Alexander Kudientsov is the Director of Customer Experience at Teabox, an e-commerce company that delivers fresh tea to tea lovers, right to their doorstep.
Alex, a Ukranian, moved 5300 kms to be a part of Teabox, right from their early days. Their support team, which is 5 people strong, works from the vibrant city of Bangalore, India. They handle about 60 support queries a day through a variety of channels like email, chat and social media. We caught up with Alex to chat with him about life, chai, customer support and everything in between.
Ukraine to Bangalore, that’s quite a journey. Tell us how that came about to be.
I was inspired by the idea of the company itself. The tea industry’s as traditional as it gets and then, there’s Teabox. A unique technology-based organization, disrupting the entire space. So, when I got the opportunity to be a part of Kaushal’s groundbreaking, industry-redefining endeavour, there was no need for any kind of convincing.
I joined the team as a Business Development intern i.e I took care of the Russian web content and supported our customers in Russian, if necessary. I also handled marketing/PR for the CIS countries. After the first six months of my internship, I started to single handedly manage the entire customer service operations at Teabox from Bangalore.
Just six months? That’s impressive! Did you undergo training of some sort for your current role?
Yes, I took nonduality lessons from Advaita Vedanta and applied them to customer support. Even though people and everything in this world look like separate instances, there is only Brahman or the Absolute which manifests and perceives itself through all forms in this world.
Supporting customers is not that different from helping yourself.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Tell us about a typical day, at Teabox.
Well, a lot of it is spent answering questions about our tea, how to buy tea online and the like. I also conduct the customer satisfaction simulations for the team. I am no tea connoisseur but I am a lover of good tea.
And, of course, no day goes by without making a good cup of tea myself.
How do you motivate yourself and your team day in and day out?
One of the best things about my job is that I get to be the bearer of good news.
Day in and day out, we receive tons of feedback about our tea. Every now and then, there are also customers who write in about how discovering Teabox has changed their lives. I love hearing how the brand has redefined the experience of drinking tea, for them. We find our daily dose of motivation in these stories. They help us get through the day.
So far, Teabox has served 30 million cups of chai to over 90 countries (Whoa!). How did you scale customer support at Teabox, while keeping the culture and core values intact and making sure customers end up happy?
Each member of our Customer Support team undergoes intensive training in understanding the different varieties of tea we produce. By the time they talk to customers, they’re experts not just in the kinds of tea we offer but also our business practices. That is what really helps us serve our customers better. That attention to detail.
What’s the best thing about working for Teabox?
It’s a culture of equals, here at Teabox. Discussions run freely and openly across all teams. This, obviously, makes collaboration a breeze. We are a diverse team; people from different cultures and nationalities all share the same space. That brings a lot of richness to all conversations and some global perspective too.
That and knowing that I get to help a customer connect to a great product is the best thing about working for Teabox.
What’s your most memorable customer interaction?
There are lots of them, tons that have made our day but there’s just one that thrilled all of us to bits. It was an interaction which ultimately resulted in a customer to become our investor. For obvious reasons, we brag about this an awful lot.
That’s one heck of a story. What do you think is the key ingredient that makes Teabox’s customer support so great?
Empathy. We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and it shows.
And it’s not just the Customer Support team. Our CEO, Kaushal, actually spends a lot of time on support. He actively engages with customers and can usually be found recommending teas to customers on a first name basis.
An attitude we wish more CEOs had. On a separate note, we’ve read the YourStory article and might we just say, we’re awed by how you handled an abusive customer. Even your CEO said he was amazed at how calm you were. How do you do it?
It’s important to keep reminding yourself that customer satisfaction is your goal here, no matter how mad the customer may be. As long as you keep that in focus, no problem is too big to be handled.
Your most frustrated customers are your best source of learning.
I try to keep that in mind. We make sure all concerns are addressed effectively in time and the end result is that they turn into happy customers. We wouldn’t, shouldn’t, accept anything short of that.
The most important metric a support rep must aim for is customer satisfaction. It’s a company’s basement, if not the entire building.
What do you do when you’ve had a rough customer call like that? How do you get back into your happy place?
I usually sit down and analyze the case from the customer and the company’s perspective. That’s my happy place – in knowing answers.
What do you find most rewarding about being a customer support agent? What makes everything worth it?
The fact that I get to directly participate in a customer’s brand experience. I connect people to great products. That makes everything worth it.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received (wrt customer support)?
“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
It’s from Bruce Lee. Adaptability is needed for survival 🙂
What’s your biggest challenge in providing great support?
Hiring. Finding driven customer service professionals is a big challenge. But we’re working on it.
How do you manage taking time off from support?
I spin poi, play football and travel.
What advice would you give to customer reps who are picking up the phone for the first time?
Quality of service is paramount to achieving customer satisfaction. Continually strive towards it.
If you could have one famous person handling Teabox support for a day, who would it be?
God. Who else could better understand people?
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at Teabox?
The most important learning, to me, is that learning itself is a work in progress.
What do you think is the secret sauce to customer happiness?
As I’ve already mentioned, by the philosophy of Advaita, being one with the customer and not seeing oneself as different from the customer is the secret sauce to customer happiness. A support rep in his daily life is also a customer to other products. At the end of the day, all of us need to be compassionate and empathise with fellow beings for the greater good.
A random genie appears and you get three wishes. You can’t ask for more wishes or more genies. What would you wish for?
I would wish for, umm, love, freedom and self-realization.
We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support representative and we pick their brains. We find out what a typical day is like for these support rockstars, their personal work-philosophy, support process and what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. Know a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here? Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.