Support Star Interview: Dana Polyak

Dana Polyak

Thank you all for your kind comments about the first Support Star interview with Deepak Chawla last month. This time around, I am speaking with Dana Polyak of Addepar, a B2B software company serving a specialized market in the finance field, wealth advisors. Having started her career as a software engineer, Dana pivoted into support a few years later, looking for a tighter connection with customers (to the puzzlement of her friends at the time, she says).

Dana also spent a year at the Stanford Graduate School of Business to pursue her goal of building customer-facing services organizations, and she now heads the Client Success organization at Addepar, which consists of four teams – Support, Client Advocacy (relationship management), Training, and Practice Management.

FT: One thing that’s interesting about your organization is that you are recruiting support engineers with a background in finance. How did you make this decision and how do you make sure that they will be good at software support?

DP: As you know, Addepar’s clients are financial services professionals in a very specialized area of finance, wealth management.  To build rapport with the clients, we need to understand what they do and the language they use to describe their jobs.

That said, some members of my team come from Finance, but others have technical backgrounds.  In addition, we look for people with deep data expertise, as data is a big part of Addepar and understanding how to work with large data sets helps expedite resolutions of some of our most common issues.

Before I started extensive hiring efforts, I outlined the skills needed to support our clients and mapped out the current team against the skills.  That quickly informed me what I needed to develop (where scores were low, but with small gaps from the ideal state) and where I needed to hire externally.  This method also helped to inform me when to bring in an external consultant (FT Works) for training on support skills.

FT: How do you measure success for support organizations?

DP: Support for me is the ER of the company.  So we need to resolve the issues, but also offer a superb bedside manner.  What it translates into for us is that success of the Support organization is CSAT and the response rate on CSAT. The more responses we receive from the clients, the stronger the emotional connection between the clients and us.  That’s key to strong relationships.

While client experience is of utmost importance to me, I also work towards improving our product, because the support organization is the one that sees most of the issues and, can therefore influence product improvements. What I am working on rolling out is a metric that will enable us to track how Support is influencing product improvements: the number of high-impacting bugs resolved and features implemented.

In addition, we are looking into increasing our client-facing content in order to empower clients to resolve their own issues faster. Having a tight loop with the content writing and training teams, and then measuring the impact of the content and training, is something I am extremely interested in.

FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

DP: Addepar continues to grow and that creates a lot of opportunities for a lot of us.  Support has excellent reputation at the company and we regularly see members of our team moving on to other opportunities at Addepar, which means we are constantly hiring and rebuilding our skills.  I am thinking of how to improve this and create a more predictable model.

As we grow, we also get more Enterprise level clients and I am thinking of our Support model and organizational structure – what will we look like in 2018, 2019, and beyond.

FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?

DP: I have seen separation of the support organization into two teams, premium support and regular support.  What I observed is that the regular team ended up with better product expertise because of the number of issues they work on compared to the premium team.  I therefore, am not the biggest fan of such separation of teams.  Plus, it creates an elitist culture, which I don’t want to foster in my organization.

FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?

DP: Trust the people to do the right things, invest in their education, empower them to create the processes they’ll follow, rather than dictate the processes.  I have a lot of respect and appreciation for the people who get up in the morning and dedicate themselves to solving hard problems every day.  The stress levels in support are constant and the work never ends.  It takes a special character to thrive in this amazing, stressful, yet rewarding environment.

FT: Thank you very much, Dana!