An alarm goes off. It’s 2PM in Angeles City in the Philippines. And it’s a new day in the life of a support Ninja. Lewis shoots out of bed with the swiftness and agility of a seasoned warrior. Although his nine hour shift doesn’t start until 7PM, he knows he must follow his proven routine to prepare for the long battle ahead. “Preparation is key” he tells himself, but first he must check on his baby, Nathan. Nathan is one year and 6 months old. Lewis feeds his infant son some milk then proceeds to prepare his own food. “I eat first”, Lewis says, “I need to eat before I can think.”
As a general rule, Ninjas often refrain from sharing the secrets to their craft. However, today Lewis agrees to reveal the recipe to his success. “Brunch”, Lewis admits. “It's my breakfast and lunch”. He goes even further by describing his dish of choice. “I prefer eating a heavy meal. Like rice. My favorite is pork sisig; it's made with pig head and chicken liver. We chop it into small pieces and season it with calamansi (a Philippine lime), and lots of onions and chili pepper.”
I quickly google it and catch myself salivating at the images online. I then realize Lewis has succeeded in penetrating my first line of defense. I’m already at his mercy and we’ve barely started this interview. “We are Kapampangans”, he says laughing, “and we love food.”
From Team Lead To Manager
Lewis was hired as a Team Lead with RoadWarrior which is a state-of-the-art navigation app for driving professionals. They joined SupportNinja in July 2019. Lewis started last year in August and just a few weeks ago, graduated to a team manager position. I congratulate him and ask him what path he took to get to where he is now. He answers:
“I got to the next level by making sure that my behavior was aligned with SupportNinja’s existing core values.”
His tone with me is gentle and good-humored. Another indication of the dangerous degree of his ninja skill. Lewis continues by explaining: “With that being said, SupportNinja works mostly with startups and small businesses and that was really new for me. It made me curious. My previous company (AOL) was more of a call center focused on big accounts where clients didn't talk to level 2 people in the company. They talked to senior managers, to the site directors. It was different here at SupportNinja. So I decided to work closely with my team manager; I listened to how they interacted with clients, and I was surprised to learn that all of our clients here were really ... nice. It was very different from what I was used to and it amazed me. And it's something that motivated me to go after what I wanted, which was to become a team manager.”
Q & A With Lewis
What were some of your responsibilities when you first came here as a team lead? My responsibilities really weren’t that different from my previous job. You always make sure your team is performing.
So how is your current job different now? At my previous company, I wouldn’t perform the same tasks my agents would. But as a Team Lead at SupportNinja, I do. I also manage them, and make sure they are improving their performance, and I coach them on their individual behavior. Also, certain admin tasks (are different). Previously, I had to take care of the agents’ time-keeping schedules every day, making sure they clocked in and out correctly. Not here. Here at SupportNinja, there is a designated time-keeper for everyone’s schedules. That's a workload I appreciate not having on my plate anymore.
You’re in the trenches with your co-ninjas. Do you interact with customers? If so, describe the best interaction you’ve had with a customer. My best interaction was when I was able to switch a customer's mood from irate and frustrated to being satisfied. It's the best thing ever, when a customer makes the effort to commend you, and say something like: “Lewis, you need a raise” and becomes your fan.
What's the trick? Ninjas should always remember that customers don't know how to use the product. When we assist customers, we must approach them like they don't know. Educate them properly, make sure you show them respect. Because if you don't show respect and educate them properly, they won't show respect back. Make sure you don't say something to the customer that makes them angry. Be courteous. Don’t make them feel stupid.
When you train new agents: what's the most valuable thing you teach them? New agents usually think they know everything which is why I always tell them is:
“It's not what you know, it's how you deliver the information to the customers.”
I love that. So tell me, do you have any weaknesses? I forget certain tasks I've completed the previous day. Even simple username and password logins. So what I do to improve everyday (this is one of SupportNinja’s core values) is use Google Keep to store all the information I need. I can check it on my computer as well as on my phone, so that all the tasks I’ve completed and all the things I need to get done in a certain day are all stored in my Google Keep, even my personal logins. I tend to forget those the most.
Google Keep is great. I use it, as well. Do you exercise? Yes. I do laundry. I exercise by washing our clothes.
LOL. Is there anything else you do in the morning to get ready? I drink a lot of water and I always make sure, even when I work from home, that I wear clothes that I would wear if I went to the office. The only thing I don't wear here are shoes because we don't allow shoes in the house. My wife would kill me.
You live dangerously. Describe a great day at work. Great question. Besides working for a great company and having great teammates, for me it’s about satisfying not just our customers, but the team leads as well and meeting all the deadlines that I have on task. That’s a great day. You’ve accomplished something that makes everyone happy.
What has been the biggest challenge during this pandemic? In the Philippines, especially in this area, we’re prone to storms and typhoons. The biggest challenge here is losing internet connection and electricity. Just last week, we had a storm.
What did you do? I informed the client right away that we were about to experience a storm so as to set the expectation that we might go offline. But if we were online and we still had a live connection, we would still do our job on scheduled tasks.
How would you describe SupportNinja? During this time of uncertainty, where are you going to find a company that supports you with what you need? With benefits? That's SupportNinja. To give you an example, when we went into lockdown and we had to transition from the Hideout (the office) to work-from-home, nobody was prepared for it. The government said we had to go into lockdown. SupportNinja made the decision right away, for the good of the employees, to set us up at home. Other call centers were not as prepared to let their employees work from home, but SupportNinja was. They got computers from the Hideout to the ninjas’ homes in a snap.
How do you bond with your fellow ninjas? Before lockdown, the ninjas sometimes hang out after work. We mostly discuss food and where to eat. Like I said, we are Kapampangans. We love food. Once we decide what to eat, we go to a restaurant or one of us will cook. We don't talk about work-related things. We mostly talk about family, friends, what happened last week, but never anything work-related.
What is something our clients should know if they visit the Philippines?
We’re a food culture and if I had to recommend something it would be ‘balut’.
What’s balut? Balut (pronounced ‘BAH-loot’) is a fertilized egg embryo and you need to eat it directly from the shell. It's very good. And if you try it, you must put salt on it. It’s very good for your health. It has a lot of protein. I also recommend chicharon. They’re chips made of pig meat and they’re crunchy!
I’m starving now. Is there anything else you think our clients should know about Filipino culture? Filipinos believe in God. When something happens like what is happening right now, we pray.
“Filipinos are also very hospitable. We are really happy people. All the time.”
If you were to compare us, we're like the hobbits in the movie Lord of the Rings. We like food, we're always happy, we’re great tour guides, but we're also sensitive. For example, if someone doesn't understand or appreciate our culture, we’ll feel bad and disrespected.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share with our readers? I’d like to share that SupportNinja is not just a company. It’s not just a place to work. SupportNinja is something you can be proud of. It's family. We’re family.
As we wrap up the interview, I’m smiling. Like a true Ninja, Lewis has left me with a sense of tranquility and cheerfulness, as well as an insatiable urge for Filipino food. I consider how lucky we are to have him on our side, empowering those around him while leading by example and simultaneously elevating the degree of customer service that SupportNinja promises its clients.
(Author's Note: ‘Ninja Confidential: The Lewis Edition’ is the first of a series of interviews conducted with the Ninjas to showcase their skill and highlight their accomplishments)