Dice.com Article – In the Trenches – September 2007

September 2007
Customer Support and Training Specialist
By Joanna Bartell

I was a frustrated English as a Second Language Teacher, a bored Developer, then stressed out Business Systems Analyst before stumbling upon my current job: Customer Support and Training Specialist. It incorporates 3 of the things I enjoy doing most: technology, working with people and teaching. I work for the marketing department of a major financial services and insurance company. I train and support sales office management on the reporting application they use to manage and review sales results and sales rep production. They use this tool to gauge whose meeting expectations and what areas they can grow and develop. We, meaning two people– myself and my manager, currently support a user base of 3,000 people give or take a few. This can at times be stressful but it’s also very rewarding.

Our application also lets us know how well our marketing campaigns are performing. Reports generated from our system, which uses Microstrategy as a platform, make it all the way up the chain to the Vice Presidents and Executives of our company. This allows them to make decisions based on the trends analyzed in the reports.

Like a juggler, I usually have quite a few things in the air at once. The key is not to let any of them drop. Which happens on occasion, but we’re good at making quick recoveries. Among the balls in the air: answering 2nd level calls and emails from sales offices, assisting our help desk in getting the answers they need for their 1st level support calls, monthly training webinars through AT&T Web Meeting (which we’re transitioning to using Fugent as our web meeting host company), managing production problems and updating our support web site and QA of the new changes and enhancements, while maintaining contact with our IT team to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

One of my favorite aspects of the job is attending monthly conferences where I meet our offices in person and discuss changes to the application. We review best practices and pre-generated reports that can help them better manage their office. At these conferences, I meet with an average of about 6 offices in 2 days. Many other home office people attend and present to the offices as well. The perks include nice hotel stays, great food and a cocktail hour where I get to meet our users on a casual more relaxed basis. Being away from home and plane travel, which for me is out of Newark, is the one drawback.

I used to travel more frequently to the sales offices and do one-on-one sessions. We’re trying to stay away from in person meetings because of the related costs and find that webinars can be just as effective. This also allows me to be in the office more and manage the calls we receive from our offices.

One of the more creative aspects of my job involves maintaining and updating our support website and the creation of our on-line training on demand website which we developed using Dreamweaver and Captivate. We plan on having all of our training available on demand on line. The issue of course is time and there’s only one person—me—managing the training. It becomes a matter of prioritizing what’s most important.

No matter where you train, it’s important to understand the business you’re in. I’m in Insurance and Finance, and though I don’t necessarily have to be a financial expert I need to know enough to answer non technical questions from the users. A good portion of the questions asked are business process related and not necessarily application related.

Having an IT background in this field is essential. I started as a developer, moved on to BSA and now work as a trainer. This job requires you to be a self starter and manage yourself. You also need to be comfortable in front of groups and have a good sense of self for public speaking.

Having a master’s degree is also important, though not required. All my colleagues have something under their belt besides a Bachelor’s degree – be it a professional certificate or a graduate degree.

You need to be flexible with your time and travel—I’ve been up as early as 4:30a.m. to catch a flight, and then to return home by 11:00p.m. the same day. I’m also expected to work the next day. On a side note, a few good business suits are part of the attire —dressing as well if not better than the people your training gives the impression of authority (and makes them think you know what you’re talking about!).

Beggining the journey…

To working on my CPLP Certification – Certified Performance and Learning Professional.

I’ve been wanting to start on this for a while, but having a toddler around makes it no easy task.  I’ve also come to realize that I’m really good at procrastinating.  I’ve even bought the book “The Now Habit” to get myself out of the procrastination habit — but even that’s been hard to keep up with.

I need to separate it out in small pieces:
1. Read “The Now Habit”
2. Make a certification plan — how much will I study per night and read.
3. Make a plan to maintain my certification

If I think too much about the big picture it becomes overwhelming.  For now I need to do small bite sized pieces.

I know I can be great at what I do and all it takes is some focus!  And I hope that by keeping a blog I can keep a track of my progress on what will probably be a year long journey!