A Seat at the Table: Matt Gilston, Director, Customer Support

a photo of Bianca Esmond

Bianca Esmond

5 min read

Jun 16, 2021

A Seat at the Table: Matt Gilston, Director, Customer Support

In this blog series, we’re showcasing SevenRooms’ special ingredient: our employees! This month, we got to know Matt Gilston, Director, Customer Support at SevenRooms. After nearly three years at SevenRooms, Matt’s impact has been undeniable, helping the company to scale its world-class (and worldwide) customer support team.

Read on to learn more about why he chose to work at SevenRooms, his work building out the support team, and where he can’t wait to jump on a plane to visit. Pull up a seat at the table and dive in!

Why did you join SevenRooms?

I initially joined because I thought it sounded like a unique opportunity to build out an entire department and team from the ground up. I also thought that the SevenRooms technology was really interesting and was on the ‘right’ side of where I personally wanted to be in this industry: with a complete focus on the operator. Our operator-first, operator-only approach made me realize that I’d get to solve some pretty interesting and different problems, and I was excited for the challenge.

How did your career bring you to customer support? 

When I joined my first startup, I was the 11th employee and got the opportunity to explore many different areas of the business. During my time there, I worked as a Floor Manager, in QA, and in support and customer success. As soon as I started working within customer success/support, I quickly realized that I wanted to stay on the post-sales side of the business. I knew that in a post-sale role, I’d have the opportunity to build relationships, solve problems, and navigate the ins and outs of the product, and that got me really excited.

Once I got into customer success, I was hooked. I was able to combine my skill of understanding technology with my ability to talk and connect with people into one role. Clients look to me to strategize and help them through their toughest moments. That element of trust is very special in this environment. It’s considered a business relationship, but at the end of the day, it’s a genuine person-to-person relationship.

What are the core traits that make someone successful at customer support?

A willingness to do whatever it takes. Period. If you’re willing to do whatever it takes and you have people skills, you can be successful in support and customer success. My most successful support agents are ultimate customer advocates and leave no stone unturned when testing and troubleshooting, and that’s why they get results. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get to the bottom of the toughest issues. I look to hire someone who is kind, brings a unique skill set to the team, and is a people person who is willing to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of the problem.

You can teach someone to do customer support, but it’s tough to teach someone to be a people person. Empathy is at the core of everything we do. When all else fails, empathy is your ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ skillset that can help you navigate the most sensitive situations.

How has your management style changed since moving to a fully remote work model? 

Honestly, I haven’t seen too much change in the way I manage in-person versus managing remotely. In fact, I have watched a lot of the groundwork I have put in over the last few years unfold without skipping a beat when we moved to a remote environment. When I look at my team, and how they communicate remotely, I am able to quantify it more because I’m looking at it day-to-day in Slack and over email. I’m watching the collaboration in real-time and it amazes me how well the transformation from in-person to remote has happened.

We were always well-equipped to be a remote team, we just hadn’t had to fully flex this muscle until the pandemic. During this time, I’ve encouraged all of my employees to double down on their skill sets and be even more open to working on their areas of opportunity. Every day I watch our team members form a complete circle, helping to fill in the gaps and lift each other up. This always existed, but our collaboration got even stronger during work from home. Everyone brings their A-game every single day and I’m learning so much from all of them.

How do you help coach clients through their challenges? 

It’s all about expectation management. I learned early on in my career that if you manage expectations of the customer properly, you’re going to be much more successful. However, it’s also important to have enough awareness and flexibility in your own approach to know when those expectations are changing. Keeping customers focused from the top down so that you can better predict the outcomes and create wins for you and your clients is key.

What makes SevenRooms’ customer support so world-class, and why is that a benefit to clients?

Our support team has found a way to combine speed and quality. Especially in the hospitality industry where everything is go go go, speed and quality are the most important factors for a support team. Depending on the time of day or year, our customers need answers now. We have proven we can consistently get them quick answers that are impactful from the get-go. That’s what sets us apart: our speed, quality and empathy. Our team cares so deeply about each individual client, whether we’ve spoken to them 100 times or have never spoken to them before.

A lot goes on behind the scenes in support that’s not client-facing. We spend time working with other departments to solve specific challenges for our clients. We work incredibly hard behind the scenes to solve the issue in a timely manner, no matter how big or small the issue might be. We can sleep at night knowing that we leave everything we have on the floor every day for our customers to make sure they get best-in-class support. Our team takes incredible pride in what they do.

How do you stay connected with SevenRooms’ NYC-based HQ in a WFH environment? 

I like to throw catch-ups on people’s calendars randomly, especially people across different departments. It’s so easy to stay siloed within your department when working from home, but I love making connections that extend outside of support and customer success. Whether it’s a Zoom catch-up, a coffee at Madison Square Park, or a dinner here or there, it’s great to connect with other team members. I also think that when used properly, Slack is a wonderful avenue to stay connected to people at the company.

Other than that, you may be surprised about how many meetings support needs representation in that aren’t directly related to support. I’m thankful for being in a cross-functional role that allows me to connect with others on a near-daily basis related to a wide array of business needs.

What has been the most rewarding silver lining you’ve encountered over the past year, both personally and professionally? 

Personally, in the last year, I’ve gone back to basics. What’s important is that you have your health, friends and family. Life moves quickly, and we run so fast — at the office, then back at home. The pandemic really re-highlighted that we have so much to be grateful for. During the pandemic, my wife Cassie and I started to say what we were grateful for every single night before bed, and it’s a practice we’ve continued.

Professionally, I was grateful to be promoted to Director in 2020, and to have been tasked with a new challenge of building out our scaled Customer Success function of the business. I love solving new problems and it’s unlocked a wealth of positive challenges and opportunities for my team and for the company. I’m also incredibly grateful for my team. They have faced adversity and challenges in 2020 that were completely unexpected, yet they’ve stepped up to the plate in every single way imaginable, showing great growth and awareness throughout.

What’s on your travel and/or restaurant bucket list? 

My travel bucket list is definitely Greece. However, my ultimate restaurant bucket list experience is to go on a SevenRooms UK restaurant tour. I speak to our UK clients almost every day, and I’ve created incredible relationships over the years with many of our customers. I’d love to visit our restaurant partners including Endo at the Rotunda, Inception Group and JKS Restaurants. I’d also love to attend a match at the legendary Wimbledon, which is another great partner we work with! That would be the ultimate trip.

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