Christine Sturma, EMEA Service Delivery Senior Manager at Lenovo, talks about how the Japanese working culture is and how it compares to the European one, how customer service varies per country, the changes the Tech sector has undergone in terms of gender balance and gives examples of what practices Lenovo has put to ensure gender diversity. Lastly, vital qualities of female leadership are shared! Read more below!
You started off your career in Japan, working for 13 years in a Japanese electronics company. What influenced your decision to move to Japan and how did the working styles differ to the European environment you are working in now?
When I started University, the opportunity arose to do a training in Japan with a perquisite that I learn Japanese beforehand. I decided to take up this adventure and endeavor upon a new journey.
Before moving, I took six months of Japanese classes to ensure that I could correspond, at the very least, on a basic level. Once I was in Japan, I worked for three months in an electronic district in Tokyo called Akihabara as a store clerck. This experience allowed me to discover and explore the unique culture of Japan.
This experience left me in awe and consequently motivated me to carry on learning the language and to return at a later date to do my second training, this time in the “Japanese alps”. The company at the time was looking to expand the number of foreign employees and as such, I decided to apply. As being chosen for the position, I spent three years in Tokyo working in International Logistics.
With reference to the working styles, the biggest difference I noticed was that in Europe, individualism is fostered and encouraged whereas in Japan, employees adhere to a collective identity. As this collective identity predominates in the working environment, teamwork is considered vital, so much so, that when decisions need to be made, a consensus is nearly always met. Hierarchy in Japan is very structured. One visible example is the language itself: you do not address the same way a person with higher/lower position, a person older/younger than you. More so, in Japan the language already segregates people; depending on the age of a person and the job title they have, you modify your language accordingly.
In Europe, individualism is fostered and encouraged whereas in Japan, employees adhere to a collective identity.
When working on projects, the Japanese style of work means the process before execution takes a long time, with a lot of negotiating and renegotiating. Comparatively, when the project is put into action, it goes very smoothly as any possible hurdles have rigorously been assessed and resolved beforehand. Aside from this, Japan has a culture of continuous improvement, meaning that if actions don’t go to plan, a thorough analysis will take place to understand why it did not work and how this can be avoided in the future. I transferred this method onto my present European working environment.
After managing different positions in the production environment, you decided to specialize in customer service. Can you tell us about the different positions you have attained wherein customer service played a pivotal role and how these roles varied?
This first mission I had in terms of customer service was to transform a manufacturing workshop into a repair workshop. This meant we had to move from a very linear process to one which was more complex and that required a great deal of decision making. In addition, I had to ensure that the agents were retrained so that they could deliver necessary customer service. The second mission was to develop refurbishment programs across Europe, each time needing to achieve the right balance between the efficiency and speed. These first customer service experiences were though backoffice functions.
After several years, I wanted to experience the front side of customer service. I was approached by Lenovo in 2008, only 2 years after merge with IBM. Lenovo at that time wanted to increase their portfolio of very large customers (so called Global customers) and service was critical. I became a Service account manager for prestigious international customers and built a lot from scratch: Service contracts & SLAs, reportings, customized service design. Once we acquired more customers, I had more people in the team and therefore my responsibilities grew. 5 years later, I was asked to lead the service delivery team covering South of Europe. The foundation of this position is to establish all necessary processes to provide best class customer service in a cost – effective manner for both B2B & B2C markets.
You are leading the Service Delivery organization for the European sub region covering France, Iberia, Italy and Israel for both commercial and consumer Computer product ranges. What does the role entail and how do you adapt your working strategy per country?
My role as Service Delivery organization for the European sub region constitutes enhancing the customers’ satisfaction by improving the quality of our services, identifying new features, building strong relationship with our customers (end customers but also distributors and retailers) while managing yearly budgets and financial objectives.
With regards to adapting the working strategies per country, the differences aren’t so vast. Customers across the countries have similar expectations: fast and high-quality service. In addition, the principle applies to all countries: listen and act upon the demands and concerns of your customers. However, the way to deliver a service will differ per country. This stems from the geographical and cultural differences.
As an example, in Israel, customers don’t like indirect mode of communication, they want to talk to our call center agents. Comparatively, in France, customers tend to go back to their point of sales to share their concerns on their product.
Having worked within the Tech Sector for many years, what changes have you seen the industry undergone with regards to gender balance and what more do you feel can be done to ensure further equality?
Whether it is a result of legislation pressure or because more companies have reached a level of maturity where they have started to realize the benefits of having more diverse workforces, gender balance within the Tech Sector has definitely increased!
Gender balance within the Tech sector has increased because of Legislation pressure and because companies realize the benefits!
To initiate further equality, we need to do more to increase the visibility of female role models. Young girls need to know about influential women in Tech so that they have someone they can look up to. There are enough female role models in the industry and therefore it’s time they are given due recognition. In addition, the traditional working structure needs to evolve so that it is more flexible and facilitating for family life: this will be of benefit for both women and men.
You have been working for over 11 years at Lenovo, a partner of our Women Talent Pool program. What are some of the best practices in terms of gender equality you have observed there?
Through a combination of global and local initiatives, mentoring opportunities, tailored programs for talented women, such as WIL Europe’s Women Talent Pool Program and through a celebration of the World’s Women’s day, Lenovo is tackling gender inequality. I am member of a voluntary group made up of employees from Lenovo where we try and promote diversity within the company.Initially, the group was focusing on gender equality but we have now added more pillars to our mission for more inclusion.
Lenovo is tackling gender inequality through local initiatives, mentoring opportunities, programs and celebrating Women Day!
Being a participant of Women Talent Pool Program, what are the main lessons you have taken away?
The Women Talent Pool Program has equipped me with a strong understanding and a sound knowledge of the skills needed for the future. Specifically, learning about topics such as digital transformation and artificial intelligence, and the ways in which we need to change our leadership styles, has been of huge benefit to me. The various discussions, panel debates and talks about topics of the future has really opened my eyes to the many pressing issues we need to consider.
I have since I joined the program dedicated more time on developing my curiosity on such topics to become an active source of proposal for improvements in my area of expertise, service.
Concluding our interview with a question from Proust’s questionnaire: What is the quality you like the most in female leader?
To answer this question, I thought of a female leader I admire and why. As such, I came up with Simone Veil who I admire for her courage to stand up to a male dominated world and fight for what she believed in. Therefore, the qualities I admire most in a female leader are courage and strength.
« Ma revendication en tant que femme, c'est que ma différence soit prise en compte, que je ne sois pas contrainte de m'adapter au modèle masculin. » Simone Veil.
(My claim as a woman is that my difference is taken into account, that I am not forced to adapt to the masculine model).