Meet A ServiceTrader
David Varnedoe, Director of Customer Support
David is part of the Customer Success team and manages the Customer Support division.
David leads the training and the frontline support teams that directly work with ServiceTrade customers to solve their problems.
Tell me about your ServiceTrade journey.
It has been five years. Five great years. I was originally hired to create an online training curriculum because I have a background in audio and video engineering and editing, and I most recently had worked at Apple for seven years as an HR Manager. I was a part of the team for Apple’s global retail training exercises, helping to create the training that all new hires get when they enter Apple retail.
The goal was to get me onboard, learn the ropes, figure out the application – at the time it was just the ServiceTrade core app and our mobile app – and put together comprehensive, online certification coursework. Just what that would look like was not well defined, so that was something I had to come up with. But after I learned the app a little better, I started full-time work on putting those materials together. The online learning program has changed a lot since then. I’ve done a lot of different courses and recorded tons of videos and audio and put them together. An added benefit is that I now am very comfortable with the sound of my own voice as all the narration work was me.
I’ve gone through several different title changes during these five years. I don’t remember what they all are; honestly, my role changed about once every eight months or so, as we were constantly coming up with new things and new ways to do things. In the beginning, I think we were all called Customer Solutions Engineers if we were a part of the success business. From there, I eventually became a manager with the frontline support team reporting to me.
Since then, I’ve kind of birthed the training team as well to carry on what I started, and my current title, which I’ve held for a little while now, is Director of Customer Support.
This jacket was used in the film, Drive, and is one of my prized possessions.
What has been the evolution of the Customer Success team, and how is it structured now?
The four of us that were on the success team back in the day all had the same position; we all did everything. We handled frontline support, onboarding, remote and onsite training, and professional services work whenever a customer had a need.
Essentially, what we did at the beginning is that anyone that came onboard got the Customer Success Engineer title, and they learned to do everything. First, they would start in the trenches of frontline support where you answer every question that comes up, and that naturally gives you a window into the rest of what the team does and what you would be doing as you got to that position yourself. There weren’t teams solely dedicated to Professional Services, Implementation, and Frontline Support. None of that existed then as it does today.
It really has only been just in the last two years that we’ve started thinking about different pockets of the team. Since 2019, Customer Success has become more broadly two teams: Implementation on one side and Support on the other. It became clear that we couldn’t continue to manage everything we were doing the same way, so James Jordan, former VP of Customer Success (now CIO) moved Aaron Shoemaker to focus on implementation, and me to focus on support.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, we’ve continued to grow the support team and deepen it. We have Tier 1 and Tier 2 frontline support now. Tier 1 handles and screens all incoming support tickets and phone calls. However, when there is a bug that needs to be reported and sent to engineering, a priority issue that requires special attention, or a more complex issue with our apps, the ticket is escalated to Tier 2. From there, Tier 2 takes over and can devote more time to ensuring we get to the bottom of it quickly. This allows Tier 1 to remain agile and respond quickly to new tickets as they come in.
We also have expanded the training team, which will be the team that will grow the fastest in the immediate future. They’re responsible for our online certification course work, our Help Center, and in the future, they’ll be totally responsible for our new program we’re putting together for onsite training and continuing training and education.
What’s a typical day like as a Customer Success Specialist at ServiceTrade?
On a typical day we get started around 8am. Our support hours run from 9am eastern to 7pm eastern, so we can cast the net wide and make sure we have butts in the seats and are supporting our West coast folks. We don’t want any of our customers who are on the other side of the country to be in a deficit for support because they happened to not be where our headquarters are. We split the 8am – 7pm shifts into 2 separate shifts, so you either work 8-5 or 10-7.
Customers reach out either via telephone or through the widget that is right there on our website to say ‘hey I’ve got a question about this, or I think I’ve encountered a bug or an error.’ Then the support team reads through those tickets, figures out what is going on, then follows up to solve them as quickly as humanly possible. A lot of that stuff gets solved pretty straight away. As a matter of fact – over a quarter of all the tickets that we get in the course of a week in a month end up being what we call one-touch tickets, which means we’re able to solve them immediately, and they don’t get reopened after that – so a full-solve right away for over a quarter of support tickets.
A customer success specialist’s day is really just listening to what customers are telling them. No day is ever the same twice. You learn a lot about the product, the process, and a lot about your ability to work technically with other members of success and engineering. We interface directly with engineers to find solutions that are plaguing our customers, especially when it comes down to ‘is this a bug or is it not a bug?’ If it is a bug, you’re responsible for keeping the customer updated on what we’re doing to fix that.
You can work at a really large organization as a technician like Apple where basically anything that a customer comes in with may or may not be a bug and is being reported for the first time. You basically send it into the ether – into the oblivion – and hope it gets picked up somewhere and gets fixed by an engineer. But you know, here at ServiceTrade, you are directly interfacing with the team that’s going to fix that, which also puts the onus back on you to communicate with the customer. You can’t just wipe your hands of the problem; you have to constantly be in contact with the customer.
“Over a quarter of all the tickets that we get in the course of a week in a month end up being what we call one-touch tickets, which means we’re able to solve them immediately”
What does a career path look like for a Customer Support Specialist, and how do you foster individual’s career paths?
Most everyone that is in the Customer Success organization came in through Customer Support Tier 1. You can really go any number of different ways from there. Right now, just on Tier 1 team alone, I have someone looking to be promoted to Tier 2, which is a great move because it makes you more of an asset and a subject matter expert at all things ServiceTrade. With that kind of product knowledge you can kind of carve your own path inside an organization at some point because we always need people who just understand our product philosophically.
I’ve got a couple of people that are moving into the implementation side of Customer Success into project coordinator or project management roles. And, there’s another person that wants to go into account management and customer support post-sale, so they can continue to work with customers to flesh out their ServiceTrade experience and make them better promoters and users.
Then on the Tier 2 side of support, I’ve got people that are interested in joining the training team to become trainers. Again, that’s another place where having that product knowledge and expertise really helps you. Another Tier 2 specialist has their sights set on becoming a Technical Account Manager. And yet another is looking to strengthen their leadership skills to one day lead a team like that.
Just recently, we promoted a member of the Tier 2 team to a DevOps role in the Engineering team. When she started at ServiceTrade, she was fresh out of college and never had a non-retail job before. Within the 7-8 months she’s been here, we’ve been able to identify her skill set and say, ‘Hey you did this in school, and it directly translates here. You’re a product knowledge expert now, and what can we help you do with that?’ Her curiosity took her someplace, and that place was Engineering. It’s a win on both sides – you’ve got someone who is probably doing something they would have never applied for earlier this year when she first joined ServiceTrade, but now she has the confidence and expertise in the product that she needs to go make that happen. And then we also win because it’s just a better talent pipeline. Everyone wins because everyone is happier and doing the things they want to be doing and growing and not feeling stagnant.
I encourage everyone in Customer Support to constantly be thinking about what makes them happy and what they want to do in a role. As we continue to grow as a company, those opportunities are only going to get more numerous and interesting. There’s almost nothing more awesome in my job than helping people build careers for themselves. It’s just incredibly gratifying.
Here’s me at the best Air BnB I have ever stayed in, with downtown LA in the distance. Incredibly peaceful.
Do you have any advice for those looking to start or make a transition into a SaaS career?
I would say that more than anything, that people that are looking to make a jump into SaaS are probably more reserved than they should be because there’s lots of different jobs out there currently, and lots of companies are hiring. We spent the majority of the pandemic trying to beef up our staff to a level that will allow us to adequately service and support our customers.
Most of the time, we’re pulling people in that don’t have previous support experience because if you’re good with people and you’re agile and adept at picking new things up, we can teach you what we know about our technology. You really can’t teach a person to be really good with people in the same amount of time that you could teach someone how to use ServiceTrade or a process or workflow that we follow. That stuff is easy-peasy compared to the soft skills that are required for this role.
So don’t be intimidated. If you feel like you would be a great fit, and you like working with people, supporting people, then there are plenty of software-as-a-service companies, including ServiceTrade, that can utilize your talents to help our customers really get the most out of our product.
Then, once you get in, you really can start charting for yourself the journey that will ultimately be yours. You can’t be afraid 1) to take an entry-level position or 2) be afraid that you don’t have the experience because an entry-level position is just that.
There are a lot of people that came in at the ground level on the success team that had tons of skills, and as soon as they got a firm handle on the way ServiceTrade works as both a company and a product, they were off to the races. That most everybody in our 30-person department came in as an entry-level position speaks volumes to the amount of opportunities that there are at an organization like ServiceTrade.
What do you like to do outside of ServiceTrade?
Lots of things. I love to eat. I’m a big foodie, so I’m usually checking out what new restaurants are opening on any given weekend in the Triangle. I’m always looking for recommendations on places to try out. I also really like bars, so I do the same thing with bars as I do with restaurants. My partner and I are both really into that, so she and I will typically do that on the weekends.
I’ve got two little wiener dogs, possibly the cutest dogs in existence. Being at home all the time and working from home has given me the opportunity to really reconnect with everything that makes them great and everything that makes them obnoxious.
I used to like to workout a lot, but that hasn’t been my focus during the pandemic. I do ride my bike some, but probably not as much as I would like. I enjoy spending time outside. I like video games. I’m a huge music and movies person because that’s what I majored in during college. I have been accused of having too many hobbies. I try to fill up my time. They say bored people are boring, and I try very hard to never be bored.
My two little wiener dogs, Kermit and Bella.