The Many Faces of SUSE Global Services: An Interview with James Samson
This week I had the opportunity to talk with James Samson, one of the SUSE long-time employees in the SUSE Global Services organization. James is currently one of our Customer Success Managers. During my chat with James, I learned how devoted he is to his family and to his customers. He’s also a staunch supporter of SUSE and our open source products. He went as far to say he would not be working here if he didn’t believe we had the “best Linux distribution out there.”
Tell us about yourself. Roles you’ve held in the past and your current role in the Services group.
My name is James Samson and I’m a Customer Success Manager (CSM) on the SUSE Global Services team. I’ve been at SUSE for 23 years — all in Global Services. I’ve had a few different roles with SUSE – first as a Linux Support Engineer and then as a Premium Support Engineer supporting multiple accounts. I’m now one of the North America Customer Success Manager and I am responsible for our Strategic Alliances.
My job is really to ensure that our customers and partners experience a high satisfaction level and experience with the services, support and products they get from SUSE.
What are the tasks that a CSM is responsible for?
A CSM is really the management escalation point. That is, we have tech people who are taking care of technology; we have consultants who implement our solutions. My role is to proactively avert any customer issues and take care of them as quickly as possible.
So some of the tasks I’m responsible for include:
- Managing overall customer satisfaction for SUSE Services engagements
- Project managing escalated Services issues
- Provide customers product and Services options to drive efficient productivity
- Facilitating Customer business reviews
The CSM role forges customer relationships so that we can offer solutions to potential problems in a proactive manner. We have a solid relationship with the customer and attempt to offer solutions we’re seeing or even offering additional consulting, support and product options to optimize our customer’s IT environment.
Our job is to establish that “business” relationship with the customer, earn their trust, and really help them understand all that SUSE has to offer.
James, that’s really an awesome role and probably keeps you quite busy. So do you have time for any quirky or interesting hobbies?
When I decided to have kids I decided my family was my hobby; that is, my family always comes first. On any given day, I could be chauffeuring my daughters to dance or coaching a sport.
I’ve have coached many sports teams – basketball, soccer and baseball – to name a few. Additionally, I really love refereeing basketball games – both high school and adult – and I’ve been refereeing for about 15 years now.
I also really love my job. I receive satisfaction in helping people and hearing my customers say they are grateful that I helped to solve their issues. I have a real pride in making my customers happy. I believe that’s why I’ve always been on the services side of the business.
Who inspires you?
This is one of those questions where I feel like I should mention someone like Gandhi or Mother Teresa, but in reality I’m inspired by daily interactions with people. When I see someone strive to do better and achieve their goal- when I see someone do something that is truly atypical, for instance in sports or even a random act of kindness, I am inspired. I tend to look for the good in people and see what they are doing so that I can emulate it. I find it inspiring when people do the right things.
James, tell us about the most difficult services project you’ve worked on.
Years ago, we had a customer that decided to implement a very complex product configuration with no assistance from our Consulting team. They were able to get the solution up and running, however they didn’t architect the solution correctly to scale as their data grew. They ended up with a large database that was unmanageable and unaccessible in a timely manner. A SUSE representative went to the customer who really didn’t understand the issue or the root cause of the problem and was able to clarify the problem.
With the right resources from support and engineering, we were able to design a solution for them to remedy the issue. While the solution ended up taking months to complete – with many long hours and weekends – we ended up turning the customer around with a successful implementation.
Ultimately, the success of this project depended on understanding the problem, putting the needs of the customer first, but especially having the right team in place to come up with both short and long term solutions for the customer.
What was the most fun/rewarding project you’ve worked on?
The most rewarding project I’ve worked on was with one of our large partners. Going into the project, there was a lot of grey area between supporting and partnering with them. I was able to get in on the ground floor to work with their team to develop and implement a support process. Working together to build the process led to great rapport and the ability to work really closely with them. They trust us, we trust them, and we all consider ourselves to be on the same team.
Awesome! So let’s move away from work for a minute. Tell me about the best concert or play you ever went to? Why?
I recently went to a play, Arcadia that really resonated with me. I had never heard of it, but I’ve come to find out that it has been praised by many critics as the finest play from one of the most significant contemporary playwrights in the English language, Tom Stoppard.
Arcadia is about the relationship between past and present, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty moving back and forth across centuries.
It was excellent and really made an impression on me.
Now I’m adding one more play to my list. Let’s move back to your role and give us a snapshot of the day in the life of a Customer Success Manager.
Because I have global accounts, I start early so I can work any high priority items that come in from Europe. I’ll also typically have anywhere between 3 and 8 customer conference calls a day. These could be anywhere from check in calls, or triaging open issues to providing status updates for high priority issues, to working action items to resolve customer needs.
Additionally, there is the typical day to day activity required to push consulting forward in sales deals, processing paperwork, ensuring contracts get signed and so forth. I also work with Sales should any of their customers have support or service issues (for instance accessing information or finding the correct patches).
I work with 20 -25 customers – about 50% of those I talk multiple times a week. But my goal is to touch base with all my customers as much as possible- and I will travel as often as needed to see customers. I firmly believe that a face to face meeting can really solidify a relationship and builds trust – which is necessary for a good partnership.
James, SUSE calls itself the “open, open company.” What does “open” mean to you?
I think “open” at SUSE means not only using open source software, but also contributing to the communities with fixes and code. But “open” is really built into the SUSE culture. We are free to work the way we need to work so we become the company that people trust. We want to be transparent to our customers and provide open access to not only our software but also to our teams and our executives.
I hope people go to SUSECON and feel the comradery and family feeling, not just internally and but with customers. I really believe that that is an edge that SUSE offers over our competition.
I totally agree! So, I’m going to follow that up what are the three things you love about working at SUSE?
Number one would be our products. I stand by our products and I think we have the best Linux distribution out there. We have solid solutions- ones that our customers can succeed with. Our product management and engineering teams are superior. Our support and consulting teams are second to none. Frankly, I would not be working here if I felt the product was not the best.
Number two would be the culture. I talked a little bit about it when we talked about “Open” but I appreciate the culture. The people are fantastic and I really appreciate the management style. It’s so easy to interact and engage with the right people to get things done.
Finally, I would say the flexibility. I have the autonomy to do my job the way I think it needs to be done and from where it needs to be done- whatever that takes.
I’d like to thank James for sharing his thoughts during this interview. Stay tuned for the next interview in this series, Roger Whittaker, one of our Premium Support Engineers in Europe. And, if you are interested in any of the SUSE Global Services offerings, we invite you to visit our website to learn more!