Leidos Engineer Mary Russo Reflects on a Career of Customer Service
In mid-2017, Leidos employee Mary Russo retired from a long and prolific career as a telecommunications engineer. For more than 16 years, Russo supported the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by improving customer service through call center support. She served in the agency’s main call center hub, where her mission was to keep calls moving and customer satisfaction high.
Throughout her career, Russo learned to balance serving the public and ensuring tax law compliance. Russo views her work through the lens of the taxpayer. While it’s clear that nobody enjoys paying taxes, she said, it remains a fundamental responsibility of U.S. citizenship, and a critical function that contributes to the common good. This perspective helped her bring a certain civic duty and pride to her work. Her most important goal, she said, was to make the tax-paying experience as smooth and efficient as possible for the average citizen, and to strengthen what she describes as the “fundamental partnership between government and citizen.”
Russo’s knack for listening to customer concerns and discerning their needs earned her awards of excellence in customer dedication in 2015 and 2016. Her story provides insight into the challenges facing customer service professionals today. As the dust settled on the 2017 tax season, we caught up with Mary in her early days of retirement, and asked her to reflect on her career of public service.
Q: Congratulations on an amazing career. How did you achieve so much success?
With any customer support, the primary goal in customer service is to listen to the customer, and to align your goals with your client’s goals. That was my objective since the day I started.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
During filing season, we answered more than four million calls per day. That’s a huge customer service challenge, but there’s also a lot of data to analyze. It’s amazing what you can find when you look at call details. You can pull a lot of insight from the data to improve the quality of service. There’s just so much data. Any large corporation, government organization or call center has all kinds of data you can extract, and so many great analytics tools. At any of these organizations, data analytics can help spot patterns to spot patterns and improve service.
Q: What is the most disruptive technology you encountered?
Social media was very disruptive, but we leveraged social media monitoring and data to improve our level of service. Our social media team would come to us and tell us they’re getting complaints about a certain 800 number, for example, and that they people couldn’t get help. It all goes back to listening to your client. If they think there’s something wrong, nine times out of ten, there’s a problem somewhere.
Q: What was your approach to turning business requirements into technology solutions?
Always make sure you have a thorough understanding of the business requirements. Many times we feel we know what our clients need or want, and it’s very different from what they envision. Don’t build an expensive technical solution without validating with the client, then validate again. When you and the customer have the same vision, resources are used effectively and efficiently, and customer expectations can be exceeded.
Q: Tell us about the awards you won.
My team picked up on a major fraud issue a couple of years back. I was honored to be singled out with internal company awards for excellence in 2016 and for customer dedication in 2015, for my contributions to tackling the issue. Unfortunately, there are always people trying to do fraudulent acts, and it takes proper diligence to prevent, identify, and respond.
Q: What do you wish the average citizen knew about paying taxes?
I don’t think the general public really understands the amount of effort around paying taxes. You hear so much bad press about long wait times and bad customer service experiences. Those are things that catch most people’s attention, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to minimize those experiences.
Q: What are you most proud of?
Paying taxes can be difficult and unpleasant, but we did our best to make the process better for the average citizen. That’s why our group was formed to begin with. My mission was to help taxpayers so that the process didn’t negatively impact their lives.
Q: What’s your advice to the next generation of customer service professionals?
Listen to the client. So many times people hear them and think “oh, that’s not really a big issue.” When you really listen to the client, you can pick up so much that is subtle, and you can start prioritizing work to impact what makes a difference to them. Build this rapport and trust with your clients. Establish constant communication to really help them achieve their goals.