Darren Wake is a senior account manager at CustomerSure, based in Newcastle.
The company is an independent software provider specialising in customer feedback.
Wake joined in 2018, following ten years in the marketing and design world and roles at companies including Explain Market Research.
From lucky breaks to the biggest challenges about his job, he shares his career journey and tips for those wanting to following a similar pathway.
How did you first get into your industry?
After working in the marketing and design agency world for over 10 years, I joined a market research company in Huddersfield. I was there for seven years and found I totally loved working in customer experience and satisfaction research. I found the research world so much more interesting and tangible than what I’d experienced in previous agency roles, and it was this experience that led me to joining CustomerSure over five years ago.
What do you love about your job?
I get a real kick out of helping businesses to truly make things better for their customers, and be more successful in the process. Customer experience initiatives in the UK are often patchy at best, and large successful businesses in certain sectors (banking and utilities – I’m looking at you!) – are quite frankly dreadful at it. But, there’s room for improvement, and we’re already working with so many brands in these areas to guide them on transforming their customer’s experience, so it feels very rewarding.
I love working with businesses that actually give a damn about customers – not just paying lip service – and helping them to effectively measure and improve customer experience for the benefit of all.
Who – or what – has inspired you in your career?
One of my first jobs post-uni was working for a marketing agency in Berkshire as a project manager. I learned a tremendous amount from the guy who founded and ran the business, Alan Haley. He had an amazing eye for detail, was very firm but very fair, and had the highest standards for dealing with clients. The success of that business was very much driven by his standards around quality and service.
We punched well above our weight and worked for some of the biggest and best brands in IT, who used us because of the quality of our work and “blow their socks off” level of service.
I realised that smaller businesses can compete and win against bigger competitors with deeper pockets and more marketing dazzle by simply doing right by their customers and never, ever taking them for granted. We provided that in spades thanks to Alan and his ethos, and that approach has stuck with me ever since.
What are the biggest challenges about your job?
More of a frustration than a challenge, but when businesses say customer satisfaction is “critical” and that they are “totally customer focused”, then act and behave entirely to the contrary. It’s easy to say ‘we are customer centric and put the customer at the heart of what we do’, but it is not so easy to walk the walk.
Some businesses simply don’t really care about customer satisfaction, but they don’t pretend to – so I’m fine with this. You know what to expect. It’s the businesses who pretend to be customer centric, but really they are just sales / customer acquisition machines and view service as a cost centre – that are frustrating.
What skills have been the most crucial to you succeeding in your career so far?
Listening, understanding and carefully considered responses. Definitely.
The best and most successful people I’ve worked with over the years have been good listeners, take views from all sides and make informed decisions. Whether in a sales, service or internal scenario, I think being a good listener and communicating back in a way which reflects the context is really important and helps build trust, respect and rapport.
What was your first salary and what could someone getting into the industry expect to earn nowadays?
£13k in 1999 as Telemarketing Executive in Slough! Going into telemarketing now, I have no idea, but a fresh graduate coming into market research I’m thinking £25k.
What education or training would be most useful for someone looking to follow your career path?
Think about the career or sector you’d like to go into, and look to get in, even at a junior level. Just because you think it’s the sector for you, you don’t know until you’ve tried it. Work experience or training in a sector is far more valuable than a degree now, in my opinion. There is still a disconnect between what universities teach and what industries need, so try to bridge that gap with work placements, internships, apprenticeships etc. – anything to get some real life work experience. Whilst these things will undoubtedly help you get a job, they will also help you understand what you want or don’t want to do.
What advice would you have for someone looking to follow your path?
My advice for anyone (regardless of what path they choose to take) is work for an organisation where the culture resonates with you and chimes with your own values. When I left university, I naively thought all companies were good companies. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are a lot of bad companies out there – even if they are successful – they could be toxic environments, encourage bad behaviours, disrespect colleagues and customers, and so on.
My advice is be true to yourself and be in a company or workplace that you ideally enjoy, or at the bare minimum, doesn’t make you unhappy.
Don’t make decisions purely for the sake of your CV, thinking that this particular company or brand will look ace on it, if that business or environment doesn’t really work for you. My advice is to prioritise your workplace happiness and wellbeing, not the job title or company. Don’t be afraid to quit toxic companies, and success will follow.