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10 ways my background in photojournalism has helped me in customer support so far

I’ve been with elevio for about three months now, and it’s the first time I’ve directly worked in customer support. My background is in the creative industries – I studied Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at university.

If I could go back today, I would still do the same subject again, even though I don’t work as a photojournalist and don’t have any plans of doing so anytime soon. When I decided to study photojournalism I came from a place of wanting to make a difference in the world, documenting and showing people what was really going on without hiding anything, sharing genuine stories. I believed (and still do) that people often ignore and pretend not to know about something because facing the truth is uncomfortable. I wanted to challenge that and empower people by seeing the truth, hoping it would make a difference and inspire action – and therefore change.

While a lot of other interests and various happenings have led me away from actually working as a photojournalist, I still hold a lot of the same values and care about inspiring action within people. I believe in doing meaningful work that has the power to create change. Over time and through experience, the way of how to go about this has evolved though.

Coming to customer success from this point of view has taught me a lot of valuable skills and lessons, some of which I’ll get into here, to share how they have helped me in customer support so far.

1. Relate to people

One of the main things I’ve learned from documenting and telling stories through images is the importance of relating to people, building rapport, and creating relationships. You have to understand where people come from and what their story is. Get to know your customers and their user case. Do some research and learn about their background and story

2. Build trust

This point is similar and relates to #1. In order to build those relationships you have to create trust first. Once you establish trust, people will open up, share what’s really going on and you can have genuine, engaged conversations. Those are all prerequisites if you want to figure out what people are struggling with, where their core problems lie, what issues they’re having, and how you can best help them.

3. Be persistent, keep going and be confident

Whenever I worked on a photo story, it would take a few weeks to complete. This included doing my research and then going back to the place/person I documented over and over again, refining and improving my set of photos. One of the hardest things was to work with whatever was going on. Since I documented what was really happening without staging anything, the people I photographed were just doing their thing. This meant I had to work around certain conditions and restrictions. A lot of the time it was a tricky process to get the exact photo I wanted, and depending on who I was photographing, they could easily get annoyed at me being around. However, I just had to get over it and not let it bother me. I had to keep going and do my thing.

I believe it’s the same in customer success. Be persistent, do what you know works, and don’t let people get you down. It can be quite easy to be dragged down by a negative customer since you’re directly communicating and interacting with people, but you have to let go if something keeps bothering you, and be confident about your skills and knowledge. Don’t let someone else’s mood affect you. It comes back to being professional – you’re just getting your job done

4. Be prepared and know your product

Before shooting anything I had to be prepared. Not only did I have to get all my equipment ready and organised, but I also had to know how to use my camera. Apart from that I needed to do my research, prepare for the shoot, know what I was going to shoot, what conditions I was going to work in, understand the story, etc.

It’s the same with customer support – you have to know your product really well if you’re going to answer questions about it. Do your research and put in the work to really understand what you’re helping customers with.

5. Do it

“Knowing” means actually having done something, not reading about it or having someone else tell you what it’s like. That’s not really knowing, that’s someone else’s experience of what you think you know. You might understand something, but until you’ve tried it yourself you don’t know it.

In photojournalism terms, this means actually taking photos and experiencing different events from behind the camera.

In terms of customer success it means actually talking to customers, learning about their issues, and continuing to deliver great support that really helps people. You can read a lot about customer support, but you’ll get the most value from actually interacting with customers.

6. Get feedback

Whenever I worked on a photo essay I asked peers and lecturers for feedback. When you’re working on something in-depth and are so close to your work it can be hard to step back and review it objectively. Getting feedback is essential in any kind of job as it helps you improve and refine what you’re doing. Don’t let your ego get in the way either, this is about your work, not you personally. Try to stay aware and view feedback as helpful and something to be grateful for.

7. Work on what you’re passionate about and harness your strengths

This can be learned in any trade really and is something you figure out over time. I learned what photo stories I enjoyed working on the most and what environments I worked in best when shooting.

I believe in the collective power of genius. Everyone’s got their own unique skills, and combined we can achieve a lot. There’s no point working hard on something that’s taking you ages to complete and figure out when someone else could do it in five minutes. On the other hand, if something comes natural to you, spend more time doing exactly that.

8. Learn to work in a team

During university we produced a newspaper which I worked on as the picture editor. It was a lot of hard work putting together and publishing a new issue of the newspaper every week. Without a team of dedicated photographers and writers this would have been impossible to do. Apart from having a team in the first place, it’s also important to work together and collaborate. Everyone needs to know what’s going on, what others are working on, and what still needs to be done. Try to stay proactive and keep up to date with what’s happening inside your team to move forward faster and grow more efficiently.

9. Have role models or a mentor

It seems pretty obvious to have role models in photography – people you look up to, whose style and work ethic you aspired to and want to emulate. It helps you get better.

It’s the same in customer success and work in general. Who inspires you on a continuous basis? What is it that makes you want to work more like them? See if you can actively learn from them and possibly have them as your personal mentor.

10. Stay open-minded

Apart from the “obvious” lessons, studying photojournalism has also helped me in customer support since I’m unbiased and have come to it from a totally different field. It keeps me open-minded and coming up with new ideas.
On the other hand, it’s easy to get stuck into something new and quickly become absorbed in an industry, not allowing you to see things from a new angle anymore. You quickly learn to see what everyone else sees and lose your unique point of view. So it’s all about finding a balance between learning, educating yourself and understanding the industry, while not becoming too conditioned by it.

What’s your background and how did you get into customer support? We’d love to hear your stories. Share them with us in the comment section below.