How to build empathy in your customer service team

Megan Bowen, Chief Customer Officer, Refine Labs
Megan Bowen, Chief Customer Officer, Refine Labs
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This week's interview could not have been more interesting.

We caught up with Megan Bowen, the Chief Customer Officer at one the fastest growing marketing agencies in the US, Refine Labs.

Megan joined the Refine Labs team just three months ago, and it's her first time being with such a small, startup-style team.

She's previously led customer experience projects at some leading technology companies: spending time between customer service and sales at ZocDoc, leading corporate accounts at GrubHub, taking up the reigns as COO at Managed by Q, and acting as VP of Customer Success at Platterz, covering success and support.

The customer experience at everywhere she's worked has been a mixture of technology and reality: whether it's tech & doctors, tech & food, or tech and office management.

This means Megan has a rare insight into what it takes to create incredible customer experiences in the mixed reality world.

I had two favourite points from the interview...

Number one was when we chatted about coaching your team to build empathy and communications skills. Megan had a great acronym LAAARing:

It's an acronym. Listen, Acknowledge, Align, Ask and Resolve. So Listen is all about active listening. I'm not interrupting and letting them speak. I am not listening with the intent to reply. Acknowledging is how you show the other person that you heard them by paraphrasing what they just told you. It's part of active listening. Align is really where empathy comes in and this is where you can relate to them and make them feel that what they're feeling is valid and that you want to help them and you're on their team and Ask and Resolve gets it into problem-solving mode by saying let me find out more information, ask you a few questions, and figure out what is the path forward.
A lot of customer support agents will jump to Ask and Resolve because they think let's just solve the problem but those first three steps are really important. People that are frustrated or angry, they want to feel heard and want to feel validated that their emotions are okay because they're dealing with something difficult.

Number two was when we chatted about her time at GrubHub. It's crazy to think that, on the corporate side, GrubHub had to build a platform that could deliver to clients that had thousands of employees over two buildings and 15 floors, all ordering food at the same time. I had to ask how they did that and what the customer experience was like there.

We also talked about one of Megan's projects at GrubHub: merging the customer experience of 5 companies. GrubHub went on an acquisition spree and this meant that, at one point, GrubHub's customers had five different ordering experiences. Those needed to be merged into one.

AI for customer service ebook

We dived into how the features were chosen, what the impact on churn was, and why if Megan were to do it again she is likely to go with the 'rip off the bandaid approach' here.

Topics covered included:
• How to help your team be successful, as well as your customers.
• Helping your customers get real value from your product.
• Framing customer experience initiatives in terms of business results.
• Creating win-win situations to benefit your customer and your business.
• Investing in the empathy skills of your customer support agents.
• How you can use the acronym LAAARing to coach your team to build communication skills.
• Using call shadowing & asking questions to coach your team.
• Megan's experience at GrubHub during their IPO
• Merging the customer experience of 3 acquired companies into one experience at GrubHub.
• How customer experience differs between corporate and consumer accounts at GrubHub.
• Why GrubHub CX was so complex: how do you deliver food to 1000s of employees at the same time in the same building across 15 floors?
• Megan weighs in on the debate: NPS, is it really useful?
• Megan's thoughts on why qualitative feedback beats quantitative.

Watch the episode

How to build empathy in your customer service team

Ben: Hey, Megan, welcome to the Support Insights podcast. I wanted to start with some quick-fire questions around favourites that we do with every single guest. So the first one “Is there a company right now that you are admiring because they're just doing this customer obsession thing well?”

Megan: I think one company that I love is Gainsight.  They build customer success management software and I've implemented the tool and been a customer of theirs and I think one of the things that they do that's most impressive is their annual conference-Pulse. I've been like five times and it's so much fun. I learn a ton and I feel like they practice what they preach. So I have a lot of respect for that company and, their CEO, Nick Meda. It's a great company.

Ben: Great! That's a great example. So what's that event exactly like do they bring everyone together in the customer success industry?

Megan: Yeah. They created the first customer success conference and they do a fantastic job. They bring in great speakers and have a ton of great workshops and content. Every year when I go, I come back with a notebook full of notes and ideas that I want to implement with the team wherever I am at the time.

Ben: Cool, but I guess that one's going to be online this year.

Megan: Yeah. We'll see the future of all these in-person conferences.

Ben: Okay. Favourite number two, “Do you have a favourite blog or influencer that you think everyone should follow in the customer industry?”

Megan: Lincoln Murphy has a blog called ‘16 Ventures’ and it's fantastic. He is an expert in customer success. All of his articles and the posts are highly tactical and very specific. I love it when people don't talk too much theory and give you the important details that will allow you to implement their idea. So I think he does a fantastic job.

Ben: Yeah, I love that. I think it makes great podcasts and great content in general. If you can take action away from it, if you learn something each time that you can be like, “Okay, I'm going to do that myself.” So the third favourite “What is your favourite part about working with customers?”

Megan: So for me, I think, businesses exist because of their customers. And so in my view, it's one of the most important, roles to have within the company. And I think being able to interface with the people that are using your product or service and, helping them do, helping them be successful, achieve the goals that they have, work through the issues or problems that will inevitably arise.

I just find it's the most interesting and fulfilling and satisfying role and it's critical for the success of the business. So I like to be on the front lines and sort of a part of making customers and then a company successful. I'll also say, I think it, your team members are also your customers in a way.

So I treat my team members and employees as if they're customers as well, because I know they're also interacting with our customers. And so you can't forget about that piece of the equation. They have to all be taken care of and in a good place so that they can take care of the customers as well.

Ben: That's a really interesting point. Do you have any tips around helping your teammates or taking care of your employees?

Megan: Yeah. You have to invest a lot in your team members. There are basic things and it's surprising that not every company does it. You should have weekly one-on-ones.

I implement what I call individual success plans, where you outline all the core competencies that are required for them to be successful in their role and be specific about what great looks like and give them feedback on where they're strong, where they need to improve and from there have regular feedback conversations.

I like to have feedback conversations every six weeks, not once a year like a performance review. And I think the other piece of it is-treat them. Treat them like humans; show an interest in their lives. They’re a whole person, not just what they can do at work. And, invest in getting to know them, help them when they need help support them when they need time off, create psychological safety within your company. So they feel comfortable bringing up ideas or concerns. All these things are really important to build like a cohesive high performing team.

Ben: Yeah. It's strange to think actually, that there are a lot of companies out there. I think especially corporate companies that see their employees as a kind of transaction, rather than as a person. I don't think I've ever worked anywhere where I haven't ended up becoming quite close friends with everyone in that team.

That would be an important part of the job for me, to be honest. I'd love to take like a really quick run through your background that I would say maybe it's not the typical background. In terms of like you're a CX manager and customer service professional first, but now you're very much dedicated to focusing on the customer and the customer experience.  Can we just run through that, like I mean correct me if I'm wrong?  

Megan: Yeah. Yes and no, I think I, I've been the last 15 years at five different B2B startups in New York. So my first one was an ed-tech company where I was an account manager for, almost seven years and so directly interfacing with customers and implementing our software, training them, retaining them, growing them, and renewing them. I fell in love with the function of sort of account management customer success, that customer-facing work. Then I went to the Softdoc and I started as a customer support agent. I was picking up the phone for patients and doctors, but it was early days and I had the opportunity to build out the post-sale function there, which was my first experience building a team from scratch. Then I went to Grubhub Seamless and they also had a B2B arm of the business, wanting to build out a more formal account management function so I did that there. Post IPO, we also had a lot of acquisitions and I led a really interesting project on consolidating a lot of the acquired companies into the Grubhub technology. I was migrating their customers from the old platform to the new platform and integrating team members. It was a really interesting time in my career. Then I went to manage MyCue and I started in account management, building out the function, but then, took overall, go to market teams, marketing, sales, account management, support, and operations. We had an exit to WeWork, which was exciting until it wasn't and then did go to Platterz to lead customer and partner success and then most recently I'm at, Refine Labs where I'm, COO (chief customer officer) doing all internal company operations, but also responsible for our customers as well.

Ben: That's so interesting. I think I wouldn't normally have linked those COO and CCO roles. What's the link there for you?

Megan: Yeah. And, COO is an interesting role because I think it can mean different things at different companies. When I was in that role at Managed by Q, I was effectively managing all of the frontlines go to market teams like marketing, sales, customer success, support, and operations. And every team that I managed was in some way interfacing with our customers so maybe that's not quite true at every organization and I think chief customer officer is a fairly new title and I think it can mean different things at different organizations, depending on how they're structured. And the way I look at it is my skills are internal company operations and ensuring that our people are taken care of and challenged and learning and growing and set up for success. Also, I believe that I can create the conditions for internal team members and customers to be successful.

So that's how I like to explain and describe my role. And there's a lot of things that go into that behind the scenes.

Ben: Cool. So now you've recently shifted to Refine Labs, which is one of the big hot companies everyone is following at the moment on LinkedIn. Chris has done some amazing things over the last year or two. Is that the smallest company you work for? What made you join Refine Labs?

Megan: So yeah, after 15 years and the B2B VC backed startup scene, I was ready to make a bit of a shift. And I think the reason I was excited to partner up with Chris and work at Refine Labs is a couple of reasons. I wanted to work, at some type of agency or consultancy where I could help a lot of companies from the outside versus one company from the inside. And then the second was wanting to be part of building a small business now and big business in the future but being part of building a business from scratch. I'm not reliant on investors and just focused on building a profitable healthy business from the ground up.

So those were two big reasons why I wanted to make a shift and Chris and I have known each other for a while and the stars just aligned as I was looking for my next thing. And I’m quite two months in, but it's been amazing so far. Chris has created an amazing awareness of what we do and our philosophy, and we don't do any outbound sales.

So we have people coming to us every day, wanting to work with us. And we're focused on helping our current customers and our new customers to be successful. Of course, we want to grow the business, but it's not about getting as big as we can or as fast as we can. It's about playing the long game and doing the right thing and growing responsibly. I've been at a lot of startups where you have growth at all costs mentality, and that's not what we're about but we offer a valuable service that drives real results and helps companies. And so, I have high confidence that we're going to continue to help companies be successful and in turn, continue to grow the company.

Ben: It must be refreshing to not have the pressure of investors breathing down your neck asking you to scale up quickly.

Megan: Yes, I'm very aware of that pressure after many of my startup years. So I love this environment. You feel more in control of your destiny and that you can make the decisions that you believe are right to make. So it's a great place to be.

Ben: I'd love to know and dive into some of those places that you've worked on and that you've mentioned. We've tried to kind of pull out your key learnings and the unique experiences that you've had from which the others can learn, starting with the ZocDoc, we talked last week on the podcast with Alice Godfrey about how it's so difficult and so different than actually dealing with patients as your customers and I know you also worked with doctors as well as your normal product user. So, this is much more of a serious side of it. How did you find that?

Megan: Absolutely. Yeah, we had to become, HIPAA certified. We were dealing with private patient information. It was a tough support line to be on. Patients would call in if things would go wrong with their doctor's appointment and if someone's making a doctor's appointment they're typically sick or something's wrong. Emotions are high and people can be sensitive when things go wrong related to their health.

I had my own set of challenging patient conversations. You have a lot of empathy for what people are dealing with. Then on the doctor's side, one of the impetuses for me creating the post-sale team is that doctors and their office staff and office managers are very busy but they were reliant on our technology. So again when things go wrong, it really can throw a wrench in their day-to-day. One of the things that I was able to do after being on the frontlines for about nine months was to identify all the friction points in the experience and some real common trends that continue to come up. What if we build out a post-sale function where we can be proactive about implementing different things to prevent these issues from coming up, to begin with. Instead of just continuing to hire more support agents to deal with the increased flow, it will identify the root cause of these problems and solve them so that we can minimize the number of poor experiences that these people have.

Ben: So, what was the post-sale function and what did that look like?

Megan: So the way that we structured it at ZocDoc at that time was that we had an onboarding or a launch team. And then we had what we called practice success, like a doctor's practice, but effectively customer success that was more focused on ongoing retention. So what we realized, the reason we separated them was that there was a checklist of items that if we ensured were set up properly from the very beginning on the doctor's profile, it would mitigate a lot of issues such as incorrect appointment time displaying or not the right reasons why a particular doctor can see a patient.

So we built out an onboarding process that would ensure that every new doctor that came on the site was set up for success. And that, if a patient booked an appointment with them, most of the time things would go very smoothly because we ensured that the information was accurate and correct. And we had a system with the office to ensure that they would maintain that information over time so that's just an example of one of the things that we focused on.

Ben: What were your goals though? Was it about reducing the workload for the customer service team or was it about improving customer experience?

Megan: It was definitely about the experience. We wanted to make sure that our doctors who were paying for the service were getting the value and the return on their investment and that this was making their lives easier, not harder. And then on the patient side, we wanted to make sure that any time a patient booked an appointment, most of the time that appointment would be what they expected and what they wanted.

Now the byproduct is that you have fewer contacts coming into the support team because there are fewer issues. You also have a reduction in churn because doctors are set up better from the beginning. Their expectations are managed and they begin to receive patients and see the value in continuing to be on the site.

So the lens with which I view things is how can we make the experience better? How can we make our paying customers successful? And all of those other things, churn reduction, reduction in contacts, those are the byproducts of doing the right thing by your customer.  

Ben: Was there ever a conflict between you and the leadership in your company? I mean, caring more about the customer's experience and their success versus focusing on those sorts of shorter-term metrics like churn and reduction in customer contact?

Megan: Yeah. So, when you're in a business, you have to frame your initiatives in a way that will be well received. So certainly when I was, working with leadership, whether it was to get approval for additional resources to grow the team. It's important to frame what you're doing within the context of the business results but I would also bring up the experience like you don't have to just focus on one or the other.

You can't ignore that completely. And it's important to paint a full picture of why? But I think that when your pure intent is more about your customer versus your business, you drive the right business outcomes and then it just becomes a matter of knowing your audience and messaging to your audience and the way that it's going to resonate with them. So, if I'm talking to the CEO, I'm highlighting how this is improving our business while also showing examples of the improved experience. You just have to be smart about how you communicate with the different stakeholders that you're working with.

I don't have a traditional background in marketing, interestingly now I am part of a marketing agency but the reason it works is that Chris and I share so many values and this philosophy around focusing on the customer and it's important across any function that you have, whether it's marketing or sales. It all comes back to customer success.

Ben: And yeah, and I think as you said, those things are very interlinked anyway. It reminds me of our first podcast guest, Shawn from Schuh, who was the Director of E-commerce at Schuh, talking about all those projects that he's done to increase basket size and increase revenue and how little tweaks do that. But also those things like next day delivery which is much better for the customer as well.

Megan: Yeah. It's about creating win-win situations. There's no reason why both sides can't benefit from things. Sometimes it's the harder way but that's my goal with anything really in life.

Ben: Yeah. Win-win is a really good way of putting it. So, one of the things that you mentioned before is about a lot of empathy needed when dealing with patients in particular. I'm wondering how you scale that kind of thing. Like how do you scale empathy?

And I'm also wondering what you think about whether in general B2C brands should also be investing as heavily in the empathy skills of their support agents even when they're not patient.

Megan: Yeah absolutely. I'm a big believer that emotional intelligence is one of the most important, soft skills that someone can develop, especially if they're in a customer-facing role. I think it's just good if you are a human and are interacting with other humans on a general basis, which we all are, especially if you're in a customer-facing position, it's critical and I like to break down emotional intelligence into building out empathy and communication skills so that you can break it down into actionable concepts that people can understand and practice and apply to hone that skill. Customer support teams are typically dealing with people that are frustrated and angry. They need help and if you're not able to bring an empathetic ear to that situation, it's going to be more difficult to resolve it. So I think it's a critical character trait in anyone that deals with customers.

Ben: So, how would you go about that? What are the main ways that we can use to teach our customer service agents to increase their empathy and to improve the way they interact with customers?

Megan: I have a framework that I learned at ZocDoc that I use it to train teams on how to deal with customers.

So this is maybe a little bit more on the communication side of things, but it's called LAAARing. It's an acronym. Listen, Acknowledge, Align, Ask and Resolve. So Listen is all about active listening. I'm not interrupting and letting them speak. I am not listening with the intent to reply. Acknowledging is how you show the other person that you heard them by paraphrasing what they just told you. It's part of active listening. Align is really where empathy comes in and this is where you can relate to them and make them feel that what they're feeling is valid and that you want to help them and you're on their team and Ask and Resolve gets it into problem-solving mode by saying let me find out more information, ask you a few questions, and figure out what is the path forward.

A lot of customer support agents will jump to Ask and Resolve because they think let's just solve the problem but those first three steps are really important. People that are frustrated or angry, they want to feel heard and want to feel validated that their emotions are okay because they're dealing with something difficult. And if you go through that process, then you get them on your side and you guys become a team trying to solve a problem instead of opposing teams that are fighting against each other.

In empathy, it's important to teach people self-awareness and mindfulness like people need to be able to understand their own emotions before they're able to understand others and when you break down empathy into things like mindfulness, be present and understand your own emotions, and how your emotions are constantly shifting and changing and that they're valid and that's okay.

Curiosity is how and what are other people feeling and thinking, and those are the types of things that can get people to be more aware and able to make space for other people's feelings and emotions and observe them and understand them. Empathy is also not about agreeing. You don't have to agree with how people feel, you just have to understand.

Ben: How would you teach these kinds of things to all your team and your employees when you're working on (for example ZocDoc support team)?

Megan: So like the LAAAR method that we just talked about is a straightforward framework to teach people and then with respect to some of other more empathetic soft skills, I think that's a little bit more dependent on the individual. Some people are just more naturally empathetic.

In that case, it's more about honing in on where there are some areas of refinement and improvement? For those where it doesn't come naturally, that's when you can begin to talk about some of the concepts that we're talking about mindfulness and curiosity and things like that.

And what I find is, people that are not naturally empathetic, they can learn but have to want to be able to learn. And another element of this I think is also leading by example and showing, not just telling having people shadow calls that I'm on, that is going to be particularly difficult so they can see an actual real-life interaction. How am I leveraging that framework or those types of skills to navigate the conversation effectively? So I find that sort of showing is better than telling and once people witness that they're able to pick up on it and start doing it on their own.

Ben: So, how did you show them?  Were you asking them to listen to their own calls?

Megan: Absolutely. Call rubrics and grading and us listening and giving feedback then listening and then reading the feedbacks (Great tactics to teach).

Feedback says a two-way street. Feedback is your perception and your opinion. And I always like to say, this is how I'm viewing the situation, and this is the feedback that I'm giving you but, do you agree?

How do you see the situation? Do you have contexts that I don't have that might change the way I'm looking at this?  So it's important to be open-minded when you're giving feedback, just because somebody tells you something like doesn't mean it's accurate or true.

Ben:  Cool. So I wanted to ask about Grubhub as you mentioned it before like about you getting through the acquisition of five companies. How was working at Grubhub? Was it public before you joined or was it becoming public?

Megan: Working there was awesome. I was there for about four years. I joined right after the Grubhub and Seamless merged but before the IPO. So I was there for the IPO, which was exciting and that was within my first 6-7 months on the job and post-acquisition, they invested in acquiring other B2B companies to build out the B2B side of the business. There's a huge consumer business there as well. So, I was there pre IPO and got to experience that and also the acquisitions over a couple of years following.

Ben: So, how significant was the b2b side in terms of the portion of revenue at that time?

Megan: So, Seamless started as a B2B company in New York City. It was founded in 1999 by two lawyers who wanted to make it easy for lawyers that worked late to get food to the office and they didn't even launch their consumer site until seven years later in 2006 and Grubhub was founded around that same time, 2006 or 2004. So, on the Seamless side, the corporate B2B business was the predominant arm of the business but the Grubhub was always a hundred per cent of the consumer business. So once we married the companies, the consumer business was bigger, it was probably like 75% of the business where the B2B side was 25%, once you put all those companies together.

They were looking to bring on someone to build out a true account management function for the B2B customers. And when I joined there were about 3,500 companies that we were working with. And by the time I left through organic growth and acquisition, we were working with 9,000, some companies i.e. over four years. So, it was pretty significant growth but the consumer business also continued to explode.

Ben: Wow it's such an interesting time to be part of that company. I'm wondering if Grubhub Seamless took a different approach to customer experience on the business side. Do you think they cared more about the B2C or the B2B customer experience?

Megan: It's an interesting question. So, for B2B customer experience, there were two aspects to that. One was the employee at the company that would place an order and that experience was not too dissimilar from a consumer ordering sushi to their house. A couple of the key differences were, if their company had a particular budget then they had to stay within that budget. They also weren't paying out of pocket depending on the company. There could have been a specific list of restaurants that you could order from versus having access.

So there were some key differences but overall the general user experience was similar to if you were just a person ordering lunch for yourself but then there was a whole another experience for the administrator of the program at the company. Whether they would be able to see through reporting and analytics or they would be able to add new employees or set budgets?

There was an entire administrative portal for them to manage their food program at their company and that was a whole different kind of experience. And so when we were building out the function, we were optimizing for those administrators. The employee end-user experience was our consumer experience and frankly, it was good like people love using Grubhub and Seamless. It's a great app. It's a great site and so where we were focused on was some of the more complex set up and management of the program internally by the administrator on the backend. So, all of our work was focused on supporting that individual and getting them trained and comfortable to manage their program at the company through that portal.

Ben: I think that does make sense as the budget holder. You know your customer experience focuses on them rather than the employees who just using the apps.

Megan: Exactly, like they're getting a free lunch. It’s like I'm going to order on this site to get free lunch. Cool. I'm going to do that.

Ben: I can imagine that it’s kind of hard to complain when you're getting free food. Out of interest, was that a system set up to get feedback from say like customer complaints back into the product?

Megan: So the feedback loops varied from company to company at Grubhub specifically. We did a couple of things to survey or to get feedback from the B2B customer base. And so we would deploy, quarterly surveys, to get feedback. We also ensured that as part of our normal interaction with our customers. We were soliciting feedback regularly from them. The consumer feedback loop again, very similar to the end-user employee feedback loop, where there were opportunities to submit feedback through the site but on the B2B side, we had more targeted approaches on unpacking either the administrative experience and where that could be better. I think the other interesting thing too, is, there is an operational layer here because you have people placing orders on technology, but then ultimately you have people in restaurants preparing food and delivering food, and then that food needs to be distributed throughout an office. And it's one thing if you have 50 people in one office on one floor. And then it's another thing, if you have a thousand employees in two buildings, Across 15 floors with 15 different pantries that food has to get to.

So there was also an opportunity for us to get more direct qualitative feedback from our larger customers. Once they place the order, then there's a whole other experience that's happening that we have to understand.

Ben: That's such an interesting challenge to have a thousand people in one building, like 10% of them ordering food to the door. What was the system that would be?

Megan: Yeah or all of them were ordering foods. We would be like, this is a client in New York City. They were in a big building on Park Avenue and they had pretty secure building as well. So we had to funnel all deliveries through their messenger centre and we had to have them go through the freight elevators because they weren't allowed to go up the regular elevators with all this food. So we had to work out a pretty specific system and be mindful of which restaurants are delivering to which floors. So that we can minimize the number of multiple deliveries to multiple floors that one vendor has to make.

So that was a big part of it. Another part of it was clarity. On how they had to navigate the building, then where are they going to put the food? And what is the process to alert people that the food is there for them to go pick it up? How do we think about labelling? So people can find their food.

There's just like all of these little details matter, and you have to think through all of them too. Like ultimately the success criteria is the employee ordered their food and found their food and ate their food and enjoyed it. So there are a lot of pieces to that customer experience.

Ben: It sounds like such a complicated challenge to get all of that operation lead in place because everyone there still expects their food to come hot, even if a thousand be ordered. How do you do that among restaurants, if you a have thousand people ordering a pizza from the same place how does that work?

Megan: So we were able through the technology or otherwise able to set things up in a way where we could control which options people had to order from. So it did allow us more control to ensure that we were setting ourselves up for success to deliver it. So we could say, okay, if you're on the 11th Floor in this building, you can only pick from these four restaurants today.

So there were things like that we were able to implement that just gave us more control of the process but what's interesting is all of my experiences are a combination of a technology product, where then something happens in real life. At the ZocDoc, you book your appointment online, but then you go to the doctor, or you book your cleaning service for the office, but someone's showing up to clean. And so I'm fascinated by these businesses where you want to optimize a great user experience within the software, but then you have to extend that into the real world.

Ben: Absolutely but I bet that makes it a fun kind of customer experience project to be part of. I'm interested to hear your opinion on the sort of NPS debate and the surveying of the customers. What do you think about them? And did you do differently to make sure they weren't biased or just to kind of non-actionable metric?

Megan: We use NPS set at ZocDoc. It was big for the patient side and we also did measure it on the doctor's side.  I think NPS has a place, but it's not a metric that I like very much. I think that you can pick so many different customer sentiment or customer satisfaction metrics out there.

Every business is different. So there could be somewhere NPS is a great measure or maybe, C-SAT or a customer effort score or other metrics that are better depending on your business. For me, qualitative feedback is way more important and valuable than any quantitative score. Not that you should never have any type of quantitative survey methodology. There are good reasons to have that and whatever you pick, just stick with it, and monitoring a trend is way more interesting and valuable than just having a score at a particular point in time, but finding ways to get qualitative feedback and surfacing qualitative trends in my experience has been the most valuable for actually making changes to a product or an operational process to improve the experience.

Ben: You're speaking our language here like our product is all about turning qualitative data into quantitative measures of topics and things to surface those kinds of insights so I think we're big believers in what you've just mentioned.

I'm keen to jump into the merger because we talked about the fact that you merged more than one like three companies and had to have merged that customer experiences. How did you go about doing that and approaching that problem?

Megan: Yeah, that was a cool and interesting project that we worked on. So to just break down, like the first company that we did this with had the broad similarity where these were all B2B food delivery companies that worked with businesses that people could order online, and then they would get food delivered to the office for employees to eat.

So all of that was the same and in many cases, they were using the same restaurants but then when you go a layer deeper there can be a lot of differences within that user experience. So whether it's the actual user interface to order, whether it is the restaurants you have access to or no access. It could be the pricing of how that particular company prices its services and if there are transaction fees or delivery fees or convenience fees, and then there's the support experience where if something goes wrong, how do you get help? And so I think what was fascinating is we had to take five different companies and take the customer based of each one and move them from that native company to our platform so that we can effectively just get rid of that brand and that website. And so we had to do a pretty thorough audit and understand, what is the customer's experience on this site and their platform? and how does that map back to the Grubhub platform or the Seamless platform? What's the same or what is different as we migrate them over? What will that experience be like? What do we need to tell them beforehand so that we can set their expectations so that this goes as smoothly as possible? What are our anticipated risks or issues that could happen and is there anything that we can do proactively to mitigate those risks or prevent any mistakes?

So it was a very methodical and thorough sort of comparison of what the changes in the experience would be like, and admittedly I don't think I did this as well with the first one. And then there were all of these issues and people that were frustrated and mad or angry.

So we got better at that over time and better at communicating what those changes would be and managing those expectations. I think the other really interesting thing was we experimented with- Do we do this gradually with customers and cohorts? Or do we just rip the band-aid and redirect the website and just move everybody over?

And, it was interesting because we did try both. And I think in cases like this, we had a similar amount of issues in either way. So it was just like, let's just rip off the band-aid because even for our internal team it was to deal with a couple of weeks of an influx of questions and confusion and frustration versus dragging that out over three or four months.

And, a lot of interesting learnings for me around that just changed management and one of the biggest takeaways for me is- You cannot effectively execute a massive change without breaking some eggs and people getting upset like you can't avoid that completely. So just expect it but once you get past a certain point, everybody is fine.

Ben: Yeah, I can imagine. I think everyone likes to think that it's going to be the end of the world but you just so quickly get used to a new normal especially when it's a food delivery app.

Megan: Exactly. Humans are very adaptable.

Ben: Did you see any churn problems at that point?

Megan: So certainly we had clients who got frustrated with the experience and they were fed up, or there were certain key features or restaurants just weren't available on the new platform that was deal-breakers for them. But by and large, we had really strong retention.

So it wasn't perfect, we lost some customers. At the end of the day they just wanted to order food and get food to the office so as long as we could make that happen, most people were okay to deal with the change and the transition.

Ben: I can imagine like losing your favourite restaurant from the app might be a bit annoying, but I think you'd get over that quite quickly.

Megan: Yeah. And then in many cases, over time we were able to correct a lot of these things. We could get that restaurant on the platform or that feature doesn't exist today but it's a good feature and we can build it and it'll be ready in six months. I do believe the product improved a lot because we did take features from the other teams and built them in overtime.

Our restaurant network expanded and we were able to continue to improve and augment the experience as a result.

Ben: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How did you choose at the end which features should stay and which restaurants should stay in the new platform?

Megan: So I'm a big believer about getting customer input and feedback on the product should be a key input to fuel the roadmap and what additional features should be built.

But in my view, it's less about building a particular feature on the page and more about really understanding the root problem behind that feature request and do a lot of people have this problem. I try to approach customer feedback conversations with a lot of curiosity and try to understand if you're asking for this feature, what problem is it solving? And then is that problem a common problem? And there could be a different solution to that problem and that feature might look different than the feature that you're asking for so it's focusing on the root cause and not just building a feature exactly the way the customer asks for it.

They don't necessarily know. They just want their problem solved and then they're jumping to a solution. For me, it is like what are the actual problems? And then, what data, or what qualitative feedback do I have to back up if this is a problem that a lot of people have. And if that's the case, then this should be prioritized and we should figure out, how we can solve the problem and whatever the feature looks like.

Ben: Yeah. I think that's always the case like the customers are always an expert in their problem but they're not the ones who should be coming up with the solutions, even if they think they know what the solution should be.

Megan: Yeah, and product teams don't like it when you tell them, build this or build that. What to do is here's a problem statement that 50% of our users have and you have to figure out how to solve that problem.

Ben: Yeah, that's true and I think it's a massive problem for everyone in customer support to getting the root cause of customer complaints back to products so they can solve it because you don't have that much say in the product as a customer support agent.

So final question, “Do you have any advice for brands out there struggling to retain customers or to grow their revenue?”

Megan: Yeah. My advice would be the same to any company that you need to understand who your ideal customer is and focus your entire company on building products for and servicing your ideal customer. I feel like a lot of customers churn because they're not good customers.

So people are often not clear on who their ideal customer is. Everyone can't be your best customer. Going through a process to define your ideal customer is important across any consumer or B2B business. And then you should understand what your customer journey is.

Map that out and not in a way that is beneficial for your company but what is happening and put yourself in your customer's shoes and see the world through their eyes. Look through how you're doing things as a company and identify where you need to make some changes for improvements.

I think if people get clear on who their customer is and walk a day in their shoes and then take action based on what they learned through that experience that is the best way to retain your right customers and make continuous improvements that make their experience better.

Ben: That's a great answer, Megan. Thank you so much for coming on the on the On Hold podcast. It's been a huge pleasure talking to you

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