.
Observe other people to identify traits that you would—or would not—want to emulate.

4.  Make sure your employees and stakeholders feel heard.
Because the Services business is a people business, with a direct tie between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, it is important to have a workforce that feels very engaged, has an opportunity to be heard, and knows that their input can make a difference.

In the Services organization, you have to be an approachable leader—the type of leader who talks to the workforce (and not just in large forums), takes that feedback, and then finds ways to act on that feedback. The feedback from the organization, particularly those that work directly with customers, is invaluable to the organization as well. Everything from scheduled roundtable discussions, to all-hands meetings to hallway conversations can help make a difference when it comes to ensuring service excellence for your customers.

5.  Diversity: Good for the company and for the business.
Incorporating different perspectives and ideas will help you and the organization to continually create, grow and improve – and your customers will benefit from ever-improving service. Diversity will help in creating a great environment and chemistry that is successful in driving the right results for employees, customers and the business. This is one of the things that I love about the EMC customer support leadership team –a blend of men and women—some from Services and some from other backgrounds, some new to the company, and others tenured.

Speaking of diverse ideas . . . I would love to hear some of yours!

About the Author: Mary Cay Kosten

Mary Cay leads a team of 1400 professionals that provide operational support to the Dell Technologies Services organization. Her team is responsible for driving operational excellence and implementing innovations across Dell Technologies Services. This includes areas such as eServices & Knowledge Management, Program and Change Management, Business Services, Remote Support Contact Center Operations, Command Center, Process Engineering and Data Sciences, Data Enablement and Analytics, and the Global Centers of Excellence. Kosten has over 30 years of experience in service and supplier management, with a proven track record in building outstanding service delivery organizations. Prior to joining Dell EMC, she was Vice President of global customer services delivery for Oracle/Sun Microsystems, responsible for delivering all elements of Sun Microsystems’ support services. Under her leadership, Sun achieved the prestigious J.D. Power Certified Technology Service and Support (CTSS) Award for "An Outstanding Customer Service Experience," the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) Award for Excellence in Service Operations, and Sun was inducted into the STAR Awards Hall of Fame. Kosten is a 2008 recipient of the Denver Business Journal's Outstanding Women in Business (High Tech and Telecommunications) Award and a 2006 recipient of the Silicon Valley YWCA Tribute to Women and Industry (TWIN) Award. She also is on the Advisory Board for TSIA’s Field Services discipline. She holds an MS degree in systems management from the University of Southern California and a BS in marketing from the University of West Florida.