The makings of a great Manager of Customer Support Operations

How Natalie Mercuri became a Manager of Customer Support Operations.

While I spoke with Natalie Mercuri, she was at the time a Manager of Customer Support Operations in Clever Inc. I kept thinking that she’d make a fantastic mentor. Her approach to success and setbacks, her willingness to advocate for herself, and a deep understanding of support all combine to make Natalie a true leader.

But to learn how Natalie built those skills, we have to go back to her roots in education. She took a unique path, and that’s precisely why I’m writing this series of CX profiles in the first place. There are so many ways to get into support and so many careers branching out from CX that it’s vital to shine a spotlight on the available options.

Switching paths: not all  managers of Customer Support Operations start in CX

Natalie earned an MA in International Relations and Affairs. During her master’s studies, she worked in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to establish and build the curriculum for a new degree-granting program at a local university.

Receiving a certificate from her program supervisor at the University of Phnom Penh.

Feeling called back home (and tackling some pesky student loans), Natalie moved back to the US. After doing some more teaching, she realized she wanted to explore her potential and expand her skillset.

That’s when her friend suggested that she try out customer support at Clever:

“I’m a dabbler, and learning about the tech sounded exciting. Since I was in education for so long, I had a buttoned-up vision of what business culture would look like. Clever went against that in a great way. Also, I’m a naturally empathetic person, and I love problem-solving, so the role was a wonderful mix of helping people and stretching my skills in complicated ways.”

The power of a setback

Natalie mentioned that she was passed over for three internal positions during her time at Clever. Watching colleagues go to other departments and move onto different tracks motivated her to:

“Get out of the queue and try other things.”

When she interviewed for the third position, the interviewer told Natalie that she wouldn’t be getting the job before she even left the room.

I asked her why she stayed with the company after going through such a big disappointment. The answer was simple — she knows her worth. Understanding why a company is worth your time is important, and it’s something many people often overlook.

“Employees vote with their feet. If I’m not going to be supported in the way that I want, then I have the chance to go somewhere else.”

Members of Clever team volunteering at a local school in San Fransisco.

What a refreshing take!

Instead of dealing with whatever happens and just languishing in a job, Natalie knows her worth. She gets the fact that she’s an asset to a team, and they need to make it worthwhile for her to stay. That understanding of what she brings to the table is something most of us only aspire to build up over time.

She used that confidence to turn her situation around. While the interviewer said she wouldn’t get the role, Natalie was encouraged to go through the rest of the interview process to get the full experience and see what she could learn from it.

Yes, she was disappointed. Still, she went to each interview. At the end of the process, she was told she had a lot to contribute to the team. But at the same time, one interviewer said she didn’t feel Natalie had a clear vision for what she wanted to do. That’s when the lightbulb when off.

Natalie realized she needed to figure out who she was going to be in the company instead of putting her head down and accepting the role she was handed.

Defining her scope

It can be challenging to pick a career direction, especially if you’re being told you aren’t the right fit for a job you want. Instead of getting distracted, Natalie sought out a project that she wanted to tackle and became her own advocate.

“I put together a pitch for my manager. Our team was about to double in size, and the onboarding process we had wasn’t effective.”

That’s how she merged her educational background with her drive to develop new skills.

Natalie’s manager gave her the onboarding revamp as a side project. She would be able to leave the queue for a few hours a week and work on onboarding. Her manager said they’d see where things went. Of course, Natalie knew where things were going to go because she was now in control of a project she could sink her teeth into and gain new skills.

Natalie speaking at a customer summit for MaestroQA — one of the tools she brought to Clever as the first Quality Assurance Manager.

From choosing a knowledge management system (she decided to make the jump from Confluence to Guru) to revising all of the old materials and appointing SMEs responsible for data points, Natalie made improvements. A once ineffective onboarding system became robust.

More than that, the experience taught Natalie that she needed to become her own advocate because only she knew her true capabilities.

She needed to stop waiting for other people to tell her how to shine.

Building her success: how Natalie finally made it into a Manager of Customer Support Operations

Of course, I was wondering what she got in return for her efforts. Yes, she was creating a career she’d enjoy, but how was Clever making it worth her while? Well, for one thing, they invented three roles for her at the company. The more she advocated for herself, the more they were able to make things work for her — and that included finding the right salary band.

“I aligned with management and connected with people in similar roles at other companies.”

By keeping her finger on the pulse of what she was doing and what that was worth, Natalie was able to move into new roles at Clever and be compensated for them. I found this especially impressive because we often just take the compensation package handed to us instead of putting in the work to see what we deserve. Doing that extra bit of research pays off, and Natalie proves that.

After her partner accepted a job in Denver, Natalie sadly had to say goodbye to her role at Clever.

Thankfully, she left with an arsenal of skills that her next company will be lucky to gain. I’d like to end with a quote from Natalie’s former manager because it sums up how I felt about our call.

“Natalie is a one-woman rocket ship…No challenge was too big to take on.” — Mikayla Welborn Knauer

Have a question for Natalie about how to advocate for yourself & build a career you love? Leave a comment below or contact her here.

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Who knows? You could make it to Manager of Customer Support Operations yourself.