A little over a year ago, DeShawn Witter got in his car the day after Thanksgiving and drove through the weekend to start a new job the following Monday morning. He was leaving Florida for Wisconsin, and a government job in IT for a customer support role in the tech industry. It was a big move, and one he’s been happy with.
That tech company was Zendesk, and DeShawn is currently a Senior Customer Advocate providing Tier 1 support. The job is maybe not as sexy as the time when he was the systems administrator for eight Congressional offices on Capitol Hill, but it’s turned out to be a good fit. DeShawn is known around the office for bringing a positive attitude, going above and beyond, and for always locating the silver lining in any situation.
Those that know DeShawn know he’s a fan of Manchester United, Bob Ross, and above all, his two-year-old niece. But it’s Bob Ross he keeps reminders of on his desk, and quotes in his email signature, and returns to when he needs to draw from the well of outside inspiration: “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”
Here DeShawn shares a little bit about how he brings the sunshine, and why making time to volunteer in the community helps him do a better job at work.
What is it about that Bob Ross quote that sticks with you?
I think it speaks very much to advocacy right now. I’m in the mentorship program and I have a new hire working with tickets that are live. There’s always some hesitation in the beginning, when you’re not really sure if you’re doing the right thing or know the correct answer to the question. We have a growing family of products and a lot to learn about, but the best way to get better is to pursue those tickets that you find challenging.
What’s your trick for lifting your teammates’ spirits throughout the day?
I just like to be happy, but I can sense how people around me are feeling. If I can boost morale or deflect attention away from a frustrating situation, I’ll try. There’s times and places for that, of course, but it’s easy to make a joke or share a funny YouTube video on the team’s Slack channel to lighten the mood. I’ve also been known to dance on my desk. I just try to remember that everyone has experience being on the receiving end of service. Sometimes you go to a restaurant and you get a server who is having a bad day. You notice that. So our customers will notice, too, by the way we’re responding, when we’re not putting our best foot forward.
I also just love interacting with people. I think one of my high school honors physics teachers summed it up pretty well when he said, “The purpose of life is to make relationships.” You’re starting a relationship with everyone you interact with, from your coworkers to your customers.
You’re always willing to put in extra time at the office, but you’re also spending a lot of your outside time volunteering in the community. Can you tell me more about that and the affect it’s had on your work?
One of the things I liked about Zendesk was the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) opportunities that employees have, and it seemed like a great way to learn more about the community. My first volunteer engagement was with the Madison Public Library and while I was there I came across one of my favorite childhood books, Corduroy. It was amazing to think about a kid having that experience of falling in love with a book. At the end of my volunteer shift there was still some work left to do, so I went back to the library after work to finish. I’ve also volunteered with The River Food Pantry, Second Harvest Foodbank, and the Madison Children’s Museum, but I really like going back to the library after work, or on the weekends, to help out.
Whatever you’re doing, you’re building relationships and finding different ways of communicating with people, and then taking that back to the workplace. Volunteering also heightens your empathy because you’re trying to understand the way that someone is in need.
Learn first-hand from more Zendesk advocates:
Abel Martin, on building great internal partnerships
Arthur Mori, on what everyone should know about Tier 1 support
Benjamin Towne, on mentoring and offering constructive criticism
Rodney Lewis, on setting up an internal shadowing program
Sarah Kay, on her move from advocate to data analyst
Ramona Lopez, on rolling out an advocate recognition program
Aurash Pourmand, on practicing customer empathy
Anna Lee Ledesma, on the skill every great chat agent needs to have
Mark Fado, on providing dedicated 1:1 client support
Justin Helley, on advocacy training and development< Guillaume Deleeuw, on problem-solving in Tier 2 technical support