Leading a Customer Advisory Team: David’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

David Ennett is the supervisor of the customer advisory team at StarTech.com, a manufacturer of hard-to-find IT parts. The focus of the company is to make it easy for IT professionals to identify, find, and use the parts they require for their tech solutions. StarTech.com is a well-established international company, operating 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, in 8 different languages!  “It’s great to be part of a London company that has become a global business,” David says.  

David works with a team of 20 advisors who service customers via phone, webchat and e-mail. The majority of his time is spent working with the members of his team to provide them with the support necessary to help them be successful in their roles.

His day-to-day work consists of coaching the team and being readily available for assistance. David is very passionate about what makes exceptional customer service and makes an effort to put this at the forefront of how the team operates, “I believe that the best manufacturers not only create excellent products but also provide stellar service. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can do continue to enhance the experience for our customers.”

David says what he enjoys most about his job is “working with incredible people across the entire organization”. He explains that it is motivating to work in an environment where people enjoy what they do and work together to support one another. Everyone at StarTech.com is dedicated to their customers and is committed to succeeding in their work.  Along with this incredible commitment to customer service, the team also has a lot of fun.  “We celebrate Halloween like no other employer in the country (seriously it’s a big deal around here) and have employees who volunteer as fun ambassadors (that role is exactly as it sounds) who plan various events and activities throughout the year.”

Most of the fun, however, is experienced in the daily atmosphere of the organization.  StarTech.com is a place where everyone cares for each other and enjoys being part of the team. This supportive attitude creates a great sense of community – “the passion that everyone has for the business and one another is palpable”. The team appreciates that collaboration is not only the key to being successful, but is also essential for creating this meaningful, rewarding and fun workplace.


How did David find his way to StarTech.com?  He explains that his career path was not exactly “planned”. He, like many other students, was not sure what he wanted to do professionally.  As he sees it, however, this confusion and uncertainty, while at times uncomfortable, is actually very healthy. It forces you to really understand yourself better and come to understand what you are passionate about.

David pursued a B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Canadian-American Relations at Western University. He says that the liberal arts and social sciences are valuable as they teach students to “think critically, problem solve, write well and engage with a diverse set of ideas and people”. He argues that these are essential skills that are transferable to almost any workplace.

During his university career, David also took on various leadership opportunities, including president of his students’ council, where he learned to enjoy responsibility for projects and leading others. “I quickly found that the best leaders are consultative in nature and strive to empower and enable team members to play a large role in making decisions and sharing in success,” he says.

After completing school, David worked at Staples as a supervisor for a year, where he oversaw the service departments of his store, along with leading a team of 10 associates. It was here where he saw firsthand how great customer service can significantly impact the growth of a business. He has brought this passion for great service with him to StarTech.com.

David’s advice for new graduates is to not fear entering the workforce and to take on roles that may not link directly to your education. University can only prepare you for so much. Wherever you end up, take it very seriously, work hard, and embrace the idea that “no task is too small”. These are the skills he believes are most important for his generation.  “As millennials we need to show other generations that we are capable of working with humility and respect. If we can do this I think we will succeed.”



Plans Change, Opportunities Arise: Kerstin’s StarTech.com Story

Facilitated by Devin Gordon, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

My name is Kerstin Newman and I am 27 years old. I am German and spent the first 22 years of my life in Germany. Growing up, I always wanted a job where I could help people…in what way, I didn’t really care at the time. I used to envy people who knew exactly what they wanted to become and what they had to do to get there as I never had any specific plans. I was never confident in my abilities and didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue. I just knew I wanted to work with people my age or kids. So after graduating high school, I went to university to study German and English in the teaching program for German high schools (Grades 5-12).

During those university years, I went on an exchange and spent a year at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, where I completed my Master’s degree in German Studies. While everybody thought it was kind of strange that I left Germany to do an M.A. in German Studies in an English speaking country, I loved the experience of living in a different country, speaking English on a regular basis, but still studying German on the same level I would have back home.

I went back to Germany for 2 years after the exchange and completed my teaching degree at the University of Mannheim.  I knew at the time that I wanted to come back to Canada, especially since I had met my now husband (he is Canadian) in the German program at Waterloo. I knew the teaching job situation in Ontario was not great.  Also, the schools would not recognize my German teaching degree but would make me go back to teacher’s college, so I decided to switch careers while I was still in Germany. I did an internship at a John Deere facility in Mannheim, in the HR department for training and development. While the job was challenging at times (I had not really worked in office environments before), I loved what I did there, being exposed to people from all over the world, working with different people on different projects, being creative in scheduling, training or making materials available for people. My boss at the time was very supportive and connected me with the John Deere office in Brantford, Ontario, to see if they potentially had room for me. Since the office deals with all the finances, this didn’t work out, but the support of my boss encouraged me to pursue a career where I could do similar things to what I did at John Deere.

I decided to go to Fanshawe College for International Business Management to have better chances of finding a job with an international business. The program was only 8 months long and a post-graduate degree. While I was still a student at Fanshawe, they held a job fair in February and I talked to some people that represented businesses in London. One of the people I talked to ended up hiring me as a bilingual customer service advisor for StarTech.com after my graduation in April 2014. I started working in July 2014 and after completing the job training, I answered phones, chats, and emails for German and English speaking customers.

While customer service was never on my radar, I actually really enjoyed working with the team to help customers, talking to tons of different people all day, and learning new things every day. In April 2015, I was promoted to the role of team lead, meaning that I now am part of the leadership team for the customer service department. While I still talk to customers occasionally, I am now more involved in the operational reports, coaching people, and several projects designed to improve systems and processes.

My typical day is hard to describe as there are never two days that are the same. My main responsibility is to do some reporting on the teams’ performance the previous day in the morning, and then just be available for whatever questions the customer service advisors may have throughout the day. These might be process related, content questions, or system related, so most of the time, I function as a subject matter expert on anything regarding customer service. I approve one-off exceptions we might make for customers, I help advisors help customers in the best way possible, I try to help advisors succeed in their roles, and I am a point of contact for other departments that might have questions about customer service.

I love that every day is different. I love working with the people on the team.  I love being able to help people (the advisors and other departments within the company, and customers that buy our products). I love the challenges I encounter every day (figuring out an Excel formula, pulling meaningful statistics out of a mess of data, talking to people about odd customer situations that we need to figure out, etc.). I love being involved in cross-functional projects that will eventually help our customers have a better experience dealing with StarTech.com as a company. I love the support and encouragement I get from my colleagues and superiors, and I love the company in general for its culture and work environment.

While this is not at all the career (or the life – for that matter) that I ever thought I would have, I really enjoy working and living in Canada. When I was starting university at the age of 19, I was sure I would be a teacher for German and English at a high school somewhere in Germany by the age of 25. Instead, I am the team lead of a customer service team at a tech company in Canada at 27. Plans change and opportunities will come up that we never thought we would consider. I am absolutely happy with my career so far and I am sure there will be more planned and unplanned changes in the future.  I have learned to embrace change and unforeseen circumstances and to make the best of any situation not only in regards to my work life, but also as it relates to my personal life. 

Amanda Stark is The Friendly Visitor

By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Amanda Stark has worked for her own self-started business The Friendly Visitor, in London, for fourteen months. After attending Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, she realized there was a lack of support for those with Parkinson’s Disease and other seniors’ needs. As The Friendly Visitor, she provides companionship, helping-hand services, and life-skills coaching, in order to facilitate clients’ independence at home and to connect them with other resources.  Her goal is to help her clients live as well, and as independently, as possible.  

As the owner of The Friendly Visitor, Amanda manages all of the administrative tasks, and all marketing initiatives, including advertising, social media, community networking and the website. She first became interested in this type of work when she was living with her uncle who has Parkinson’s Disease.  Amanda used to help him around the house, drive him to appointments, and go on weekly movie dates. This, as well as her experience and visits with her grandmother, inspired Amanda to venture into this line of work.

Amanda has a counselling degree from Emmanuel Bible College, and many years of administrative assistant and customer service work. In addition to these skills, she explains that “this job takes a certain personality to connect with clients and to build rapport.”  The job also involves conflict management, facilitating group discussion and awareness of mental health concerns. She notes that “given the general nature of the helping hands component, it also requires a willingness to get our hands dirty and do whatever is needed. In some cases the skill of resourcefulness has been my best asset, by helping with pets, making meals, and doing laundry, among other things.”  Also important for anyone who is self-employed are time management skills -- knowing how to prioritize tasks and optimize time in the schedule.   Having a general knowledge of the operational side of business, Amanda also knows where she should hire out, so she can focus on the things she’s good at.  For example?  “I enjoy coordinating and customer service, but I am not great with numbers so that’s why I have a bookkeeper. Networking is another strength that fits well with running a business. Making connections in the business community as well as in the public is what goes the extra mile to spread the word about a small business.”

When asked why she loves her work, Amanda has a long list!  “I love my clients – I think my seniors are my favorites. I don’t have any grandparents, so I love hearing their stories and getting their advice on life. It’s the relationships in general that are my favorite – whether learning from other business owners, connecting with people in the community, or staying in touch with the families of the people I serve. I also love the variety, the fact one day I’m gardening, the next day I’m moving furniture and the next I’m having a conversation about life skills.” Speaking of a particular 93-year-old client, Amanda loves hearing her old stories about London many years ago, and that she considers Amanda family. Similarly, she enjoyed working with an 83-year old client who shared many stories about growing up in Greece, moving to Canada and making a life there.

Making the decision to go into business for herself was the biggest decision that Amanda has ever made. She could have worked for someone else, but because of a physical injury she also needs specific prioritizing. So working for herself seemed best.  Another hard decision involved whether to follow the advice of others or do what she felt was right. Amanda explains that “many well-meaning people had advice about the different aspects of getting started, but not all advice was helpful or fruitful. Along with that, knowing who I could trust was a big challenge.” Her branding was also critically important, so she did a lot of research before her business name and logo were created.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Amanda faced was finances. It was difficult starting a business when there wasn’t much money coming in at the beginning. She was lucky enough to go through the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program before its recent cancellation.  Getting attention for her business was also challenging since her advertising budget was focused on word-of-mouth marketing.   Amanda acknowledges that she had her moments of doubt wondering if this was “the right path” for her, but quickly adds that “I absolutely know 100% that it is…no good thing is accomplished without a little struggle.”

Amanda’s advice for others?  “Be honest with yourself. If you are not a self-starter, you probably shouldn’t start your own business!  But trust yourself. You know what you know – be confident in that. Reflect on what you’re good at and choose a career that focuses on your strengths. Don’t just go where someone tells you to go – if I had done that, I would still be sitting at a receptionist desk somewhere.”

Find out more at The Friendly Visitor website: http://www.thefriendlyvisitor.ca

 

Feeling at Home at HomeSense

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

If you have been seeking out the perfect item for your home and you need a friendly face to help you find it, Ashley Bryan is the sales associate for you! Ashley began working at the new HomeSense location on Fairview Drive in Brantford, Ontario in July2015. After graduating as a Medical Administrative Assistant, Ashley was unable to find a job in her field, so she used her previous work experience and her love of HomeSense to her advantage.

Prior to going to Fanshawe College, Ashley was employed at the African Lion Safari. Although Medical Administration, tourism and working in retail are all different, they have one thing in common: working with the public. Ashley has always looked for jobs where she “could interact with people”. She explained that the Safari taught her about working with cash as well as “how to work effectively and quickly in a busy environment” while working “in close quarters to other people”.

After finishing post-secondary school, Ashley began the daunting task of looking for work:”I was looking for some positions and nowhere was hiring. I saw the HomeSense store was opening and I knew how much I loved the store, so I figured I would try my luck and see if I could get a job!” Luckily, everything worked out and she secured the position!

Ashley is very enthusiastic about everything she does and has high praise for her customers, co-workers, and the store itself.  As she puts it “I love interacting with the customers and seeing how happy they are when they find a piece they've been searching for. The support given by management is fantastic and it is a very supportive and nurturing environment”.

For Ashley, “seeing all of the cool stuff first” is one of the best things about working in a store that she already enjoyed as a customer. She often thinks about where she would put the items in her own home if she were to buy them. “I also love hearing what people are going to do with the things they get. I love that you never know what you're going to find in there, so it's like Christmas every day.

Ashley’s bubbly and upbeat personality is well suited for her job at HomeSense and people are noticing: “I've had a few customers tell me that I am ‘an excellent person to be doing this job’ because I am very friendly and make all my customers feel welcome. And another asked me, ‘are you always this happy, or do you have to be to work here?’ It was just nice to hear”, she recalled. With her kind and helpful nature, she is sure to hear many more compliments in the future.

If others are looking to apply at HomeSense or a similar position in retail, Ashley Bryan recommends wearing a good pair of shoes and a smile: “Some advice I would give is to make sure you have very comfortable shoes! HomeSense is a fantastic place to work if you enjoy dealing with the public. Having a bright smile is something that is a must because it makes your customers happy and they will be more likely to remember you and how nice of a store they are in.”

For more information about HomeSense, click here.

More Than Counting Pills

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

 Salma Ghanie was introduced to pharmacy work through a Which Career is Right for You? test in Grade 10. She had always had a fascination with medications and what they do to the human body, but had never known what to do with that fascination. When she took the test, most of her career results were something to do with the outdoors but, interestingly, one of the final ones was a “pharmacist”. Salma decided to act on this and in Grade 11 she tried a co-op placement at Shoppers Drug Mart, which she loved!  A few years later, that experience made applying for her program an easy choice.

 Salma studied at Fanshawe College for 2 years in the Pharmacy Technician program, and loved it: "It was hard and tough, for sure, but it was fun for me. There's a ton of math, chemistry, and pharmacology. We had a course on pharmacy law that was brutal. Like most people I always thought that a Pharm Tech just counted pills; but no, there is so much more to what I do than counting pills and putting a label on a vial or a box."

 In second year, Salma had the chance to experience both a hospital and retail placement opportunity. She did not find the retail portion very helpful, as she was only able to shadow, and didn't really gain any hands-on experience.  When asked what courses were particularly beneficial, Salma shared the following:  “Pharmacy law for sure, math, compounding (making drugs), pharmacology and the practical retail course I took, that course taught us so much. Retail Pharmacy, it was a two part course and taught us everything from, drug names, chemicals, Latin, math, communication, and how to count things properly."  She uses aspects of these every day.

 In spite of the retail placement not going so well, Salma grew to love the retail setting as, according to her, you actually get to see and interact with the people you're helping. In her current position at Shoppers Drug Mart in St. Thomas, Ontario, Salma does just that. Her day is filled with answering phones, processing and dispensing prescriptions, and communicating with doctors, patients, and customers alike. She shared the most rewarding part of the job: "I think the most rewarding thing is that once you get to know patients, they will confide in you and they will tell you what's on their mind and how they are feeling and it’s really nice knowing someone trusts you. Whether they are 30 or 85!  People know my name and when they want my help specifically, that’s when I know I've made a difference"

 As content as she is right now, Salma would like to continue up the ladder to be a full-fledged pharmacist. Her ultimate goal is to become a pharmaceutical chemist.

 As for advice, Salma says you have to be caring and compassionate, as well as know how to multi-task with things like phone conversations and counting pills and dosages at the same time. Patience is also key when the pharmacy is busy. If you are not good with math, a pharmacy is not the place for you. It is also necessary to learn how to read “doctor scribble”. As hard as some of this may seem, Salma says it all comes together with practice.  

Kay Bye: Ottawa Comic Moves to L.A. to Further Career

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Graham Kay is a stand up comedian, an actor and a television writer! All three of his jobs sound amazing, but the one that Kay prefers most is his role as a comedian. According to Graham, “it's a combination of everything and I get to be the director and editor. Saying what you want and how you want is an amazing experience in artistic freedom.”  The artistic freedom is what he loves most, along with the hours that he works: “Being my own boss and setting my own schedule is great. Also, making people laugh is OK too. It feels good.” Graham has made people laugh with a variety of subjects, both at live shows and on his album, Comedy by the Graham (available on iTunes). Topics range from haircuts to the Canadian Healthcare system, as well as what it was like to live with dial-up internet. (No, he didn’t like that sound either.)

At the time this article was written, Graham was preparing to move to Los Angeles, California to further his career. In anticipation of the move, he said that he was most looking forward to “a bigger stage, more opportunity [and] being challenged and inspired by a bigger pool of comedians.” He was also a part of his own going-away-party style comedy show called “Kay Bye”. Other comics who were part of the send-off included, Alex Nussbaum, Dylan Gott, Matt O’Brien and more.  

A lot of things have led up to Graham’s big move. Most recently, Kay worked as a writer for CTV’s comedy series, Spun Out which stars Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame. Graham said that his favourite part of this experience was working with his super talented friends. Among the many writers for the show are Sara Hennessy and Match Game host, Darrin Rose, who both appeared alongside Graham on Much Music’s Video On Trial.

However, Kay’s path to stand up comedy had to start somewhere:I started doing comedy seriously when I was 25, after 5 years of wishing I did it and doing the odd open mic once a year.” He waited tables and managed to save $10 000, which allowed him to quit his job.

Afterwards, he said, “[I] spent 3 months concentrating on starting my amateur comedy career. I eventually had to get another job, but I had worked out a system and figured out what kind of schedule I would need to continue. After 4 years of that, I was eventually a full-time comic and was able to quit my last day job. The rest is a slightly less than boring history.”

The Ottawa native attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, however he advises aspiring comics to not take a class specifically designed for comedy: “You will meet people just like you and at the same level if you go to open mics.” Kay returned to Nova Scotia to appear on The Halifax Comedy Festival stage where he spoke about his real-life experiences, including the time he broke both arms at once!

 To keep up with Graham in L.A. (and to see old photos of his broken arms) you can follow him on Twitter @GrahamKayComedy and visit his website. All the best to Graham on his new adventure!

Retail Associate Reaches for the Stars

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Danielle Smelko is a Retail Associate at Maurices (stylized by the company as “maurices”).

She spends most of her time at the women’s clothing store, located in the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario and she wouldn’t have it any other way!  Not only is fashion her passion, it’s her job! Danielle says her position enables her to be “so much more than a retail associate” and describes her role at Maurices as “a customer and community focused fashion advisor”.

When asked why she loves to work for this company, Danielle  mentioned that it is “fun and exciting” and there are many reasons why.  As she put it, her work “allows me to get to know the women in my community,  as well as get involved with charities, fundraisers, and the like, all while expressing my passion for clothing, trends, and personal style.”  Danielle  also finds Maurices to be an inspiring place to work. She feels motivated in many ways to keep “reaching for the stars” and believes that the sky truly is the limit at Maurices.

 Like many people trying to find their way in the world of work, Danielle took a “confusing and unexpected path” in terms of how she got to where she is today.

 “I have always been in customer service. I started with call centre work and bounced from business to business finding my niche. As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to school and start a business, preferably in the nail lacquer industry or [something] fashion related.  So, off I went to Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake to study business.”

 Unfortunately, the stunning campus and all of Danielle’s amazing professors and peers were not enough to keep her there:

 “I hated it. It was so hit-and-miss for me and I ended up finding myself down-right miserable.... Business wasn't for me, so I decided to continue obtaining work experience. I stayed with customer service, seeing as my strongest quality is dealing with the public. I bounced around between the food industry and the fashion industry and found myself more drawn to fashion.”

 Danielle faced a few “gruelling years with some very unappealing, unorganized, and ethically awful companies”.   Eventually she found herself at a turning point in her career and knew that making a change was essential to maintain her positive outlook on life. Although she cannot name where she worked at the time, Danielle explains that the difficulties she had in the past led her to a job she loves at Maurices as well as a better life in general.

 “There was a point after a certain company where I realized I would never again tolerate being miserable at work. I have no room in my positive mentality to not feel valued or appreciated in my work place. Growth within is important to me.”   Looking back on these experiences, Danielle would now like to thank the unmentionable companies for the hardships she went through, “because if it wasn't for them, I would never know just what I stand for in my career!”   She has also learned that there are things she has no tolerance for in her life as well. She concluded the interview by saying, “Now that I’ve found Maurices, I couldn’t be happier!”

 If you are interested in an internship, a career opportunity,  or a new outfit from Maurices,  here’s the link www.maurices.com .