Teacher, actress and Liveops agent shares secret to customer satisfaction
Katherine (Kathy) Surcey has loved making people smile since she was a girl. Back when her older sisters were teenagers and a date showed up before the sister was ready, Kathy would try out some comedy on the hapless sweetheart.
“I liked to do skits and impersonations inspired by something I’d seen on The Carol Burnett Show,” Kathy said. “My sisters would tell my mother to please ask me to leave their dates alone.”
Kathy went on to participate in drama in high school and college, majoring in Theater Arts at the University of Florida. She also received a Masters in Special Education at University of North Florida. She has appeared in countless productions, “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Raisin in the Sun,” “Godspell” and many others. She’s also spent years working full-time as an elementary school teacher and occasional event DJ/KJ.When you put that headset on, you’re on the stage.
In 2000, at the urging of her best friend and Liveops agent Terry Palivoda, Kathy went to work with Liveops. “I was teaching at the time and she was telling me to try it out during the summer and on the weekends. I saw how much fun she was having, how much money she was making and she was so happy,” Kathy said.
Kathy started out taking calls on weekends and school holidays. She found she not only enjoyed the work but that she was good at it.
“Mostly, I’m having fun taking calls, helping people, answering their questions and selling them the products,” Kathy said.
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About eight years into her career with Liveops, Kathy scaled back her full-time role as a teacher.
“I flipped my roles so I could do more with Liveops. That’s how much I like having my own business and being in control of my schedule. You can make it or break it,” Kathy said. Over the past two decades, she has recruited seven or eight people to come to work at Liveops. A few are still working with the company, including one of her sisters.
Kathy said she’s the same person who started out with a passion for theater. “Really what drives me with Liveops hasn’t changed since I was that girl impersonating Carol Burnett or Cher—I enjoy people and bringing a smile to their faces, that connection,” Kathy said.
From curtain calls to customer calls: Kathy’s tips on building genuine connection over the phone
Three skills most important to becoming a successful Liveops agent.
- Being open—you’ve got to be open. My mom told me that a long time ago. And what it really means is to come at everything as a learner. Don’t assume you’re an expert on anything. Always be open to learning something new, doing it a different way and thinking from a new perspective.
- Being dependable. If you sign up for a shift, you better be there, you better be ready. If you find out you can’t do that, make sure there’s enough time to free it up so someone else can have that slot. Part of being dependable is being present. If you had a day when the dog ate your homework or your car broke down, leave it at the door. The caller does not want to hear that. When you put that headset on, you’re on the stage.
- Having fun. I can’t say that enough. It’s something that is in your control. If you’re having a good time, they’ll enjoy speaking with you and probably will end up buying something. It’s a win-win.
What skills from other job experiences best prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Listening is very important and by that, I actually mean “reading between the lines.” As an actress, you have to listen carefully to the people you’re acting with to hear what they’re saying, how they’re saying it so you can respond appropriately. It’s the same thing with teaching. When you are working with children, you really have to read between the lines.
This applies when I’m working with Liveops too. I have to really hear what they’re saying and be ready to respond to that too. If, for instance, I hear children in the background, depending on the product I may be selling, I may be able to let them know their children will love the product as well. They know they’re not being treated like a number and that you care.
When it comes to acting, teaching or speaking to customers, you have to be open and listen.
Is there a particular example when you’ve tapped into your acting experience?
I’ve had my share of unpleasant callers. I’ve had some people call and they’re the meanest snake you could ever meet in your life. I never act the same way [as them] and I usually find a way to add some humor to the call.
Most of the time, the person changes their attitude and is laughing by the end of the call. One man apologized for his meanness, telling me he’d gotten fired that afternoon and then told by his wife what a loser he was.
He said, “it’s not fair I took it out on you. Let me apologize.” No matter what I threw at you, you didn’t take it personally and you’ve turned my attitude about my situation around.”
There’s a name for Kathy’s approach to customer service…
Kathy credits what she learned through theater for her ability to hear and respond and calls it her “secret sauce.”
“You never know what a caller is going to say, so not only do you have to listen but be ready to pivot so it’s not a mechanical response. It’s just like being in theater, where you have to really listen and understand not only what your scene partner is saying but how they are saying it so you can respond in the best way, ” she said. It’s a helpful skill for everyone and is sometimes called high emotional intelligence.