As a Civil Engineering undergraduate student, this internship seemed like a good opportunity to work alongside other engineers and students as well as being a part of the creation of a world-changing idea. When I first learned that my internship would involve a lot of customer service, I felt prepared because I have worked in customer service for a while. Once I started this internship, I learned that there is definitely a different approach to customer service for various industries.
Getting Started: Coding and Beta Testing
I was introduced to Coupi’s DEM software during the first few weeks of the internship, and I was given the manual, written by the other interns, as my only guide through the software. I was practically beta testing the software manual created by the other student interns. As I went through this manual, I was able to learn about Lua programing language as well as the discrete element method (DEM). Before this internship I had some experience with coding and no knowledge of DEM, but within the first few weeks I became proficient in these areas.
Changing Gears: Getting to Know the Company
Once I felt comfortable with the software, I began learning all there is about Coupi, Inc. During this time, I read through papers from previous work, and I talked to our CEO, Dr. Johnson, as well as the other interns who had started working at Coupi a few weeks before me. Going through this information was very interesting and amazing, but there was a lot of information to remember and it can become overwhelming. With the help of our CEO, I created a document that summarizes everything essential about the company for future reference, to use when talking to potential customers. As a marketing intern expected to be able to answer various questions, this document would serve as a “cheat sheet” for occasions where I couldn’t remember some information or wasn’t sure about something.
Stronger Sales Skills
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, my idea of customer service and sales was a bit different than the one used in business sales. My exposure to customer service began when I volunteered for North Star Youth Court, where communicating efficiently with others was essential. I interacted with more people in my first job as a sales associate for American Eagle. There, my main goal was to sell (clothing) by suggesting items or deals customers would be interested in. During my time with American Eagle, I also worked as a manager, responsible for inventory and for directing a small group of people. For a while, I worked for Thrifty/Dollar Car Rental; the main goal there was also to rent as many cars as I could. Finally, I worked for Student Support Service at the University of Fairbanks as a student worker. I answered phones, made appointments, filed documents, recorded data, and helped students with questions.
While all of these jobs required a lot of customer service, talking on the phone, and dealing with difficult situations, Coupi required different skills. I had to work on listening more to the customer, talking less, asking questions, making the customer comfortable talking to me, and not make him or her feel like I was endlessly selling something. With much practice and the help of our CEO, interns, and other employees, I was finally ready to make a call.
In order to make calls, I had to figure out who to contact. This is where Internet searches played a huge role. From various searches, I learned that you have to be careful on how you word a search to get the results that you want. One word can make a huge difference in a Google search. During the search I mostly looked for companies that worked with modeling and simulation of particles, or just modeling and simulation in general. Once I had a target, I was able to begin contacting potential customers, and eventually I felt comfortable and prepared to do so.
Overall, this internship has taught me a lot more than I ever expected. When I accepted the job, I thought I would be constantly be doing customer service. Instead, I was able to work with the software alongside the other student interns, learn about the company, read published papers about the work Coupi has done, and work alongside the CEO, Dr. Johnson, drafting a proper conversation with a customer. Throughout this experience I have become more confident speaking to professionals, and I feel confident in what I know about the software and the company. I have improved my coding skills and changed my outlook in many things. I am very thankful I was able to be part of the beginning of something that will revolutionize the way we work with particulate matter.