Empowering and Encouraging Women in Finance: an interview with customer service manager Alyson Johnson-Smith at The Payroll Site.
Alyson, please tell us about what you do… I have been with The Payroll Site for just under 10 years and over that time my role has evolved as the company has grown. Essentially I run the Customer Service Department and most of my time is spent problem solving and unpicking mistakes customers have made with regards to their payroll figures. All companies who operate payroll have to submit their figures to HM Revenue & Customs whenever they pay their employees, if this is not done in a timely fashion or the information is incorrect the result can be a financial penalty for the customer. Helping a customer sort out their figures is therefore a priority. I also manage our Company accounts, deal with invoices and produce statistics for our CEO to help us move forward as a company.
How did you get into this? Did you attend university, and/or fall straight into a role or was it a more roundabout journey?
After studying for a Diploma in Travel and Tourism at college I decided to spend a year in Australia, which was a fantastic experience. I had worked on reception at a hostel whilst I was away and realised that I enjoyed Customer Service so when I returned home that is what I did. I worked my way up to Management level within Call Centres, which gave me more freedom to help customers and deal with their problems from beginning to end. I spent many years as a Customer Service Manager working for British Gas, and then a Telecommunications company before joining The Payroll Site in 2007. The Payroll Site is a smaller company by comparison and so my role is much more diverse. My responsibilities are greater and so I also deal with HR, recruitment, staff training and looking after the company finances. Having a more varied role means that things certainly never become routine.
Can you explain what a typical day for you would be?
There is really no such thing as a typical day in payroll, although my first priority is dealing with any customer emails that have come in overnight. I also ensure that all customer payments are allocated first thing. The introduction of the Workplace Pension has made my day a little more complicated. As most of our customers are small businesses they are implementing their chosen pension for the first time. Whilst The Payroll Site makes it as easy as possible for the customer to calculate their pension contributions it is surprising how many Pension Companies give little or no help. As a result much of my day will be spent reading between the lines of what the customer actually wants compared to what they need.
What’s your experience from a woman’s point of view. Would you say it is a good job for a woman?
If you are passionate about working with people, like dealing with figures and get a buzz from helping a company grow then it is perfect.
What would your advice be to someone thinking of entering this profession?
Customer Services departments can get quite a lot of bad press but if you like helping people it can be a great place to start. You will certainly learn problem solving skills, organisational and time management skills, not to mention emotional resilience, all of which can help propel your career in any direction you wish to go in.
What’s your best financial advice for any woman?
If you can’t afford it and don’t need it then don’t buy it. As Polonius in Hamlet once said: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” which is a good philosophy to live by.