Customer Experience Through the Eyes of a Service Leader: Interview with David Young

February 7, 2018
by Christine Viera

An Interview with Service Leader David Young on His Career and Customer Experience

For 2018, we’re putting the spotlight on inspiring people starting with a former Fortune 500 service leader who played a major role in customer experience. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day marketing and forget how important the post-sale experience is. Yet, customer emotions and experiences are deeply shaped by what happens when things go wrong.

As a marketer, it’s important to know what makes service leaders tick. Their jobs are hard and rewarding. Their people shape and influence the customer experience with every interaction. Your ability to significantly improve customer experience likely involves these critical team members.

So, let me introduce David Young. David most recently served as the Senior Vice President of Service Assurance at a major Colorado telecommunications company. During that time, he was at the forefront of embracing customer experience improvements with measurable results. As you read this interview, you’ll also find that David operates with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for his hard-working employees and his customers.


The Path to Becoming a Service Leader


Tell us a little about yourself. How did you find your way into a job leading Service Assurance?

That’s a great question! There were a few times, especially during outages or high-level escalations, that I asked myself how I got there. But in all seriousness, I was taught during my early education and career that there are some valuable and transferable skills that will serve you well…no matter what you do.

I received a degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. I appreciate that my professors focused more on developing our ability to think critically, and not just on our skills at memorizing equations and formulas. Later on, I had a variety of opportunities that were well outside of my original engineer discipline. Thanks to these early influences, I not only felt confident, but eager to try them.  

And, I’m grateful for and give credit to many managers and leaders who saw more in me than just my original basic technical skills. To be more specific, I started out with the Williams Companies in the energy field. Some brilliant leaders there thought outside the box. They figured out how to repurpose unusable, old petroleum pipelines by using those assets and the associated right of way to build a new fiber optic network.  

At the time, I was an executive running one of their natural gas pipelines. I took advantage of the opportunity to jump over to the telecom side of the company and try something entirely new. I especially owe that opportunity to a great friend and mentor of mine who is known for recognizing talent and leveraging transferable leadership skills to bring new value to an organization.


What’s the key to success in a Service Assurance role?

First, I’d like to clarify that this answer is based on observations of some great colleagues who were in Service Assurance leadership roles, as well as my own successes and failures. One of things these leaders all had in common was that they cared about their employees and customers. I mean genuinely cared. They took pride, not just in their own performance, but also in the impact of their teams and the resulting experience delivered to customers.  

I believe that if you’re going to be successful in anything that involves leading teams and positively impacting customers, you have to care. Because people can tell if you are genuine and sincere in your desires. If you are, they’ll forgive you for a lot of things and work with you. Obviously, it’s extremely valuable to keep up with the latest advances, accomplishments and thoughts of others. By the way, I’m not just saying this, but your blog is a great example of a place where someone can go to learn and continue to develop.


So, you’ve shared what success looks like. Now, what kept you up at night in that role?

Well, you mean other than the middle of the night escalations? Both day and night, there is always a sense of needing to figure out how to do things better. But that’s not a complaint. I see it as the challenge that kept the job interesting.  


A Service Leader’s View of Customer Experience


What does customer experience mean to you?

Someone once said that people may not remember exactly what you said, what words you used or what you did, but they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel. In Service Assurance, you can say all the right things straight from a script, go through all the textbook troubleshooting steps, and ultimately restore their service. But if you made them feel like their issue wasn’t urgent, that you didn’t care, or that their problem was your nuisance–that’s a negative experience. When I’ve seen issues handled by a team member that cared, showed a sense of urgency and was transparent–it often resulted in a top customer satisfaction score and increased customer loyalty.


A good customer experience starts with caring.What pragmatic steps did you take as a leader to engage employees in improving customer experience?  

Well, as you know, whole books have been written on the how to’s of this question. But there are a couple of things that come to mind. First caring. I prioritized spending time with my direct reports and other managers in the organization. You said pragmatic. I wish I’d had time to spend with all of the 1200’ish employees on my team so they’d know they were far more than an employee number to me. But that wasn’t realistic. So, I made sure I had a great team of leaders that shared my beliefs and passion for great customer experience. They passed this belief on to the rest of our employees. If any of them ever read this, I hope that they know that I will always be grateful to them for their hard work and efforts.

Also, we surveyed our customers constantly, but we didn’t initially have a way to get regular employee feedback. So, I instituted an employee satisfaction survey. I always looked at the scores, but what was most telling were the optional verbatim comments that employees submitted. That helped us better understand what they were experiencing. And I found, like so many others have, that there’s a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. I find that employees are more engaged when they feel heard.  


What advice do you have for other service executives in addressing customer experience needs?

If you rely on a team of people to meet the needs of the customer, your first priority is to make sure you’re meeting the needs of that team. And by that, I don’t just mean trying to make them feel good. As leaders, we’re responsible for making sure that we continually streamline processes so our teams are both efficient and effective. Going forward, we must leverage technology better to deliver the best customer experience.  


What’s your tip for staying balanced and focused in a high-pressure job?

I’m very fortunate to have kids that are far smarter than I ever was. My oldest son, who has a PhD in Chemistry, leads a very balanced life. When I asked his secret, he told me that two things contribute to his great disposition. First, a regular workout routine. Second, it’s a certain amount of apathy. As you can imagine, the last response was unexpected. My son clarified, and said he chooses not to care about some things. He doesn’t worry about what he can’t control and things that really aren’t relevant in the overall scheme of things. I agree and share the sentiment.


High energy, inspired B2B Marketer. Lessons learned largely in high tech and communications industries where I've worked with very smart folks, on very cool things, in very dynamic environments. I like helping others navigate people, tech, programs, and problems with vision, courage, and impact. All opinions are solely my own.

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