When I spoke with Tara, she was upfront about her unusual career path.
“It’s pretty winding.”
We've heard this before, of course. It's pretty common in our CX profiles and we even dedicated a whole book to it called Undefined World.
Hearing the full story, though, there are common threads in every move she makes. Art, sports, helping people, and perhaps most powerfully, ethics and integrity are always at the core of her work. While she has tried many different roles, her unique path is deeply reflective of her personality and passions.
Discovering her motivations
Tara has always enjoyed athletics, spending much of her childhood artistic roller skating and horseback riding. She also uses art as her outlet:
“I just have to be creative. I am not outwardly emotional, so that is how I control things when I’m emotional to get back to center.”
After high school, she enrolled at Miami University (OH) as a fine arts major, looking to strengthen her artistic talents. That’s when she hit a wall.
“I left fine arts because I had a block. Just like a writer’s block, I couldn’t get past a project. So I said, ‘I can’t do this. I’m going to be terrible at it.’”
She went home to Michigan, figuring she’d drop out and attend a local university the next semester. Her parents discouraged that plan:
“They said, ‘Get your ass back there and figure it out.’ But I said, ‘No, no, no, I’ll waitress for the rest of the semester, and then I’ll go to the University of Michigan.’”
Her parents pointed out that in all likelihood, she’d never actually go back if she chose to drop out. Don’t get me wrong, Tara was dedicated to higher education. Her parents were just concerned about her losing momentum or getting caught up in a job and not finding a good opportunity to go back.
Tara returned to Miami and decided to combine her interest in sports and business into a major in Sports Studies and a minor in Organizational Behavior. This was pivotal because she was incorporating pieces of her family bonds into the decision. Tara had always connected with her father over sports, and her mother is quite business minded.
With her family encouraging her, Tara finally found an educational avenue that worked.
Meeting a career champion
During her undergraduate studies, Tara interned in the athletics department and continued with various internships once she graduated. One highlight was working in customer service for Palace Sports and Entertainment, home of the Detroit Pistons, where she helped with event operations.
Then she heard about an open position as an assistant director of game-day operations back at her alma mater and landed the role.
This decision led Tara to meet her mentor:
“What I think was really cool about that role was I was a female in sports, and I had a female boss, Associate Athletic Director, Keanah Smith. There aren’t a lot of women in sports. The ones that were there really had to fight to be there. Keanah and the Senior Woman Administrator, Jennie Gilbert, kind of wrapped their arms around me as a young professional. Over those two years, I was able to witness how and why certain decisions were made that affected not only the athletic department but also main campus. Keanah and Jennie were very forward-thinking. They were outspoken, and they stood up for what they believed in.”
These women not only gave Tara unique opportunities, but they also gave her excellent advice on how to navigate the internal politics of organizations.
After two years, Tara left the assistant role to get her MBA, but Keanah has continued to provide that same mentorship and support. Even though this job ended over a decade ago, Keanah is still the person Tara turns to when she’s looking for that next step.
Building on innate skills
Tara excels at connecting and supporting people long-term. Sure, she’s great at helping people to reset their passwords and solving quick issues. But she shines when she can understand the person behind the request and anticipate their needs before they even ask. A perfect example of this was when she was working as an Academic Advisor for student-athletes at the University of Michigan:
“100+ students. 4 different teams. Each team has their own unique culture, each student comes from a unique background, and each coach works differently. You almost have four bosses.”
Tara figured out each student’s personality, motivations, and the coaches’ preferences.
Working with those parameters, she was able to tailor the support to match the student.
“I did a lot of research, I asked a lot of questions, I attended a lot of team functions, and I reached out to different advisors across the country to see what their best practices were. I’m a very organized person. I used a lot of spreadsheets to figure out who all of the different students were, what year they were in, what team, what major, what GPA. I considered stressors that may impact their success, their different learning styles, the amount of travel they’d be doing for competitions — the list goes on."
"Then I combined all of those factors to determine the level of risk a student might be at when participating as a student-athlete. Determining that level of risk allowed me to put unique support mechanisms in place for each team. That was an interesting thing to learn from a support perspective because you can’t treat everyone the same.”
Putting her skillset and integrity into User Operations
Tara uses that experience and skillset in her current role as a User Operations Specialist at The Predictive Index (PI) — a job she applied for after taking their test as part of the application process for another company. As a support team member, Tara helps The PI’s clients and partners to ensure they succeed. A big part of that is knowing who is making the request and how they will best absorb the information they need.
Tara mentioned something we should all keep in mind: she doesn’t jump to conclusions when figuring out why a customer is acting a certain way. While they might seem gruff or abrupt at first, she cautions other agents not to judge too early:
“I want to get to know who these people are so that I can adapt to help them. There have been cases where I thought someone was being rude but found out after more interactions that they were just super focused and detail-oriented.”
Discovering what didn’t work
Woven into these career highlights were roles that Tara needed to leave behind. Integrity in CX and elsewhere is vital, and while listening to Tara’s career journey, that fact came up time and again. See, Tara isn’t your go-with-the-flow kind of person. If she senses an ethical dilemma at work, she calls it out. In fact, she is even willing to walk away from jobs she enjoys if those deeper issues don’t get addressed.
Several times throughout her career, she found herself disappointed that these values weren’t shared. On more than one occasion, she saw decisions being made that weren’t in the best interest of the student-athletes. In one role, she was even asked to push people to make a financial decision that wasn’t in their best interest. Instead of giving in, Tara left.
“I’m lucky in the sense that I do not need to tolerate environments that don’t align with my core values. I can take a risk and walk away. If I had kids and/or a spouse to consider, I might be more conservative in my decision making. I also am fortunate to have family support. If I walk away and fall on financial hard times, I always have a home there. I’m also scrappy. My diversified experiences allow me to pick up odd jobs (tutoring, waitressing, freelance writing and art) while I plan my next journey. So, I can be a little risky.”
Taking time to teach
Tara’s career highlights how teaching and support are intertwined. In her work, she often refers to the proverb, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Whether it is working with students or support clients, Tara always takes a proactive approach as opposed to a reactive one:
“When engaging with customers, I want to provide them with skills so they can function independently.”
Support professionals like Tara are the ones that leave you feeling empowered. She takes her role to the next level by not just helping people but teaching them how to help themselves.
And that is why ethics and integrity in CX matter.
Have a question for Tara about how to deal better with integrity in CX? Leave a comment below or contact her here.
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