Talk to a Tykling: Chris Taylor, Head of Customer Operations

Talk to a Tykling: we get the latest from Chris Taylor, Head of Customer Operations

Tyk’s culture of radical responsibility and remote-first working is as exciting as its innovative approach to API management. It has enabled the company to build up a team of incredibly talented individuals from around the world, in order to support a global network of clients doing all manner of exciting things.

To understand a bit more about what it takes to be a Tykling, we’re sitting down with each and every one for a sneak peek into their world. This week, we caught up with Head of Customer Operations, Chris Taylor. Chris tells us what principles are at the heart of making a customer service operation work globally and explains how he’s managed to complete a business degree and move from Kent to Carlisle whilst working at Tyk.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m Tyk’s Head of Customer Operations, so I look after the customer support, customer success and customer education teams. I started as the Customer Support Manager a couple of years ago.

Day-to-day, I look after three separate areas of the business and I have various projects and initiatives ongoing for each of them to look after. I manage my team, spend time coaching and take on a lot of strategic and project work to push us towards delivering better developer focused customer experiences.

We’re a growing business, so a lot of my time is spent thinking about where we are heading, what the team might look like in a couple of years time and what operational work needs to happen to enable our strategic goals.

Where are you located?

I’m in Carlisle in the UK and my team is everywhere! Our Customer Success Architect is in Scotland so he’s only up the road. Our Customer Education lead is in England, our Support Manager is in Texas, and we’ve got team members in Nigeria, Singapore, Canada, Texas, other US states, all over the place. So the teams run 24/7 – we’re always around.

In an ideal world where there’s no pandemic, would you be travelling as part of your role?

Yes. At the start of the pandemic, I was the Customer Support Manager, so I had a much smaller team. Now that I have these other areas of the business to consider and a bigger team, it’s likely I will need to travel so we can ensure that we’re building teams in the same way as we are in EMEA but with local factors, and operational nuances, taken into account.

Tyk is also great when it comes to sponsoring folks around the business to speak at events and conferences to help with their public speaking, show off Tyk and demonstrate our product’s value to more people. I was due to speak at an event in Prague just as the pandemic hit, no doubt I’ll be looking to pursue that again when we’re back to relative normality.

Is it hard to balance that local approach to operations with Tyk being a global company?

With customer support and customer success, we’re trying to make them as agnostic as possible. Essentially, we’re trying to achieve a framework for each of those teams to operate from, which will apply no matter which region you’re in. The teams should have the ability to be able to pick up any customer in any region, know what’s going on and how to deal with them.

So, we’re trying not to differentiate based on what region people are in. But there is some difference in how people do business. In APAC (Asia-Pacific), more of our deals come from partner organisations, so often they’re working more closely with the clients and the level of technical queries can be a lot higher.

There’s some nuance to work out but standardising so far as possible has been the best approach for us so far.

Where do you like to work? Do you prefer to work from home, a coffee shop, on the beach…?

I predominantly work at home as I have an office and I like it because I can make it my own space. I’ve got a cool space with a desk alongside comfortable seating and art which makes my day a little brighter. I’ve got a garden I can sit in too. Tyk also covers a co-working space for me one day a week, so I can get a change of scenery.

I moved to Carlisle during the pandemic, Tyk enabled that whole thing. I used to live in Kent and when I lived there, pre-pandemic, I worked in a coffee shop once a week.

I’m not much of a beach worker – that wouldn’t be productive for me. Maybe a cabin in the woods would suit me better. I like variety. Even just changing the room I’m working from in my house can have a big impact. If I’m writing something that’s going to take a while I might sit downstairs in my front room, for example, instead of in my office.

If you could wave a magic wand, is there anything you would like to fix in the customer service industry?

I strive to build operationally efficient teams and that’s really for the benefit of the customer. I have had technical suppliers as a B2B customer both at Tyk and in previous roles, so I know the pain of bad B2B customer service and the impact of that.

I used to work in a contact centre where we had this piece of software that went down all the time. You’d send a ticket to this organisation and ten hours later maybe you’d get a response. In the meantime, you have to run a call centre and work around the software not working while trying to manage stakeholders and all the carnage that ensues.

I think a lot of companies pay lip service to giving their customers good experiences. From an external perspective looking in, you can always tell when they’re not telling the truth. So, efficient, really good customer operations based on sound data and processes are the principles I follow.

Can you give me a potted history of your life up until you joined Tyk?

I left school after my GCSEs and went to work in a call centre. That was about 12 years ago. I moved up into a management position after a couple of years, with a team of 50, doing forecasting calls and checking rotas, that kind of thing.

I then moved to a holiday and cruises contact centre in Folkestone. I had 200 agents working with me and I started working on strategic projects. I had a really good director who put in a lot of effort with my professional development, so I got promoted a couple of times, eventually to Efficiency and Planning Manager, which was looking after all the shifts, forecasts and the operational efficiency reporting.

I passed my degree this year, which I’ve been doing remotely while working at Tyk. Now I’m about to start a master’s degree in psychology.

Was it a culture shock moving from the cruises and travel industry into tech?

Customer service-wise, it’s all exactly the same. You can take the framework I use and use it anywhere. I worked in insurance and then travel and now here at Tyk. Fundamentally, the principles give good service, so it’s exactly the same everywhere, which is really positive.

However, there was definitely some product-related culture shock in going from a consumer business to a travel product to a really deep tech product. I’m not an engineer, but I think I’ve got a decent handle on it now. I manage technical people but I’m not technical at all.

How did you find the experience of adjusting to working remotely?

I’ve never worked remotely so that was interesting – definitely something to get used to. I didn’t do so well at first. I was very 9-5 minded; I kept asking my manager if I could do things and he kept saying to do what I wanted! I’d been so used to having someone over my shoulder the whole time, so it was weird.

I think working remotely requires skills that need to be learned and enhanced like anything else. If we’re recruiting, we need to look at it through that context. You need to have really high-level communication skills, be self motivated and able to manage your time effectively.

What would your tips be to someone joining Tyk who hasn’t worked remotely before?

My first tip would be, don’t become a hermit. I did that for a while and sat in my bubble, did my thing, but you have to make really active and conscious efforts with the relationships you’re trying to build with people. It’s more difficult to build relationships remotely but I think the ones that you do build are stronger because you have to work harder at them. So, really make an effort in that phase, connect with people and book meetings.

We’re generally an anti-meeting culture, as we don’t want to bog people down with time constraints, but initially, speak to everyone you possibly can, and ask them what they do. I think all of us at Tyk do things a little differently. I’m still quite rigid in the times that I work because that works for me, I like a schedule, some people just wake up at 12 and work till 8 and that’s fine too.

I would also advise getting into your flow and really understanding your productivity. I think that’s super important because we’re very much out of focus and it’s easy to slump in terms of productivity in this environment. You have to work on it, understanding if you’re a procrastinator, for example. If so, what are the tools to help you with that? I am a procrastinator by nature so I have to actively push myself in this area – usually with robust planning and a bit of pomodoro.

Finally, at Tyk we work in a global remote environment which means we interact with folks from across the world from the UK to Romania to Nigeria to India and beyond. The exposure you get working in a business like this to other cultures is immense and something to be celebrated – take the opportunity to learn about people and places you know nothing about, it’s incredibly enriching.

How do you manage your productivity and not procrastinate?

There was a time where I’d have said something like ‘imagine your boss is sitting next to you keeping tabs’, but I have come away from that line of thinking. For me, now, it’s all about understanding that your productivity relates to your output rather than your input. I don’t have to sit here for 10 hours a day like I have had to in previous roles. As long as I deliver x,y and z, that’s brilliant.

Most of us at Tyk are in the fortunate position to be able to define what success means for our roles and what work we need to produce to be successful. We can work towards what we think is of most value to the business, which is really cool.

I’ve rarely had anyone tell me what to do at Tyk. It’s always been a matter of me proposing things for discussion, debate and approval. There are rough objectives to keep us accountable of course, but the strategic direction of the department and the function of the teams is all down to the teams themselves, which is really powerful.

What else do you like about working at Tyk?

The freedom, I think that remote work enables a lot of freedom. I think I passed my degree in large part because I’ve been able to work remotely and have the time and headspace to focus on it. It’s better for health and wellbeing too. I’m a real advocate for it. I don’t think you lose anything by not being in an office in most scenarios.

The second aspect is the people, we hire the best people in the world. I would never have been exposed to these people and the variety of cultures had I not worked for Tyk. I’d only worked in Kent previously, with other people from Kent. Now, I work with folks in Tanzania, Nigeria and India and it’s amazing. You get to have a peek into how other people live. That’s my favourite thing. It makes you appreciate other perspectives.

I tend to approach everything from a very British angle and then you see how other people think and their thought processes – it’s really interesting. You’re much more exposed than if you were in an office in a multinational, for example, because you’re literally on Slack with these people every day. And every single one of them is extremely talented at what they do.

I think we hire the right people with the attributes we look for – our recruitment manager Michal has done an amazing job. The folks we work with at Tyk are all extremely talented, it pushes me to be better every day.

There is certainly a focus on development of people at Tyk. Is there scope to move sideways if you’re interested in other areas of the business?

Yes. I think the opportunities are yours to go out there and shape, propose and take. My current role didn’t exist until I proposed it and I’m in the process of proposing a few roles/new departments which folks could apply to.

Moving upwards is one thing – we’re not really built on career ladders – but progression is really down to the individual and depends on what they want to achieve. That can be professional, i.e. I want this amount of money or this qualification, or personal, as in, I want to buy this house.

We’re really trying to focus people’s development around their own personal motivations so there’s plenty of scope to move around. People usually know what track they want to go down and where they want to end up, but there’s definitely opportunity for sideways moves to pursue growing interests. Someone recently moved into my team from account management, for example.

Is there a mistake you’ve made in your career prior to Tyk and what did you learn from it?

When I first became a manager, I had very little commercial exposure, so I fell into the trap of seeing everything from the perspective of a front-line team member as opposed to the wider business/strategic perspective.

I learnt that there’s a way to approach being a manager and a leader that’s very different to when you’re on the frontline dealing with customers every day. So, that triggered me to go and learn how I needed to behave and act as leader. Since then, I’ve taken various leadership training courses to refine that skill, so that was a good bit of feedback.

What are the values that drive you?

I have really high standards, so I like people to take pride in their work and do a really good job.

I love to have a culture of challenge and continuous improvement so, if I’m not doing something right, then I want to be told that. I’m very open and transparent about it. If you don’t think something is right in the way the business is being run, be open about it. I like to create that culture of challenge because it’s ultimately the only way that we can improve across the business.

As long as people are really committed to what they are doing, that’s all I ask for in a colleague. I believe everyone at Tyk comes at problems from a position of trying to make the business more successful and that’s what I really like. There’s no apathy in Tyk. Everyone genuinely cares.

What are your top three books or podcasts?

It’s got to be a fantasy book – I love Lord of the Rings. I used to get hold of every Tolkien work I could as a kid, which spurred me on to reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on. I still have that trait to an extent so the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is another favourite, as is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

I just finished reading The Sunny Nihilist by Wendy Syfret, which was a neat read, it can give you a bit of an existential crisis but well worth a browse I’d say!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I’m fortunate to live near the Lake District, so I enjoy walking around there as much as I can. I love to canoe and being in the water in general. I’m looking to start wild swimming.

I like to write a little bit on the side too. I sometimes spend my evenings writing. I’ve done a bit of poetry, which I’m not very good at! I’d love to write a fantasy novel but I’m not quite there yet. I’m writing about my personal journey at the moment – dealing with weight and fitness and health, that kind of thing. It’s more as a record to myself than anything else.