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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Hillary Curran to discuss customer experience and business operational strategies to make sure that the voice of the customer is heard. Hillary is currently the Director of Customer Service at Guru. She has been there for the last three years but initially started her career in nonprofits and technological development and support. She has helped develop and roll out software to aid those who want to help others. She is passionate about people; both coworkers and customers. In her interview with Gabe, she shared valuable insights about how to boost your customer experience and make the process easier for the company. Listen to the full episode below.
The Importance of Data Collection Both Internally and Externally
Having the right data at the right time is essential for the customer service industry. In order to ensure that customers are having a good experience, there has to be a way for them to leave feedback and make their voices heard. There are several things Hillary suggests companies should do to ensure customer data is recorded and acknowledged. For instance, Guru is a customer of their own service. Hillary states, “our whole company is also a customer, we use our own product internally. We want to make sure that we’re giving feedback about the product and what we are updating it accordingly.” Doing this has allowed Guru to get feedback in a myriad of ways and allows for employees to have complete empathy for the customer.
In addition to using your own product, Hillary notes that Slack channels are a great way to collect and share customer-gathered data with members of the whole company. This is a great tool that maximizes the amount of feedback received. Hillary mentions, “So a lot of data it’s being logged in different ways, but we try to make sure that it’s pushed to a channel on Slack so that most anyone across the company, even engineers or developers, can look through that and kind of learn as they go as well and potentially comment if they have ideas.” Doing this allows the voices of the customer to be heard throughout the company. Without internal data sharing, external feedback won’t ever be used to make a difference.
How to Share and Discuss Customer Feedback
After Hillary commented on the types of channels to use to communicate customer feedback, she describes the best way for that information to be shared. Sharing customer stories with all members of the company is a vital part of discussing customer feedback. Stories are powerful, motivating, and help all sectors of a company understand their customer better. Hillary suggests breaking down the company into pods with representatives from all departments is a great way to share the stories of the customers. These pods have engineers, designers, and members of the customer service team. Having Customer Service reps in the design process allows them to “bring those customer stories. Or, say ‘that actually looks like something that this one customer I’m working with may have an opinion about. I’d love to have you hop on a phone with them.’ And so just having a couple of people from customer experience in the design and engineering conversations can really help prevent a feature being built that maybe isn’t perfect yet or isn’t necessarily exactly what the customer wants.” Hillary continuously comments that weekly work meetings around discussing customer stories guarantees that something will be done in response to their feedback.
Why Closing the Communication Loop is Essential and How To Do It
Lastly, Hillary comments on what needs to be done after the data is collected, shared, evaluated, and acted upon. She points out that the next step for the company is to reach out to the customer thanking them for their feedback and letting them know what you have done with it. Hillary states, “every time we have a feature released that someone actually requested, we will pull out that report and send the customer a message letting them know that it’s being released at this time. … So yeah, we try to make sure that we’re always closing the loop on any feature requests that we get to make sure people understand that they’re not just like sending it to a black hole and that we actually are reading those and are taking them into account.” Whether it is through email or a phone call, communicating with customers who gave feedback is a great way to close the loop and ensure that the voice of the customer is heard.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Elevating the Voice of the Customer with Hillary Curran
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright, welcome everybody. We’re excited to get going. Today we’re going to be talking about how to elevate the voice of the customer in a fully remote world, which we all find ourselves in at the moment. To do that, we brought on Hillary Curran. She’s currently the director of customer experience at Guru. Hillary, thanks for joining. How are you?
Hillary Curran: (00:29)
I’m doing great Gabe, it’s great to be here.
Gabe Larsen: (00:31)
Yeah, it’s different circumstances. She’s in Philly. I’m in Jersey, but we’re probably actually not too far away from each other, but we’re definitely not going into the office. Our office is in New York, so we are living in the remote world. But I’m excited to jump into the topic. Can you tell us just a little bit about yourself and kind of what you guys do over there at Guru?
Hillary Curran: (00:51)
Of course. So yeah, as Gabe mentioned, I lead the customer experience team at Guru. At Guru, the customer experience makes up our support team as well as our customer success function. So we get to work with customers one-on-one as well as in a one-to-many capacity. So, whether that’s through like email or chat or ticketing, we do all of it. We’re really the voice of the customer throughout the whole company. My journey to Guru: I’ve been here almost three years, started actually my background is in nonprofits and more like technical support. So, I’ve done a lot of stuff, a lot of work with software, rolling out software, at different nonprofits to help optimize solutions and have always loved working with people. I found myself in a customer support role and now lead a customer experience team. So super excited to be able to use a lot of my experiences across different industries and sectors here at Guru.
Gabe Larsen: (01:46)
Yeah. That is fun to kind of be part of — you kind of work in the customer experience space obviously, but your company obviously does a lot around that, so that’s fun to be able to kind of have both pillars there. Well, let’s dive into this concept. Before we were starting, I love the framework, right? As you think about how you guys really amplify the customer’s voice in this fully remote environment, there’s kind of a framework you took me through. Can you kind of set the stage with that?
Hillary Curran: (02:17)
Totally. So, even early before we were a fully remote team as we are today, Guru had two offices, one in San Francisco and one in Philadelphia. And so we’ve had to make sure that most of our communication is not necessarily just in person, but also somehow equitably sourced across the team. So, it’s been really, it’s been a good challenge as we’ve grown to make sure that we have opportunities for people to give and share and collect feedback from their customers that they’re talking to or even prospects. So the three things that we try to do are collect it in a myriad of ways, create places for people to discuss and share the feedback that’s timely and not once every quarter. And then also close the loop with customers. So if we do release a feature or if something comes out that someone requested or had a really strong passionate feelings about, we want to let them know so that they understand that we’re actually listening and doing something about it.
Gabe Larsen: (03:15)
Yeah, no, I think that’s one of the ways you’ve got to kind of manage because the world is different. You guys sound like you had an advantage because you were a little bit remote to start and so you’ve already kind of gone down this path and were a little bit more prepared than some of us. But, whether we were ready or not, we now have to dive into that. So I want to hit some of these concepts; this idea of collect, discuss and kind of close the loop. I just think that’s a cool framework to start really making sure you do this the right way. Let’s start with collect. What do you mean by that and how does that kind of work?
Hillary Curran: (03:52)
So at Guru, we always, I mean — there’s a ton of feedback that comes from our customer experience team. So customer success managers are hearing information on phone calls or when they’re onsite or customer meetings. Our sales team is hearing information when they’re on the phone with prospects, even with customers currently. But, there’s also a ton of insights that we get from other folks on the team. So if marketing sends out something particular and they get certain replies, like anyone on the team can really contribute to collecting feedback. And it’s something also really great about Guru is that our whole company is also a customer. So we use our own product internally. And so we also want to make sure that we’re giving feedback about the product and what we want to see change. And so we try to make sure that there’s a place for anyone and everyone to share the stories that they’re hearing about customers or customer insights as well as share their own information or ideas that they have while they’re using Guru day to day and then their workflow.
Hillary Curran: (04:49)
So we have a myriad of Slack channels. One is product feedback, which is sort of like an all encompassing catch-all. And this is where if you forward a specific email to a specific email address, all of that feedback will get sent to this channel so people can read it and thread conversations about it. We have everyone who uses our — who is talking to our customers would also send emails this way. We also collect feedback in our customer support tool. So we tag conversations with feedback as well as the features or certain ideas so we can see trends based on tags. So we’re collecting it as many ways as we can. And then all of the feedback is pushed to a tool we use called product board, which then allows our product management team to categorize and organize that based on teams. So a lot of it’s being logged in different ways, but we try to make sure that it’s pushed to a channel on Slack so that most anyone across the company, even engineers or developers can look through that and kind of learn as they go as well and potentially comment if they have ideas.
Gabe Larsen: (05:48)
Got it. So Slack has been kind of the main way you’ve been able to start facilitating some of that feedback mechanism, the collecting aspect of it.
Hillary Curran: (05:57)
Gabe Larsen: (05:57)
And then a couple of different channels to think through that and do it in an appropriate way. Do you feel — has there been flaws or lessons learned from that or has it been — it sounds like you guys have a pretty good machine there working.
Hillary Curran: (06:13)
I think the collection is easy. Everyone can log things, whether it’s an email or in some form or fashion and some software. I think the hard part is elevating the stories and the trends and finding those that we have. We started to create a couple of other Slack channels to really highlight strategic customers or stories that we think are more relevant for the specific time. So, we created one a couple months ago called customer stories. That’s a little bit more storytelling oriented and talks about like direct quotes that we’ve had from customers that send us about like maybe how they’re dealing with their new work from home experiences to try and make sure that we’re elevating the stories that need to get shared, or that everyone needs to hear more broadly, and then also highlighting those. So we created a — now it’s a virtual meeting — but it’s a virtual meeting for the entire company to attend. And so the customer success team gathers all of those trends and tries to highlight those in that meeting, for everyone to get a quick snapshot of nine specific stories and trends that we’ve seen over the course of the last three or four weeks.
Gabe Larsen: (07:18)
Interesting. So that’s some of the internal stuff and then it sounds like there was some stuff you’ve done externally as well to get some of that customer involved as well, whether it was check-ins or– how have you worked that angle?
Hillary Curran: (07:31)
Totally. So, it’s been challenging now that we can’t go on-site or we can’t — and a lot of folks don’t want to –there’s a lot of other priorities right now. And so getting people on the phone, we want to make sure, as the customer experience team, that we’re giving people space to also adapt to this new environment and not try to bother people. At the same time we want to make sure that we’re being helpful. And so we’ve created a series of questions that we ask our customer experience team to sort of think on each week. And if they can incorporate those into a conversation they’re having, whether it’s in zoom or in an email or over chat, at least they can make sure that they’re digging in on one specific question. And then we can talk about the responses to that each week with the management team to sort of see trends and how is this information impacting your business, or have you seen an uptick in your usage of our product over the past three weeks? Like some sort of specific question that they can kind of grapple with versus how is everything going, which is so broad and sometimes hard to — for someone to respond to when there’s just a lot going on.
Gabe Larsen: (08:36)
Yeah. Well it is. It’s like when you get on these zoom meetings sometimes and you’re, “How’s the weather?” It’s like, “Well, how’s the weather where you are?” You know, I don’t want to talk about the weather. I have plenty to do. So getting a little more detailed, a little more into the person rather than keeping that so broad. So those have been some of the ways you’ve collected the data. Talk a little bit about the share and discuss.
Hillary Curran: (08:59)
Yeah. So like I mentioned, we do this sort of company wide meeting where the customer success team and support team and each talk about a very specific story or two stories that they’ve found really relevant. A lot of these will be backed with data around the number of people that have asked for a feature or had an issue potentially. And so we really like to highlight different customers. We’ll often sometimes share clips of customers so that anyone who’s listening can actually hear the customer on the phone. Which means it just goes so much further for an engineer to hear someone have an issue or really want a specific feature request when they can see it and hear it in their own words. So we try to use the “voice of the customers,” that we call it, every quarter and we just did our first fully remote one two weeks ago. And everyone reached out right after saying how great it was and refreshing, especially in this time to have some good stories and sort of feedback. We try to highlight both all the good things and also some of the negative things that we want to make sure people know about. But that’s been a really great way for the team to connect fully remote to just join for an hour and learn about all the things that our customers are saying.
Gabe Larsen: (10:06)
So it’s almost like the state of CX or, I mean it’s like what’s going on, some ups and downs, tickets, product requests; a little bit of everything.
Hillary Curran: (10:16)
Yeah. And then the other thing that we do more sort of as a structure of our company is our product teams are actually organized into pods, which are sort of miniature product development teams based on features. So we have product design engineers all assigned to different pods and typically these pods would meet every day and talk about what they’re going to work on, what they’re implementing, what they’re designing. What we’ve started with early on is we have two to three customer success and support reps also in these pods that joined for their standups to make sure that as they’re talking about what they’re going to build and what they’re working on, they can bring those customer stories. Or, say “that actually looks like something that this one customer I’m working with may have an opinion about. Like I’d love to have you hop on a phone with them.” And so just having a couple of people from customer experience in the design and engineering conversations can really help prevent a feature being built that maybe isn’t perfect yet or isn’t necessarily exactly what the customer wants. And also make sure that we can iterate more quickly with direct customer feedback because we have a ton of customers that want to talk to our engineering team all the time. It’s very rare that you get insights like that, so they’re always like, I’d love to talk to them.
Gabe Larsen: (11:31)
Got it, got it. And so the pod structure probably enables that actually a little bit more effectively than a non pod structure. I can see how that may work.
Hillary Curran: (11:40)
Yeah. We used to have like a company wide design meeting where we would walk through all the designs and it becomes one of those like too many cooks in the kitchen where everyone has ideas. And so we had to scale it back and say, how can we focus a little bit and allow everyone to have a little bit of a say and opinion. So, it’s been really cool to see and it allows like some younger, more junior folks on the team, to get experience and get exposed to other departments that they may not have ever really worked with directly.
Gabe Larsen: (12:10)
Hmm. And talk to us a little bit about this “glows grows” idea this — what’s that?
Hillary Curran: (12:16)
Yeah. So even internally on our customer experience team, what each meeting that we have on Mondays every week to kick off the week, we do a glow and a grow; which is what can we be proud about? What happened really great with a customer and whether it was like how they launched the product or maybe they revamped their instance, or something that we want to grow from and learn from. And so a lot of these stories are really helpful and when we try to share them in the Slack channels and we often have other team members come to our customer experience meetings on Mondays and they always say that this is like their favorite part of the meeting cause they get to hear those customer stories and hear what’s going on in the Zoom rooms all around the world.
Gabe Larsen: (13:00)
Yeah. You got it. I mean that type of check-in I think brings everybody on the same page and obviously sets you up for the week on the right foot. We’ll do that on Mondays, if I can. So you obviously have some great strategies. Oh, I did want to hear about this lab. So talk to me about the lab, what’s that?
Hillary Curran: (13:17)
So many things we’ve implemented. So the last one that we did recently, Guru actually didn’t have a pretty robust account management team until recently. And so our customer experience and account management team has really started to work much more closely together. And in doing so — the way that our teams are structured customer success as well as account managers work together with accounts so it’s not like the CSM owns the entire customer experience. So we really wanted to make sure there was a place for both of those teams to come together and share specifically challenges they have maybe around renewal or maybe the champion that they worked with last or went on maternity leave and they have no idea who to reach out to again. Whatever the issue is, just having a place for those teams to come together and share their experiences has been really helpful.
Hillary Curran: (14:03)
So isn’t necessarily a customer voice, it’s more of like sharing customer stories to help influence other outcomes. And so it’s been really cool to have like maybe one more senior person on the team say, I’ve heard this scenario, I’ve had this experience before. Let me explain to you how I dealt with it with this one customer. And so that’s been really cool and it’s allowed folks to sort of share experiences without having to have — like right now we don’t have the ability to walk by and talk with someone or overhear a conversation at the office. So, we’re trying to kind of clear the space for those types of things to happen.
Gabe Larsen: (14:37)
Interesting. Well let’s get into this close the loop idea and how you bring it to the end. How do you look at that and play that?
Hillary Curran: (14:46)
Totally. So more of a one-to-one version would be for all those pods that we have, if there’s a customer success manager in those pods that has a customer that has requested a very specific feature that is gonna get implemented or that they know a feature that their customer would really love to give feedback on, they can legitimately engage the customer and tell them what’s going on, play by play as we’re developing it, as we’re adjusting it, which is really cool for the customer to get to have that kind of connection with that specific feature or workflow that’s going to get developed. So that’s one way that we try to close the loop, by just keeping the customers like, “Hey, I know you wanted us to create a feature where you could use emojis and making something up. It’s coming out, we’re working on it. Actually they’d love to talk to you about this one thing that they’re thinking of.” So just making sure that they can stay in the loop. And then more sort of from a systematic like one to many version we, because we’re cataloging and logging all of these different requests, every time we have a feature that gets released that someone did request, we will pull that report and then send them a message letting them know that it’s being released on this time. We really appreciated why they — all the time. Maybe it was two years ago, they asked for this, but it’s going to finally come out and thanks for your patience. So yeah, we try to make sure that we’re always closing the loop on any feature requests that we get to make sure people understand that they’re not just like sending it to a black hole and that we actually are reading those and are taking them into account.
Gabe Larsen: (16:16)
And have you found that there’s certain ways to do that? I mean, is email typically the best way to do that? Do you have a system to kind of track those lists? Because oftentimes people, they want to close the loop, but they drop the ball, they forget. There’s not a great way sometimes. Have you found a good way to do that or technology?
Hillary Curran: (16:33)
Yeah. Well, in our support system, if people ask for a specific feature and we log it, it captures their email address. So that’s one way. And then, um, if someone has requested it and we send it to the product board, we’ll also capture their email address so we can pull like a legitimate list of emails. What we often do is send a mass, either through chat, bot, sort of pop up message or sometimes we’ll actually post. We have a product called Pendo as well, but is sort of a guide that walks you through goals and such. So sometimes we can also make up a custom list inside of that and then like highlights specific things that we may have released to specific groups of users. So that’s been kind of a newer way that we’ve done it. So what we try not to send too many emails; but, whether it’s a chat or even if you just tell someone on Zoom, if you’re having a call with them, “Hey, this is coming out, we wanted you to know. Thank you for all of your feedback the 5,000 times that you told us that this was a really important feature. So, we try to do it and not just email because sometimes I think those get buried. Yeah. Most people are really responsive.
Gabe Larsen: (17:38)
That’s the problem, email. Now in our inbox, we’ve got so many more emails coming in because some of the things are not working. Well Hillary, we really appreciate you taking the time. Love the idea of that process that you outlined. How do you really think about collecting the data that you need in order to make the right decisions? How do you discuss that and share it amongst the people in the right way and make sure you close that loop. As we’re in these challenging times and thinking about your job, what would be your recommendation or advice as we leave today to other directors of customer experience who are struggling trying to manage some of these different aspects of the business?
Hillary Curran: (18:19)
Totally. I would say try not to be in every Slack channel like me. It gets overwhelming. I think that’s one. I would say that despite all of these different tools and tactics that we have, I think the number one thing that’s really important is to have leadership, buy-in, and also support to make sure that this stuff happens and that people actually show up to all of these meetings and events. And so very fortunate for me, at Guru our CEO and really all of our leadership team has been super supportive of sharing customer stories and making sure that any sort of issue that we see is popping up more and more should be raised to the engineering team. Making sure that there’s buy-in from them. And if there isn’t, trying to use the data that you have from all the different places that you can to really make a case for yourself as to why this is important. So trying to use the data is also really helpful. But I think having buy-in from your leadership team, even just to try out one of these solutions is key.
Gabe Larsen: (19:19)
I mean, the data thing, it’s been so relevant to me lately. I feel like sometimes in the customer world we opened up a little bit with that. It’s a little bit of hearsay or you hear one thing and it’s man, if there is a way to bring the data in and strong leaders can do that I think it can make a big difference. So Hillary is so fun to have you. Certainly wish you the best. If someone wants to get to know you or learn a little bit more about some of the fun things you guys are doing, what’s the best way to do that?
Hillary Curran: (19:44)
Yeah, you can just find me on LinkedIn, just Hillary Curran, or send me an email. I think my email is probably on it. It’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to always connect and I love talking about customer experience and knowledge management and support and all those good things that people need.
Gabe Larsen: (20:03)
Yeah, I know we were chatting about some other topics, so you might have to be a regular, we might have to bring you back next quarter or something.
Hillary Curran: (20:09)
I’d love to. I’d love to. Maybe next time we can do it in person.
Gabe Larsen: (20:12)
That’s true. That’s true. We’re not too far from each other. So again, thanks for joining and for everybody else. Have a fantastic day.
Exit Voice: (20:26)
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