"It was really my first real job," says Natalie Williams, of her start as a customer service rep at a call center in Columbia, SC in 1999. "I was 19 years old and already a single parent, and it was really important for me to have stability." When the legacy phone company she worked for merged with Verizon a few months after she started, Williams became intrigued by the new technology Verizon brought in, as well as the benefits and opportunities for learning and advancement that became available to her. She saw a path to a long and fulfilling career. Almost 18 years later, Williams is now the director of the Alpharetta, GA call center, where she manages a team of 1,000.
Learning—and sharing her knowledge
As a young customer service rep, Williams took every opportunity to learn, not just for herself, but to help her fellow employees. "I didn't know how to use PowerPoint," she explains, "so I asked someone who used it regularly to teach me." After mastering the program, Williams taught it to everyone on her team. She also studied the benefits available to employees, and decided that not enough of her teammates were signing up for the company's 401(k) match. "I thought it was important that folks take advantage of every benefit out there," she says. So, Williams began approaching different teams, explaining why the benefit was in their best interest, and showing them how to sign up. "It was never necessarily about getting that next promotion," Williams says.
"It was more about thinking 'wow, we have hundreds of people here who may also be in their first corporate job. Why not learn as much as I can and give back while doing that?'"
Williams' go-getter attitude and generosity didn't go unnoticed by leadership. So, she built on that momentum, scheduling a meeting with every senior manager and associate director at her call center so she could sit down with them, tell them a little about herself and offer to help with the projects they were working on.
Williams began moving up through the ranks at her center. She eventually married and began looking for additional career opportunities. She saw a supervisor role open in Atlanta. She was initially nervous about moving to a big city where she had no support system, but, knowing it would be good for her career, she took the plunge. "I remember telling my husband 'don't let me get afraid and not make this move, because it may not seem like we have the means to make this happen, but let's do this anyway.' I always tell that story to illustrate that in the moment it may seem tough, but you have to keep looking forward and trust in the organization and in your ability to make it happen."
Signing up for every program and opportunity
Williams continued to advance at Verizon, embracing different roles along the way, eventually earning both her bachelor's degree in business administration and her master’s degree in public administration. She even took on more responsibility at the company and had two more children. Williams used Verizon's Tuition Assistance Program to earn her degrees, and encourages everyone on her team to use all the employee benefits that apply to them.
"I still use the backup (childcare) assistance program today," she says. "There are times when the kids may be sick or child care falls through for some reason, and the backup program is great, because it's an immediate solution. I talk about it a lot, because there are a lot of single parents here, and it's a great benefit."
Williams also recommends the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which connects employees to resources when they have a personal concern. "My middle son has autism," Williams says, "And the EAP connected us to special sites, groups and programs. They assigned us a caseworker, and connected us with people who were experiencing some of the same things we were experiencing. When we first found out what was happening with him, having that benefit available was just a tremendous help,” she says.
Building relationships and overcoming fear
"I've always been focused on people, that's the core of who I am—I always want to help," Williams says of her success story. "So whenever I ask for something, I offer something in return. Or I just offer to help, and I leverage my platform to do that," she says. "I've leveraged those relationships to help my leaders, to help my front line, to create programs to help other folks be successful and to give back to the community.”
Williams encourages her new hires to cultivate new relationships and to be brave. "I think one thing we are fortunate to have here at Verizon is a huge, diverse organization with people from all walks of life. So, just be explorative and get out there and know what's happening outside of your four walls and build new relationships,” she says. “One thing I always tell my new hire classes: even though things may seem impossible or you may be fearful of taking that next step and moving forward, don't allow fear to dictate how successful you are going to be or what steps you are going to take.”