Leader Q&A: Jolyn Isabelo

Post by: Anna Johansson
Published: 25 October 2022

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in Customer Success so far. 

I’m what locals would call a BBC (British Born Chinese), I’ve had a very interesting childhood growing up in London as a Malaysian Chinese in a small neighbourhood. My first job out of university was a cold calling sales job, it was very hardcore and similar to the ‘Boiler Room’ movie (for those who have seen it). I was very lucky I had a great manager who was my mentor and continued to support my growth as well as the rest of the team. I told him in my interview that I wanted to move to Asia, which was one of my goals in life and three years later an opportunity in Singapore came up. 

I had visited a lot of Asian countries in the past and my family was also from Asia so I thought it would be a great experience. I was excited by the opportunity to lead a sales team in Singapore and then I moved to Tokyo with Google working as a Product Support Manager which I really enjoyed. 

I started to look more into working in a startup as I felt that the work I was doing at Google was not making as much of an impact as I anticipated. I also wanted to return to a client facing role without the pressure of a sales target – and that’s when I discovered  Customer Success. My first role in Customer Success was back in Singapore and I have happily spent the last seven years in customer success at a few different companies and progressing into managing a team across APAC. 

Customer Success is still quite a new & evolving part of SaaS. What do you think we should be doing to promote customer success to more people as a career pathway?

Customer success traditionally sits under the Sales umbrella but instead of focusing on new business growth, the focus is more on renewals of the existing business and expansion. Which means the focus is more on long term relationship building and away from the short term transactional nature of new business (which I personally wanted to get away from). 

I think a lot of people have the misconception that you need to be extremely technical for a Customer Success role. A lot of companies have a support or advocacy team to help do the very nitty gritty technical issues whilst the Customer Success team helps guide the client on realising value of their product/service. 

I think Customer Success is great because you have the opportunity to work in tech but you’re not a traditional salesperson or product manager / engineer. In Customer Success you are doing many roles rolled into one – you’re a project manager, an account manager, renewals manager, all rolled into one. The skills that you pick up from Customer Success are transferable to other departments which sets you up for the future if you want to branch out into different areas of the business. 

You run the Singapore arm of the Women in Customer Success, how did you get started in that and what do you do as a part of this?

It is an amazing global community and I am the chapter leader here in Singapore. We run webinars on different topics with leaders, hold networking events and curated dinners. We have the dinners on a regular basis with 8-10 individuals which is great to chat in the smaller group.

The community is all about enabling women who want to get into Customer Success, who are curious about Customer Success or are already working in Customer Success. Because it is a small community it is always a networking opportunity and a great way to build relationships especially across Singapore. 

What do you think are the major differences across cultures in Asia in comparison to Western cultures? How have you adjusted your leadership style across time to meet the differences? 

They are very different. When I was in London I was managing Europeans (including French, Macedonian, Hungarian, etc) I found it was very culturally different and had to learn to understand different types of directness. 

I found that Europeans are very direct and very happy to voice their opinions in a group setting. In APAC, people from A/NZ are happy to speak up but those from countries like Greater China and Thailand tend to be shy, introverted and more comfortable in one on one sessions. These sessions are so important to build trust to make them feel comfortable and build a more personal relationship not just a work based one. 

In Asia, people don’t tend to ask a lot of questions, they don’t enjoy putting their hand up in group situations but will come and ask you separately afterwards. I listened to a podcast recently, where the speaker explained that when Japanese people have a question they look at you directly and when they don’t – they look away because they don’t want to be picked on. I think it’s important to give people the flexibility to express themselves.

In your last role at Zendesk you were managing a remote team across APAC, with a lot of interactions online. How did you stay connected with the team?

My team at Zendesk was widely distributed and I did a few different things to make sure the team stayed connected. We had a Whatsapp group and every weekend I would encourage everyone to share a photo from their weekend, it varied a lot but was mainly food, people or scenery.

Another way to connect was through movie recommendations. I asked everyone to suggest a movie from their country that was on Netflix which we would all watch individually, then speak about it together as a group and this was a great way to get immersed in each other’s culture. 

The other thing I would do in our team meetings is ask everyone to share two things they were focusing on for the week, one work and one non-work. It came out with a lot of random focuses like a haircut or finishing a TV show but it was fun to get to know people on a more personal level! 

In light of World Mental Health Day yesterday, how do you manage the demands of your job and team as well as maintaining your own work life balance? 

I love human connection so I always make the effort to meet up with different sets of friends who all happen to all love trying new food, which is great in Singapore with so many amazing and new restaurants. Catching up with friends always helps me to relax and talk things through. 

I try to meditate but this is really a conscious effort to do. I tend to use the app Calm and go through a guided meditation before bed which I like because someone talks you through it and it’s only three minutes long. 

I really love fragrances. I spray one on my bed before I sleep and I put a roller scent on my temples to help me relax. I also go for a massage every two weeks to chill out.

As a leader are there any key things you’re doing to support diversity and more female leaders?

I am a mentor in two different groups which both have three month mentee engagements. Firstly at a company called Catalyst which has a mentorship program where they pair you with a mentee from your time zone. I do that to give my time back, because I feel that when I was an IC I didn’t have an out of work mentor and struggled to find someone I could connect with. 

I also mentor for a community called “Society of Asians in Sales and Success (SASS)”, at the moment I have one mentee in Singapore and one in India. I try to give them all the tips that I would have loved when I was in a similar position as them. 

Because I run the Women in Customer Success community I get a lot of messages of people who want to talk offhand about Customer Success. I’ve met so many people through this and had quite a few success stories from talking to people wanting to get into Customer Success and being able to secure a role within the industry. 

What have you been reading or watching lately? Any recommendations for the group?

I listen to the Gainsight ‘Gamechanger’ podcast, but it hasn’t been updated recently and I also listen to Across the Lines which is about Asians in leadership in the US. In particular, I recommend the interview with Nick Mehta who I call the Godfather of Customer Success.