Meet Craig Stoss, Program Manager and CX guru

Craig, your career has taken you many places. Tell us how you got to PartnerHero.

I grew up on the same property as my grandparents farm which they bought in the 1960’s. I helped my dad build fences, feed cows, and shovel hay. Farming was never really in my blood, but growing up in a rural community absolutely had a huge impact on my career. In the early ‘90s there weren’t many computers near where I grew up but one of my classrooms did have one and if you finished your homework early you were allowed to use it - and that’s how I learned to program. I thought it was incredible that there was this inanimate object that could be told exactly what to do and it would do it, even if you told it the wrong thing to do. My family bought me a computer and I started tinkering at home. A few years later the Canadian government started a program to bring the internet to rural areas. Our library won a grant and then needed to hire someone to teach computer classes. I was one of very few people in the village who knew about computers so it turned out to be me. 

I taught everyone from young children to senior citizens and that’s when I first started to see how you could combine people and technology. That’s what has really shaped my entire career.

I knew I didn’t want to spend 40 hours a week programming so when I got into university pursuing a CS degree I sought out customer-facing roles knowing that’s where I wanted to play. 

Early in my career I spent years traveling the world meeting global customers across several different industries (high tech, finance, health). I experienced 30 counties in six years visiting these clients. That’s where I truly found my customer experience appreciation. I realized what customer experience means in Japan vs. Germany vs. England. I saw the formality of Japanese culture and the laid-backness of the French culture. I saw how employees are treated and how decisions are made in different cultures. The experience changed my conception of time management - too often places like London and New York, where companies are based, forget that there is such a thing as different time zones and would book meetings with me in the middle of the night. I’m really conscientious about time zones and work-life-balance now. 

In 2013 I moved back to Canada and have been leading support teams ever since. The unifying thread through my career is a focus on global teams, scaling start-ups, operationalizing 24/7 support and multilingual, multi-time zone scenarios. Outsourcing has been a big part of that, I’ve built teams in Japan, China, the Philippines and Latin America (to name a few). 

What is your Customer Experience philosophy?

Something that everyone on earth shares in common is that we are all customers. From a young age your parents maybe gave you a few cents to buy a candybar - at that moment you became a customer. The thing that blows my mind is that despite the fact that we are ALL customers and, theoretically, know how we as customers want to be treated, somehow many businesses get it wrong. If everyone is a customer then how is it that support can be so bad? 

I want to bring the experience that we all know we want to the people who want it. I want businesses to be able to accommodate different cultural styles and be accessible to everyone. 

Why do you love working in CX?

CX is always evolving. The concept of CX as a department barely even existed 10 years ago and now you have an entire industry set up with the sole goal of supporting CX teams. The one thing I’m sure of is that 10 years from now CX will look completely different again. To succeed today, every person at a company needs to see CX as their responsibility to a certain extent. We have what I like to call “Netflix Culture” - we’re so used to everything being on-demand and that’s what is driving CX. If you can’t deliver amazing experiences on-demand you just can’t compete in today’s marketplace. We are a much more demanding society than we were even just a few years ago. 

Tell us about a major turning point in your career. 

In my early 20’s I was visiting an important customer to try and help diagnose what about our software was causing their servers to crash. I ran a bunch of diagnostic tests and, with some help, discovered that there was an issue with the way Oracle was working with my company’s software. When I told Jean, my main contactat the company I was visiting, her response was direct and immediate. She looked at me right in the eyes and said, “I don’t give shit. You figure it out. You said you supported Oracle, that’s your fault.”

That was a real aha moment for me. What customers want is for you to take accountability and fix their problem, regardless of whether you see it as “your” issue or not. Accountability is everything. 

You’ve hired outsourcing companies in past roles as a CX Director - what is it like to be on the other side? Anything you expected vs. didn’t expect?

I’ve worked with many outsourcing companies in my career. Each time I would share a plan of exactly what I needed. I had done the math on how many people I would need to hire, what systems they would be using and how the management would work. One thing that has surprised me is seeing how many companies, in addition to needing to hire people, really need expert help defining all the things that they need to build a truly world-class team. 

In support, the problem set is finite and things like scheduling, time management, time tracking, email branding, language, workflow of tickets are repeatable problems we’re all trying to solve as leaders. The thing that makes it so hard is that the solution set is infinite. There’s no “right answer” and as leaders in support we have to decide what is right for our businesses at any given stage of growth. 

When you’re a five person company your CEO might be doing all the support. And that type of support is different because you know all the customers and you're trying to do really personalized support, you're trying to grow a business. Suddenly you’re a ten million dollar company and you have a 15 person support team. Maybe it's less personalized now or maybe the opposite! Maybe you hire 40 people because you need to keep it more personalized even as the company grows because the customers and brand demand that. 

For a podcast, Scott Lawrence, formerly from Rachio, told me about what he calls “The CX Spectrum.” You could spend $0 and just have blog posts and a help center with no phone or email. On the other side you spend a huge amount of money and every customer gets a very specific response to every problem they have. You have to decide where you want to be on that spectrum, and how you want to brand your business. What I’m realizing in my role at PartnerHero is how many businesses can use more consulting and expertise on these types of questions.

What do you like about working at PartnerHero?

There are two things I absolutely love about working at PartnerHero. First is the fact that good ideas bubble up and actually get enacted is incredible. Everyone in this company is humble and wants to learn from each other's expertise. No one uses title or seniority to stomp on a good idea. That is so rare and something I hope we keep doing as we expand so fast!

PartnerHero is also very big on building roles around people and their affinities. While we all may share similar titles, we are allowed to explore partners and interests individually. If you have a love for QA, you are given accounts or responsibilities related to QA, or in my case CX and how I am helping program manage accounts that are hyper-focused on CX. Exploration and engaging with employees is so vital, and PartnerHero does this so well.

What are you passionate about outside work?

Being in the kitchen! I love cooking and baking. In another world I would be a chef. I cook a lot of desserts, pastries, a lot of cookies, loaves, and sourdough bread has been my go-to. I love trying new recipes, curries, different types of stir fry, different styles of ribs. I just love trying new things, new techniques of cooking.