In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Senior Director of Travel Partners Group at Expedia Group Shannon Martin to learn about building a 90-day roadmap to successful customer service. Learn how Shannon has built an excellent team to provide world-class customer service by listening to the podcast below.
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Problem Solving Through Connection
Martin reveals the secrets to structuring a successful CX team with a 90-day roadmap. The first step to 90-day success is to build a connection through asking questions. Doing so can uncover problems customers are experiencing that need to be solved within your organization. This is an especially effective way to cater to the ultimate consumer experience because this method is created by design-led thinking.
When asked to evaluate a design-led thinking company culture, Martin says, “Even though it’s a bit of a buzzword today, I do think customer service professionals have done this for years because our concern is always what’s the impact of the customer? What is their experience finding the problems?” By asking questions to the customer and further quantifying problems that need to be solved as a result, a company becomes more vigilant and is able to provide better customer service outcomes.
Testing Promising Opportunities
The next step of the 90-day roadmap is to test and learn based on the data gathered. Once these problems have been identified, it is important for CX leaders to look at all of the options to find the most promising opportunities. As Martin says, “You really want to pick a few promising opportunities, the ones that look like you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck. And there’s no guarantee that those will be the one, but it will give you a place to start.”
A prime example of testing and learning was when Martin’s team identified how to better provide a customer experience. She understands how difficult it can be for brands that have CX teams across the globe to implement change. Shannon believes that one of the best ways to effectively implement tests and organizational change is to start with a focus group. If said group shows positive results, change can then be implemented globally. To do this, Martin’s test group displayed a more consultative approach to CX, rather than that of a strictly problem-solving approach. Additionally, her team cut all handle times and allowed the agents to provide service at their will without constraint. This ultimately led to higher customer satisfaction scores, employee satisfaction scores and a profound increase in revenue.
Slow Down for Success
The final step to creating and actualizing an effective 90-day roadmap is to take things piece by piece and day by day. Newer brands struggle with overextending themselves and becoming overwhelmed with amounting problems that need solving. Martin’s solution is to find the right opportunities and to create change in small and effective steps. She mentions:
“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I need to fix these 20 different things in my first 90 days.’ No, you don’t. You definitely cannot do that. It’s impossible. But if you can find a few promising things where you can start to make incremental change, over time, incremental change actually becomes huge. And that’s really the only thing that you could easily expect in the first 90 days is, where can I make some really promising, incremental change?”
Starting from scratch and working in small steps can bring long-term benefits and success. Working each day towards a goal and doing what is necessary in increments to achieve that goal can help CX teams accomplish their biggest wins.
CX leaders could greatly benefit from using Martin’s 90-day roadmap to achieve customer service excellence. Identifying problems by first creating a connection, then asking targeted questions, testing and learning from data, and solving problems incrementally have allowed teams to attain CX success.
To learn more about the secrets to creating a 90-day roadmap, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday.
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Full Episode Transcript:
The 90 Day Roadmap to Customer Excellence | Shannon Martin
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going today. Fun topic, very fun topic. We’re going to be talking about this idea of a 90 day roadmap to customer excellence and to do that, we brought on Shannon Martin. She’s currently the Senior Director, Travel Partners Group at Expedia Group. Shannon, thanks for joining. How are ya?
Shannon Martin: (00:30)
I am great. It’s a lovely rainy day here in Texas, which for most people may not be exciting, but for Texas, it’s a great day.
Gabe Larsen: (00:39)
I love it. I love it. Well we appreciate you joining and want to jump into some of the lessons learned from your cool career. But before we do that, maybe tell us just a little bit more about your background.
Shannon Martin: (00:51)
Sure. Even though I am part of the Travel Partners Group at Expedia now, prior to that, I was the Head of Global Customer Experience Operations for HomeAway, which became Vrbo, which was acquired by Expedia.
Gabe Larsen: (01:06)
Shannon Martin: (01:06)
So I’ve got at least 20 years, I don’t want to say exactly how many, in the customer service world, starting with frontline management and then going all the way through to everything that supports customer service.
Gabe Larsen: (01:19)
Awesome. Awesome. Well, yeah. You look at, check out her LinkedIn and you’ll find that she is, she’s seen the movie once or twice, so it’d be fun to kind of dive into this idea of starting up and optimizing your customer excellence transformation. So let’s start at the top. As people think, I think this is one of the big challenges, I’m new to a job. I’m thinking about trying to kind of optimize the structure, the strategy, but there’s so much coming at me. How do you start? How do you start thinking about this 90 day plan of being able to just do it and do it right?
Shannon Martin: (01:52)
Well, if you’re coming new into a company, you obviously don’t know what you don’t know. The big thing these days is design-led thinking, take your approach to those first 90 days in that design-led thinking framework, then you realize the first thing you need to do is figure out what problems you need to solve. And then from there you can start thinking about, “All right, I’ve figured out a problem. What are some of the things that I might be able to address?” And then start designing some tests to see if you can actually make a difference in those areas? Because even those incremental tests could start to show you some goodness that you can expand on in a broader base later.
Gabe Larsen: (02:34)
I, yeah, this design-led thinking. It seems to be a little bit of a buzz, not a buzzword, but something that I think not everybody knows about. Could you just double click on that a little bit because it does, it is for some, a newer phenomenon. How would you explain that? What is it?
Shannon Martin: (02:49)
What’s funny about it is in the customer service world, I think customer service people are naturally designed to do this, but you always want to start with the customer’s problem. What problem are you trying to solve? And so once you understand what problem you’re trying to solve, then you can think about, “Okay, what are the processes that impact that problem? How does a customer get to the point where they have that problem?” And then you start looking at breaking that problem apart and what can you then fix? And then it all becomes a question of testing; test and learn. How do you tweak this one thing? Does it make a difference? How do you, and then expand that to different parts of the process? So even though it’s a bit of a buzzword today, I do think customer service professionals have done this for years because our concern is always what’s the impact on the customer? What’s their experience finding the problems?
Gabe Larsen: (03:44)
I like that. I like that you’re right. In some ways it’s been around for a while, but it does take a couple of new avenues, a little bit more structure in the way that you kind of talked about it, right? Problem and process and product and bringing those all together. Let’s maybe double click into some of those thoughts. I like the design-led thinking of how you then approach those 90 days. Where do you typically start?
Shannon Martin: (04:03)
Gosh, the first thing is you need to go out and you gather your data right on the problem. And the best way to gather the data is talking to people. This is actually a twofold benefit. Not only can you start to understand the customer’s problems and concerns, but you start to build relationships with the people on the front lines. At VRBO, our customer service agents talk to 10,000 people a year.
Gabe Larsen: (04:29)
Shannon Martin: (04:29)
And my joke was they had the Vulcan mind meld with their customers. If you wanted to know how something was going to go over with a customer, talk to customer service agents. So that’s where I start, like just getting their information, getting in their ideas, round tables and surveys, and just going down to someone’s desk and saying, “Hey, what are you seeing? What are you hearing today about X, Y, and Z?” So again, not only are you starting to gather your data on what the customer problems are, you’re also hearing directly from the folks that probably have ideas on how to solve those problems and building the relationships with those teams. It’s all gonna give you a lot more trust in grace when you start to suggest some changes later.
Gabe Larsen: (05:14)
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, people feel, I feel like people, they do try to get to their customers, but sometimes they don’t get the information they want out of it. It’s like, I love that you kind of talk about this idea of building connections by asking questions. Is there certain ways you’ve found to get the right information out? Is it about structuring the right questions? Is it about just getting to the right people or make sure you get to the right customers or any thoughts on kind of that double click on actually extracting some of the goodness out?
Shannon Martin: (05:43)
There’s so many frameworks and how you can do it. I have usually taken a little bit more of an unstructured approach and I might start out with, “Hey, what are you hearing about our billing issues right now?” And it’s something, I mean, that seems like a fairly broad topic and there can be lots of questions or lots of answers that could come about. But oftentimes agents have something that’s very top of mind and they’ll say, “Well, what we’re seeing right now is that refunds are taking more than the normal amount of time.” “Okay. Tell me more,” and it really becomes like the, “Tell me more, tell me more,” once you have that breadcrumb to go after, then you can actually start looking at more structured data to figure out how big the problem is. So if you’re seeing a payment issue in New Zealand, like, “Okay, what payment provider are we using in New Zealand?” Well we’re using this particular one, I’m not gonna name names. And so then you actually start, you go to the case management system. It’s like, “Okay, how many contacts did we have? How many bookings do we have? Okay, we’ve got a fairly good percentage of things that are not happening.” And then you go to engineering and it’s like, “Okay, are we seeing anything happening here?” So you start gathering all your data now that you have that breadcrumb or that starting point that identifies a problem. Because once you, you have some anecdotal problems, but then you need to quantify them. How big of a problem is it?
Gabe Larsen: (07:13)
Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking as you said the, “Tell me more, tell me more,” concept of somebody saying something like that. They said the five whys. It’s like you’re having a problem, why? Well this. Well, why? Well, why? And pretty soon after the fifth one they said, usually you’ve got down to the root cause of what’s really driving this person or what they care most about, or what’s really kind of putting them in that position. That, “Tell me more,” that’s fun. I’d forgotten that. Okay. So getting the connections and asking the right questions is number one. Where do you kind of go to next, as you think about this road map and this design-led thinking transformation?
Shannon Martin: (07:52)
Right? The normal, the thing that we normally look at, so before you come up with a specific solution, right, you have to, there’s some maybe policy process kind of the softer things that you need to figure out. And in that case, you also want to look at all your options. So let’s say you identified 20 different problems like, “Okay, I’m going to narrow it down. What are just a couple of promising opportunities that we have here?” And they could make a small change that can make a big difference, or it could be a big change that happened that fixes every customer. That’s like, not as likely, but you really want to pick a few promising opportunities, the ones that look like you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck. And there’s no guarantee that those will be the one, but it will give you a place to start. It will help you feel like you’re not boiling the ocean, right? Everybody’s like, “Oh, I need to fix these 20 different things in my first 90 days.” No, you don’t. You definitely cannot do that. It’s impossible. But if you can find a few promising things where you can start to make incremental change, over time, incremental change actually becomes huge. And that’s really the only thing that you could easily expect in the first 90 days is, where can I make some really promising, incremental change?
Gabe Larsen: (09:17)
Yeah. You, and this might go into your back on a little bit but I’m always interested. As you’ve gone through some of these exercises, and you found some of these few promising opportunities, have there ever been some surprises where you’re like, “Oh man, here’s a fun one. A fun part of the process that we could change or part of the customer experience, or even something in the employee experience, that we could change that would ultimately kind of produce bigger results.” Anything come to mind that again, some of these maybe few promising opportunities, that you’ve found in different situations?
Shannon Martin: (09:54)
I’m trying to think. We, there have been so many along the way. I’m just thinking of something particularly goofy that springs to mind but, there’s a whole idea just in how you finish your call, right? You never want to leave the customer with a negative, right? So the standard question has always been, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Well, the answer then is no, which is a negative and that’s not necessarily how you want to end a call.
Gabe Larsen: (10:25)
Oh, interesting. Interesting.
Shannon Martin: (10:25)
And so we actually tweaked how our agents completed their calls and said, “Have I answered everything for you today?” And, and at that point, then the customer has the opportunity to say, “Yeah, actually you have,” or “No, wait a minute. I have one more thing.” Just that one small thing, again, very small thing in the process. And we saw a shift in our customer satisfaction scores.
Gabe Larsen: (10:51)
I love that.
Shannon Martin: (10:51)
Customers were left feeling more positive, especially in a case where the agent had no ability to change the outcome, right? So it’s perhaps a policy thing, or perhaps in our case, a traveler was unable to get a refund from the property owner because of the property owner’s policies, whatever the case may be. But it definitely helped the customer recognize that now this agent has done everything they can, and it was reflected on the customer satisfaction scores.
Gabe Larsen: (11:21)
I like that. No, that’s fine. I appreciate that because sometimes it is those small and simple things that lead to big changes, big results. And sometimes those are the things you need to be able to find, especially if you’re new or you’re trying to map out that. It’s always, I feel like quick wins. If you can find some of those things while you work on the bigger pieces that allow everybody to be satisfied. You, your boss, your customers, your employees, everyone wins.
Shannon Martin: (11:47)
Yeah. [Inaudible] Hear about it. They’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s kind of nice to be able to say that.”
Gabe Larsen: (11:52)
I like that. Okay. So we have building connections–kind of getting the questions right, simplify it down, focus on some of those quick wins or find those promising opportunities. I like the way you talked about it. Then where do you go last here?
Shannon Martin: (12:07)
And the last one is where it can really be fun and sometimes requires a little bit more creativity. And that’s where you test and learn. So you’ve identified your promising, some places to start and you need to be able to test your theory. And again, if you’re going to make a small change and you have 3,000 agents globally, you’re not going to be able to test it across 3,000 agents. Like that’s just too much to ask, but you identify a set of agents, maybe in a single region, or even a single team, depending on how much time you have so that you can have them try something just to get a signal. So we had an interesting test that we ran, because we were trying to get our agents to shift from strictly problem solving to being more consultative. And when we first started it, they were struggling with that. They’re like, “Well, I’m not a salesperson.” Like, “We know that, but you’re helping the partner or customer run their business better with our tools. So you have the technology, you can teach them and consult with them on how to do that better.” Well, guess what happens when you go into consultation mode and you’re having these great conversations? Your handle times go up. So then our agents were struggling with trying to, we didn’t cap handle times, but everyone kind of watches handle times. And so we ran a test and said, “Okay, no holds barred. You guys are no longer being monitored. We’re not even gonna look at handle times for you in this test, all so that you can do this consultation.”
Gabe Larsen: (13:51)
Wow. Wow. Awesome. Awesome.
Shannon Martin: (13:55)
In the results that we saw, customer satisfaction went up, employee satisfaction went up, revenue went up because those partners were learning how to do their business better. And we saw a return based on the revenue that came back to the company on the accounts that were in that test group. So it was one of those things that we got enough signal on that test. And I think we ran it for three months, that particular one. I was like, “All right, this is how we’re going to run it going forward,” because we know giving up control over that handle time, allowing the agents the freedom to have those great conversations with our partners, led to an overall better experience for everyone.
Gabe Larsen: (14:38)
Yeah. Wow. I love that, the idea of kind of nail it and scale it. You got to find a small group of people that you can inject that change on and then see if you can actually do it. I love the idea. So funny, we find ourselves, as you were talking, I’m just, we think we’re being customer obsessed sometimes because we’re looking at things like handle time. But really that’s actually disabling the customer to have a better experience because we’re so interested in this metric, but yet we think we’re being customer obsessed, but really we’re being customer not obsessed. But –
Shannon Martin: (15:16)
Metric obsessed. Yeah.
Gabe Larsen: (15:16)
It’s interesting that sometimes the metrics can not lead you astray, but sometimes they can give you mixed messages. I’m feeling, I’m hearing that a lot. Like people are like, “Well, my numbers are good, but my overall customer experience is not good.” It’s like –
Shannon Martin: (15:36)
I always say you get the behavior that you encourage. And if you’re encouraging shorter handle times, the agents, they’re smart. They’re going to figure out how to whip through those things and move customers through faster even though they may not want to.
Gabe Larsen: (15:53)
Yeah. Oh, fascinating. I need to send this recording to a few people. So, okay. Well Shannon, we really appreciate your time. As we kind of think about wrapping, we’d love to just get a quick summary from you. You hit a bunch of different things, but you’ve got different CX leaders, CS leaders out there trying to kind of get this transformation or get into this excellence mindset. What’s that last piece of advice you kind of leave with them?
Shannon Martin: (16:18)
If you get just a tiny bit better every day, then at the end of the year, you’re going to look back and you’re going to see, “Wow, we’ve made some incredible improvements.” So, it really is those tiny steps. As long as you’re doing everything you can to get a little bit better every day, you’re going to get big wins down the road.
Gabe Larsen: (16:37)
So yeah, that’s the small crawl, walk, run, I’ve often said. Crawl, walk, run. So if someone wants to get in touch with you or continue the dialogue, what’s the best way to do that?
Shannon Martin: (16:48)
Definitely on LinkedIn. So Shannon Martin, and I guess the LinkedIn handle is S-L-E-A-R Martin.
Gabe Larsen: (16:55)
And I can attest, she does respond. That’s how I found her, on LinkedIn. So she does respond.
Shannon Martin: (17:03)
Definitely. Definitely. Always willing to share.
Gabe Larsen: (17:03)
Awesome. Okay. Well, I really appreciate the time today, Shannon, and for the audience, have a fantastic day.
Exit Voice: (17:16)
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