Employee Spotlight: Eliza Southard Customer Support Senior Manager
October 4, 2023
Airbus, Bombardier, and SAS walk into a bar and ask for a drink. For the average customer service provider, this is no easy feat. Who keeps track of the tab?
That responsibility falls to Eliza Southard and her team at MRAS Customer Support, with the job of making sure customers leave happy. Every time.
With over 30 years of experience in customer product support and program management—covering supply chain domestic and international sourcing, as well as maintenance repair and overhaul services—Eliza is no stranger to the world of aviation and its quickly evolving technological space.
As Customer Support Senior Manager for Aftermarket and Field Services, Eliza leads a small team in servicing airline operators and aircraft OEMs under the banner of ST Engineering – Middle River Aerostructure Systems (MRAS). These include leading industry names such as the aforementioned Airbus, Bombardier, and SAS, and major airlines such as Avianca, American, Easyjet, and Indigo. Aircraft fleets of this size stretch into the thousands, and while the Customer Support team only deals with a fraction of the amount, its support extends to over 1600 aircraft—a number that continues to grow.
That’s quite a tab to remember. Especially for a service that began with just one lady five years ago.
In 2020, the beginning of a global pandemic meant Eliza was stuck at home, but eager to begin supporting customers of MRAS around the world. Ultimately, her passion saw the birth of a global remote network of customer service providers, growing the business’s department from 1 to 18 global employees.
The expertise within the Customer Support team now branches to customer support program managers working with aircraft OEMs, field service engineers, spare part sales, and aircraft on-ground support. Today, the team spearheads support on MRAS A320neo, Global 7000, COMAC ARJ21, and C919 nacelles. For ST Engineering, the MRAS Customer Support team continues to establish customer relationships and embraces every endeavor to expand ST Engineering’s support services. For Eliza Southard, it’s just another day at the office (…bar).
Eliza’s Journey to MRAS Customer Support
Growing up in Hong Kong, her father's career in the banking industry and her mother's diverse connections instilled Eliza with a curiosity for various professions. However, it was the captivating tales shared by family friends working at Cathay Pacific that ignited her deep-seated passion for aviation. The allure of flight, transporting passengers across vast distances, etched an indelible mark on her young mind.
Eliza's journey to becoming a Customer Support Senior Manager at ST Engineering is a testament to her versatility and tenacity. Her career with GE Aviation provided her with diverse experiences, ranging from supply chain management and military contract negotiations to quality assurance and program management. The acquisition of MRAS by ST Engineering in 2019 marked a pivotal point in her career. Leading the A320neo Entry-Into-Service Aftermarket Customer Support Program, Eliza was entrusted with the task of establishing MRAS's own Customer Support team to aid its growing global airline clientele.
Under her guidance, the team quickly evolved, supporting airlines across different continents and managing various aircraft nacelle programs. Through adept leadership, clear communication, and mentorship, Eliza’s small team fostered growth amidst even the most challenging times posed by the pandemic.
A Day in the Life: MRAS Customer Support
The daily routine of the Customer Support team at MRAS is a tapestry of responsibilities and commitments that demonstrate unwavering dedication:
Team Development: Eliza places significant emphasis on team mentoring, creating an environment where members can thrive even in the face of challenges. Launching the team just months before the pandemic, Eliza had the crucial role of communicating business impact whilst providing sufficient support and mentorship to the team during this challenging period. Once a quarter, the Customer Support team reports to MRAS Senior Leaders with statistics of fleet performance and customers’ satisfaction with the products. This process has since evolved into an in-person, annual review onsite at MRAS.
Customer Satisfaction: MRAS’ Customer Support team prides itself in managing all aspects of customer satisfaction, from surveys to issue resolution, ensuring the airlines' operational needs are met effectively. Eliza’s underlying goal is to minimize operational disruptions or burden on the customers, and to meet the company’s target to “Keep the airlines flying”.
Partnership Relations Management: Through collaboration with the revenue share partner, the Customer Support team at MRAS ensures seamless program management and guidance.
Fleet Trend Analysis: The MRAS Customer Support team keeps a close eye on fleet trends, coordinating with various departments to implement solutions based on observations and customer feedback. The team also publishes weekly Items of Interest to showcase significant facts and highlight potential issues.
Leadership and Growth: Eliza’s responsibilities expanded over time to encompass additional product lines, necessitating resource management, budgeting, and planning for a growing team. Her Customer Support team is now 18 members strong including the Aftermarket Program Management team.
Eliza attributes this success to her talented Customer Support team, and the leaders she's encountered throughout her career. Her exposure to different business divisions, coupled with the challenges she's overcome, have fortified her foundation and leadership acumen. Eliza has also learned a lot from her team to better understand her colleagues’ strengths—short and long-term objectives are set for each team member, with frequent progress reviews to adjust the Customer Support team’s goals throughout the year.
Individuals within Eliza’s Customer support team have their voices heard and needs assisted. On days with low morale, Eliza ensures full transparency and privacy with one-to-one discussions aimed at enhancing focus, finding solutions, and improving the daily life of each Customer Support team member.
The Road to MRAS Customer Support, and its Future
Eliza's career path and experiences have equipped her with valuable insights. For those starting a journey in aerospace customer support, she imparts wisdom born from her own journey: "A successful customer support professional must be a good listener, a solid analyst, a champion problem solver, and a relationship builder. It is always important to continually learn, from the team, from the customers, and from the industry."
ST Engineering welcomed Eliza with open arms, providing her the necessary support for her role. She finds inspiration in the company's growth endeavors, particularly in nacelle maintenance, repair, and overhaul capabilities, along with initiatives that shape future urban landscapes.
As a leader, Eliza's dedication, adaptability, and ability to build strong relationships have led her to manage a global team while ensuring the airlines' success remains paramount. In her words, "It is tremendously rewarding to nurture my team and watch them grow into experienced Customer Support professionals".
Even in a demanding role, Eliza finds a way to balance her professional responsibilities with her personal life. Working across different time zones, while challenging, hasn't deterred her commitment to maintaining a work-life balance. Her dedication to the team's growth and her customers' satisfaction is unwavering.
As one team member aptly summarized, " In its first full year since gaining independence, this young MRAS Customer Support Team certainly punched above its weight, contributing significantly to the partnership's exceptional 2022 Airbus Survey achievements, receiving accolades from both its partner and customers".
Eliza remains eager to learn from different people, cultures, and experiences, both through her work and her personal travels. Her dedication to nurturing her team and fostering relationships shows no sign of waning, and she remains a driving force in the aviation industry.
It is evident that MRAS Customer Support embodies the very spirit that defines ST Engineering. Eliza’s journey, marked by passion, resilience, and leadership, shines a light on the remarkable individuals who propel this company forward. In her, we find not just an exemplary professional, but an inspiration—an inspiration to seek excellence, embrace growth, and shape the future.