Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into your area of specialisation.
I studied Social Research and Marketing at UJ (University of Johannesburg), formerly known as RAU. In high school, I imagined myself as a Marketing Executive overseeing marketing initiatives. Eventually, leaving the workforce, later on, to start my own business. Why marketing? I believe it is because I enjoyed the concept of persuading people to buy goods or services without being the salesman.
After graduating from college, I took some time to find the ideal career or position. I wanted something that would suit me. Subsequently, I started working as a Customer Service Representative for a UK-based corporation. After three months, I was considered for the position of Quality Assessor Trainee, and then a year later, I became Quality Assessor. I remained in that position for almost a year and served as a Quality Team Lead in another UK Based company’s divisions for over 18 months before being headhunted by Merchants, where I worked in the same role for about two and a half years. There I oversaw one of their biggest clients (Mercedes Benz). Later, I was transferred to TransUnion (another client of Merchants) in the same position. I worked there for a few months and left to focus on my own business venture.
How did your journey lead you to Adapt IT?
After focusing on my own initiatives for a year, I decided to take the opportunity from Adapt IT to work as a Customer Experience Consultant for the Aspivia Unisson division. At the time, I was tasked with developing a Customer Experience framework for what was known as the Communication division. It was more about interacting with clients, learning what they thought of our services, and putting systems and procedures in place to control interactions. Moreover, it included enhancing customer experience and putting a customer experience methodology in place that allowed us to focus on Customer Satisfaction and engagement as critical drivers of customer experience.
What did you achieve in your role that makes you very proud?
One of my most significant achievements is finally having a Customer Experience centred Tech environment. If you’ve ever dealt with highly tech-savvy individuals, you know that their top priority is using technology to solve the problem. The contributions that customers’ experiences make in resolving the issue are not always acknowledged.
Moreover, when I took over as Head of Support and Maintenance, we had several teams working and serving clients. We used to use a variety of ticket management platforms to address customer queries. However, some of the raised tickets were never recorded. We were unable to track interactions, and customers were not even provided with data on how well we were fulfilling our contractual duties, which included SLAs (Service-Level Agreements) and even KPIs (key performance indicators).
When I came in, my biggest focus was migrating the entire Telecoms division onto our support desk. We had to move away from this way of doing things to enhance our customer experience. It was not an easy task to implement the change across the division. However, the benefit came when we started getting the desired results. We could give detailed reports, better manage our workforce, or give business insight. We were able to have a better view of how our support desk operated, empower our customers to fix specific issues themselves and engage better with our exceptionally skilled workforce. With time, other solutions were integrated into our new support platform. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas in many businesses that do not receive the attention they should be getting.
What differentiates your “Support and Maintenance” team from any other Support and Maintenance team?
When I took over the Support space, I was tasked with ensuring that the Support and Maintenance environment not only becomes a space that helps resolve customer issues but continuously contributes to our customer’s success. We needed the right skills mix, effective processes, and well-balanced teams. Our biggest issue at the time was that we added all that value to our customers through the solutions we supported; however, we ran a business that was not profitable. This made our business one that is not sustainable. The biggest issue was in the way we priced our services. I then took on the drive to review every Support and Maintenance Agreement – from Terms, SLAs, KPIs and how we priced these offerings- and started working on a plan to make the space a profitable space geared for growth.
With the help of the insight we gained from our support platform, I aligned the terms and conditions of our contracts to the amount of effort invested by our support teams towards each S&M agreement to understand where we had challenges and where we needed the most alleviation. Establishing the need for rescuing was easy; the rescue plan to help this business proved to be the most challenging part; however, with all the information available, getting the business to where it needed to become attainable. This wasn’t as easy as just changing the pricing on an agreement and asking the customer to sign. There was a science that was required to make these changes palatable.
Convincing the business to buy into this approach was the easy part – however convincing the customer was where the real challenge existed. ‘How do we remind the customers of the value we add and convince them to understand the true price of that value?’ That was the mission.
The end product was our Support and Maintenance Tiered Offering, containing a Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum tier. Each tier comprises a personalised service offering. So, in essence, the more complex, business-critical and the more effort required to maintain the required uptime when supporting these customer platforms, the higher the tier that is recommended to the customer. A tier that ensured we reduced the headaches of running the systems and let our customers focus on what they do best – servicing and growing their businesses.
The higher the tier, the greater the service offering. That means stricter SLAs, more dedication to the systems and reduced potential for revenue loss because some platforms are high revenue-generating systems for our customers. Therefore, they cannot be inoperative, not even for a minute.
We also needed to ensure that the teams we built to support these platforms were skilled enough to manage their ever-demanding requirements. I had to create a structure that had small groups of skilled and experienced application support engineers. They were required to dedicate their day to ensuring that the systems run with as few faults as possible daily. We are practically looking to get to a point where we increase the efficiency of our proactive monitoring capability to further reduce the number of potential issues before the customer even knows of the issue. This way, we save the customer money before they realise they could have lost it.
This initiative not only helps get the business to a sustainable level, but we now offer our present and future customers the ability to select a support offering option that is best suited for the platforms they entrust us to support.
How do you keep the passion alive in what is considered a challenging field?
My love for Customer Service is what keeps my passion alive. 95% of my work experience has been in Customer Service and Customer Experience. From handling the calls to giving the business the insight, they need to be able to resolve business-critical issues. I don’t think many businesses understand the importance of support as a service, the value it gives your customers, and how they can change their personal views of the business. Support Teams are the gatekeepers of many businesses. They are the starting point that assures your business’ customers that they are in good hands. They are the first to deal with happy customers and are the first to convert dissatisfied customers into satisfied ones.
Customer Service remains the biggest driver of how a customer feels about anything he acquires. Even when you buy something on any online platform, you expect efficiency and ease of use. Finding the product you want online, selecting it and eventually getting it to your doorstep are all activities that take place at a customer support level.
Additionally, reminding my team that they are an essential part of the business is another element that keeps the passion alive. It might not look or feel like that at times, but the biggest dependency we have on our business’s success lies in how we manage our relationships with our customers.
Yes, we have account managers and parts of the business that may engage with customers on a high level. Still, the people working on the systems at a customer support level keep the business running.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in a Managerial role, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I faced was understanding the importance of well-structured commercial processes. The importance of being able to split your focus between working on the business and working in the business. The importance of delegating the ‘In The Business Requirements’ and ensuring the right amount of time is dedicated to ‘On The Business requirements’.
Balancing the operational business focus is paying attention to what is happening in your teams- how you motivate your teams, how you deliver to your customers and how non-delivery impacts the small part of the business you look after, as opposed to the elevated approach that allows you to take your current business from where it is in the ‘As Is’ state to where it needs to be.
I had to improve a lot on how I participated in my business. I needed to look at the same business differently- through a different lens. To fuse this passion I have for customers, the experience we want to pride ourselves in delivering daily to our customers with a strategy that not only keeps us sustainable but also makes the drive to retain and grow our customer base an easier target to achieve. The aim is to increase and highlight our value to our customers. These were some of the most critical pieces to complete this pricing strategy puzzle. To put together and present a value proposition that reminded our customers of our business’s important role in theirs.
What is your opinion on “Team Growth.”
I’m very passionate about team growth. I believe in growth. I am a product of growth. Over the years, I have seen my career evolve, and it’s developed because I’ve been very inquisitive.
Currently, I am busy with a few elevations in my space. I am trying to get people with potential that have been in the same role for many years into levels that are a bit higher than what they are used to. Exposing them to more responsibility. Introducing them to more technology, projects, and parts of the business they were never exposed to before. Furthermore, we’ve got a graduate program that we are working on, one that I believe we need to have a solid plan around.
We want to expose people to every level of the business. Not only where they are assigned to work but also to other areas of the business that impact their space directly or indirectly, especially those spaces in the business that their functions impact. Sometimes people’s growth is halted by exposure.
You might have a dormant skill which can hatch out because you have been exposed to a part of the business you never understood before. Sometimes the skills and expertise required by a business exist somewhere else within that same business. Our role is to know where these skills sit and find a way to use the same resources we constantly invest in to help us deal with a business pain. We need to increase exposure across the board.
How will you describe “People Behind Technology.”
When I think of People Behind Technology, I think about people providing an experience behind the technology. No technology sits on its own. There are always people behind it giving an experience. It can be thoughts; it can be a head of product development having a roadmap or a strategy to make that technology meet the current or future demands of the customers or market. There are always brains behind this technology we speak of, efforts being put together, all with the same purpose of giving you, the customer, some sort of experience.
For example, buying a product online seems simple because it’s just a technology. But there are so many facets that sit behind that bit of technology. There is someone who built that platform; there is someone that’s keeping that platform stable; there is someone that is linking your order to the whole chain, and so much more. People are technology!
What message would you give to members of a Support and Maintenance team in the Telecom Industry?
I want to tell them they are essential to their respective businesses. We offer services that allow customers to feel the value of whatever they acquired from your business. From a support perspective, we indeed operate in an overly underrated space, but it is a space that has a lot of value. In addition, when I say value, I mean the support you give to a customer that, as a result, leads him or her to comfortably pay for the service or product or become loyal.