Hi Joelle, tell us about yourself and your background.
I have a varied background that includes sales, customer service, project management, change management, process improvement, and leadership of all of the above. I have a degree in Business Administration and Project Management from the DeVry Institute of Technology, and several certifications and training in projects, process, and change. I started my career at Pepsi working in inside sales, and quickly grew with them into outside sales and key account management. I dabbled in consumer packaged goods for a little while longer before joining the oil and gas industry at Finning, a Caterpillar dealer. A shift in my career took me back to sales leadership and consumer packaged goods, but before I knew it, I was working for Microsoft on a short-term contract and fell in love with technology. I’ve been at Amilia now for three and a half years. I started out as a Senior Project Manager, but quickly learned the ropes and took over the Professional Services and Customer Success teams. A little more learning and getting outside of my comfort zone, and I took on both our Customer Care and Customer Education teams when I became VP of Customer Experience. I absolutely love leadership.
A little about me personally: I have worked all over Canada in multiple roles, companies, and industries. I’ve lived in the prairies, in the wild wild west, and now live in Montreal, QC in the east. I love to snowboard, golf, fish, and do puzzles. I also bake for fun, but I have really been digging into it during our time at home these past couple of years and am having a blast creating some spectacular birthday cakes and cupcakes (my sweet tooth is showing, I’m sure!) I am described as someone who rolls with the punches, and I think I do – I’m resilient enough to have lived and worked in several provinces, plus I now work in a second language which also demonstrates my interest in lifelong learning. I truly believe that every problem has a solution and if we leave our egos at the door, we will find it together.
How did you start working in the customer experience space?
In some ways, I say that CX found me over time. I’ve always had the notion that how we interact with companies and brands should leave an impression, or leave us feeling fulfilled in one of our foundational needs – otherwise why are we using this business? I didn’t know at the time it was Customer Experience – all I knew is that I wanted give others the same experience I would want to have, and that means we interact with respect, empathy, understanding, and trust.
Customer Service was something I was always good at. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry, and in service, we know that a guest’s dining experience will determine a tip, a review, or whether they will come back or not. I’ve also always loved customer (and employee!) feedback – how can we do better? Where did we miss? Blue sky thinking – what can we do to make your life better? As time passed, CX emerged as a focus, and I fell in love with the idea that a customer experience has MANY facets and it’s not just about your service levels – it’s about each interaction with the product and the brand.
Being process focused, I knew that a repeatable experience could be created by anyone at any time – we just follow our recipes! When I learned that adding employee experience into the equation was so valuable, I knew I was in the right space as I grew in my leadership roles and found an incredible passion in leading other individuals to their respective successes and achievements.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current role?
I currently oversee about a third of the Amilia organization. I manage 4 teams within the CX department: Professional Services (onboarding and implementation), Customer Success, Customer Care (technical support) and Customer Education (creation of customer-focused training and learning materials). With these four teams, we serve the organization and our clients. I ensure we collaborate and push our client’s ideas to the product teams. We work with sales and marketing to align on the best industries and verticals to focus on so they can close sales faster, and drive leads through client referrals, relationships, and case studies.
We are our client’s advocates and their advisors. I push my teams to know who they are speaking to and to understand our customer personas. We create processes and documentation to explain and highlight how we can win or lose in catalyst moments in our customer’s journey.
One aspect that has definitely set us apart in our service is our level of change management application to each and every client onboarding to our platform. The people side of change is where I was able to have significant impact at Amilia from the start, and we taught the business and our clients about the importance of leading a change and having the support required to implement a solution and ensure ultimate user adoption.
How can companies better listen and understand their customer base?
Listen is the first one actually – we often get torn up about a bad review. We instinctively feel defensive, and emotions cloud our understanding of the feedback. If we listen without bias, we can hear things we never knew about. So, listening is actually something you have to focus on and put effort into. We build relationships with our clients. We keep our teams’ roles and responsibilities clear and separate – we aren’t siloed, but we do know where the boundaries are to ensure each team can do their jobs.
I believe in two-way communication and follow-up. Even if the answer isn’t what the client is looking for, we ensure trust and transparency. Listening to clients is about ensuring they have the right expectations and that their feedback is communicated internally. We have multiple facets when it comes to testing our product, but our first stop is our clients: Do you like this? Can this help you? What would you do differently? While we can’t implement it all, we continuously improve and enhance our offering based on client needs and their feedback.
The other item that I feel is critical is knowing who your client is so you can communicate with them better – this includes hearing them better as well. Create personas and highlight the pain points in the customer journey. Once that’s done, review the journey for catalyst moments – where you know at a specific interaction or touchpoint, it can make or break the client’s interest in you. For us, it’s onboarding. If we don’t train properly, and we don’t coach people through the change, they disengage and can sometimes disappear and churn before they achieve value realization. If you can figure out how your various clients communicate, ask for help, or how they prefer to give feedback, you can then tailor your communication opportunities to fit perfectly into their preferences, thus resulting in additional engagement from your customers, and clear expectations for your team members.
If there is one thing you can do, it really is adding an NPS program into your CX. This isn’t a guaranteed way to improve CX, but it’s an amazing tool to start gathering feedback and using data to analyze the wants and needs of clients.
What are some companies that you think are doing an excellent job at customer experience, and why?
- American Express is a company that I’ve not only learned about at conferences or from really neat examples (go look up their customer service phone booth concept!) but I’ve also experienced it first-hand. They don’t pass you off from department to department, they respond almost instantly with a human on chat, and their hold times on phones are nearly non-existent. They position themselves as a premium product, but you get that feeling in their service levels as well. They also use feedback surveys and follow up with you when required.
- Another exceptional example would be ATB – Alberta Treasury Board. This is the bank I’ve used for years and they’re modern and innovative. They really took old-school banking to a nice modern application. They provide options for both groups of people – those who love to go to the bank and speak to people, and those like me, who are happy to be nearly 100% online. They encourage this behavior with offering products that align to this – free accounts for online transactions only. I personally can’t remember the last time I used my debit card. They understand that the user experience on their site is critical, so they keep it modern and updated.In addition, if you call with a problem, and have feedback on anything at all, they don’t ask you to “send an email to this department” but instead, before wrapping up the call, they take the feedback right with their customer care agents. They’ve empowered their team to take real time feedback and respond in the moment with a “thank you!” or “this is great!”. Also in those phone calls, you used to be able to pick your hold music. While this might seem silly, think about how many times you’ve been on hold and the music is awful! It doesn’t help with bad music and oftentimes, people get more annoyed than they were in the first place. Adding in some pop or country, depending on what your preference is, could start to de-escalate what might be a difficult situation. It’s really the small things.
- I’m going to toss Qualtrics into my list here – I think I have a slight infatuation with them!❤️ They really understand how to create an experience, and they bring to light the 4X concept – Customer Experience, Brand Experience, Product Experience, and Employee Experience. These are the four aspects we should all be paying attention to because it changes everything when we know what impression is left on our clients after any one of these interactions. Qualtrics is all about data and is a CX tool at the end of the day. It’s a premium product, and we aren’t at the level we need to be just yet to make the full investment, but we use their NPS tool. I’ve used 4 other tools in my career, and while they all have pros and cons, it’s 100% the service and the experience I had that made me choose the Delighted NPS tool. Even with their free version, you get concierge support. That means a business doesn’t have to pay but can still have an amazing CX, because the Delighted team knows that a freemium clients is a prospect throughout their entire customer journey. As a paid user, you certainly get additional features in the product, but their support team is sensational, and they are there for your success. You can feel it.
Many companies are currently undergoing digital transformation processes – what are your tips on a successful digital transformation?
This question is interesting because our 2022 objectives for our operations (CX included) are exactly around this. We are a SaaS company but as with most or many other organizations, we have had to reprioritize in the last couple of years. This coming year, we will be implementing things like TV’s in our contact center with queues, KPIs, targets, and results. In addition, we will be doing full integrations into our CRM tool – something we had shied away from in previous years, thinking the cost was too high. As we grow and scale, we understand the importance of one safe source, and we are working towards that. Another communication tool item we want to introduce is an intranet landing page that speaks to all of the departmental targets and results.
So – in a nutshell – what are my tips?
- Visibility – make sure everyone knows where to go to find information, and make it visible all the time.
- Training – don’t set your targets and KPI’s and then just communicate them in a PowerPoint deck. Explain them, train teams on the KPI’s that are from other departments, and try to avoid acronyms (this is SO tough!).
- Process – set your processes to have regular audits and reviews. Your processes can change, or maybe they need to change to adapt to new business rules. Find a tool that keeps you accountable, like Guru, where it reminds you to review and allows you to stay on top of things. Keep it in a nice repository that everyone has access to.
- You need a team! At the end of the day, digital transformation is a cross functional, inter-departmental, matrix requirement!😊 We all have to work together to get there but find the experts to lead the organization to the right place, and ensure they are collaborating throughout. While this might take more time, it increases engagement and support from all areas of the business and allows a nice rollout of changes when there is awareness, training, and reinforcement, as you are making this digital change.
What are some CX solutions or tools that you’re keeping your eyes on right now?
We are currently experiencing incredible growth as we focus on our future at Amilia. I am currently looking for a Customer Success tool that brings algorithms into play. We are just at a point where we’ve used our CRM tool in static ways to track happiness levels (feedback and complaints), NPS, and updates. We are focusing some efforts on understanding our needs as we grow and now need a tool that helps us see real gaps and areas for improvements based on industry standards, as well as helping us predict churn and client needs. We are looking to the experts to help us be more efficient and maintain our exceptional levels of support. We run a Customer Satisfaction target of 97.5% and exceed that consistently, sometimes with weeks at 100% happiness from our support teams.
I am also looking at a contact center solution that brings all of our interactions to a better place for analysis. We currently have a phone system, then a chat product with ticketing, and then we have emails. An all-in-one will allow us to create data for analysis: What format for support do our clients prefer to use? Are there trends in complex topics for email and phone support? How do we encourage our clients to use chat, which helps our efficiencies, but maintains exceptional support? We also want to analyze our calls better – something we are not doing yet – to see why people call. We track it manually but being able to analyze common problems allows us to build out new training, documentation, even macros for answering longer, more difficult questions.
Did you read any interesting books this past summer that you’d like to recommend?
So not summer reading related, but I’m actually reading Customer Experience Management by Nihat Tavsan and Can Erdem, which is more about how to design and set up CX – while I love what I do, there is always tons to learn! I am looking to make sure I’m adding in the right metrics and information for the teams, as well as ensuring we are leading the organization to understand CX and the impacts.
Also, I would recommend any change management book focusing on the people side of change. Prosci has been my go-to for all things change management, so I recommend their book called exactly that: Change Management: The People Side of Change by Jeff Hiatt and Timothy Creasey. I’ve re-read this one a few times now!
In a project focused world, people get change management mixed up a little bit because formal project management refers to “change management” in terms of managing scope change. For the people side of change, it’s more about psychology and how to bring people along and lead them to support the change. It’s based on their ADKAR process – Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement – and how to apply different tools and techniques to address each critical area of a change. There are a lot of assessments, and the idea is to tailor your approach to the stakeholders that matter, and not just a blanket communication plan. This isn’t just a CX book – this can be used in every area of an organization. For us, we use it daily and our clients have a better transition during their software change and implementation.
What is your favorite CX metric?
Ah! Such a hard question!!!! We follow many: NPS & VoC, CSAT, First Reply, Churn, Time to Go-Live, Time to Value Realization, Time to Resolution, Usage Depth. That said, I’m going to cheat a bit here because I’ll say there are two.
- The first that I personally love is actually time to resolution.People don’t want to wait for their problems to be fixed. Whether it’s a bug, a question, or just a request for help, we want to keep our clients moving quickly and efficiently – they too don’t have time to stop if they are dealing with clients, so we focus on our resolution time. If a client has to follow up on a question, we are not being proactive. In addition, the whole purpose of the client in the software is to run their business, and we want to be a critical part of that for them. The product needs to work, and while our product team isn’t always in front of the customer, it does help keep them accountable to our clients, thus bringing back the idea that a good product experience has a huge impact on the customer experience. We want to fix their problems quickly and with a great attitude.
- The second one I love is churn, but we track it with two metrics: Client count churn, and Revenue churn (reversed as net retention revenue).It’s critical to know how many clients are churning. You need to know who stops using your software. However, because this is a lagging indicator (once they’ve churned, they’ve churned) it’s not an ideal metric to use to determine a true CX. So, I like to also look at revenue churn because for us, we can start to predict a potential client churn by reviewing their revenue year over year. If I see they have less items on the platform, or they are selling less than previous years, my teams will start to dig into the client’s business – did they stop selling something? Are they using another platform at the same time? Did they take payments offline? Then ask why to all of these.