CX Interview Series with Jenny Dempsey

2020-12-17

By João Alves

We believe that the knowledge you need should find you. Knowing how hard that is to do for ourselves, we ventured out to try to help you with this challenge. When it comes to CX, that means bringing insights from the best and brightest CX professionals around the globe and bringing some of the knowledge they so diligently and admirably have built over the years.

On this episode, CX pro Jenny Dempsey join us to talk about generosity in the CX industry, how to put customer's first and how today is the time to step on the gas with your CX strategy.

We hope you enjoy reading the following interview and take just as many actionable lessons from Jenny as we did. :)

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Read the full transcript of the conversation below:


Chattermill: Thank you for being with us, Jenny, for joining us in the CX Interview Series with Chattermill. It's so nice to have you here and looking forward to this conversation.

Jenny Dempsey: Thank you. It’s super cool to be here.

Chattermill: I'd love to start, just with, easing into the conversation with a cool anecdote that you must have read about or heard about during COVID that you found really awesome in terms of how companies are responding to this difficult period.

Jenny: Oh, there are so many stories out there right now. There's a lot of things happening, and I can speak from experience if that's okay. Simply because, working in customer service, the roles that I typically am in, I am like a manager, but I'm also on the front lines. So, I am actually talking with customers.

One thing I noticed during COVID is that the email exchanges, the timing of those and the length of those was going up. There were more requests for people wanting to talk on the phone, even though we were email only support and I was thinking about it and I was like, why would you know, why would suddenly people who are getting their issues resolved?

Still be writing in more, we still be sharing, wanting a phone call, maybe sharing more about their personal life. And then duh, like it clicks like I'm in that same boat. We're all in the same boat. We have limited connection with other people right now. And so even if it is a customer service interaction. It's a human to human connection and people need that.

It may be connecting with the person on the cable company or whatever it is like that you need to talk to. And so, having an opportunity with the team that I worked with, and then I currently work with to actually take that extra time and, even check in with them later on and just see how they are human to human, and being able to really show that like you care and that you can be there for them in like a real way.

Not like in some salesy way, but like totally real. I think that's been the biggest thing that I've noticed and I'm guessing that could be across the board. And I hope more teens are also given more time to connect because we need that so much right now.

Chattermill: I don't think we could have started any better than with this. I think it's nice to start the conversation just learning more about you, and learning more about how you got into CX and, what do you think are the secrets to reaching the top in the CX space, like you have?

Jenny: Oh, my goodness. That's fun. I don't think I'm at the top but thank you. I didn't grow up thinking, like when I grow up, I'm going to be customer experience. That was not my plan. I wanted to be an actress. Like I wanted to be a singer. I went to college, I was an English major and I took a part-time job in a contact center and I had no idea that it would end up being a career for me, that I would keep after college and now I'm going on. I think it's 16 years in the industry. So it is, it's pretty crazy. And I think that I'm still surprised by it. Sometimes I'm like, oh yeah, I never saw this coming, but I really liked the company that I worked for, I really liked the people. I really liked connecting with customers. And I realized I'm really, not to toot my own horn too much, but I'm good at it.

I think a lot of us with these people kind of pleasing skills, maybe that we learned as kids. Grow into really successful customer service people. And I just kept at it and I worked my way up to a supervisor, a manager, eventually director, and then all kinds of things in between. And I just found it fascinating. And then in 2012, A boss, a former boss of mine, which you may know Jeremy Watkin, he's a big name out there. He was my boss for a whole decade. He's like my brother from another mother, and he and I started a blog because we realized that we were talking about customer service so much to our family and friends that they were super annoyed, and they didn't want to hear it anymore. So, we're like, we have to have an outlet. So, we started a website together and we just started pouring in all of the things that we learned. It was very authentic. It wasn't marketing. Like we don't do any advertising. We did it off of our own budget, like in Jeremy bought the domain name himself, so it was very like, roots built, and we just share real stories, and from there, we started to build community with other people in the industry and we realized there's people like us, and we can talk about this stuff with them. And that really opened our world to so many other opportunities. And I think I don't there's no like tips or tricks. It's just literally just the same things that we do in customer service, being consistent, being true to who we are as humans, but also who we are. Like, we started a blog, it's technically a brand. So, who are we as a brand? And what are we trying to do with that? What are we trying to put out there? and I think through that and the connections that we made along the way that has really helped, I know it's helped me in my career and in my personal life, just knowing that there's an opportunity to share what I've learned.

So, maybe someone else doesn't have to feel the super awkwardness that I did when I had to make all these mistakes, and then I learned from the other people when they share and I'm like, oh, I don't have to feel the way that they felt, or maybe I do, but I, we can bond together.

Chattermill: I took a lot from there, especially the resourcefulness, figuring everything out yourself, and applying the principles of customer service. Like that we learn from externally. And applying internally and learning internally, which is interesting. I love to talk about that maybe.

How does your experience serving your customers, your audience and stuff, inform more about how you view customer experience and how you solve problems of customer experience?

Jenny: I think it's probably more internally. I think, my kind of philosophy about customer service and customer experiences - it's just people helping people. And that for me, starts from a very personal place just because we're human.

And as a kid that a lot of us were taught to stuff our feelings down and to focus on the feelings of others. And I think. That is what makes me great at customer service. But that also is what makes me struggle as well, because, at the end of the day, we still have to take care of ourselves in order to care for others.

So, if we don't have the energy to do so then, we may not be able to really support others in the way that maybe they need to be supported. I think it's this balance between internal and external, but also being true to ourselves. We're people too, and we can't do everything. And I've had to learn this hard lesson along the way.

Chattermill: This is a great segue also to talk about the skill set, right? So, at Chattermill, we really think that the next generation of growth in companies is going to be fueled by CX and UX, like it was in the past for marketing and growth hacking and all these things. So, for young kids that are trying to break into the industry or want to learn more about it, what would you say are the biggest skillsets, for someone to succeed in CX? Because it seems from you, like one of the top ones is empathy, right? Being able to empathize with your own views and like other people's views. On top of that, what would you say are the main soft or hard skills that people should work towards?

Jenny: I think, we're all gosh, this is such a tough question, but I think we all have this baseline that defines our personality in general. Some people are naturally more empathetic than others. Some people are more focused on the very logical aspects of getting things done and either way it's great. There is an opportunity to help. And to solve problems for customers, but then all of that, whether or not empathy is strong or whether or not logic and all the things. but it's how we use it. And it's the actions that we take. So maybe empathy, isn't our strongest skill, but we may not be able to just change that overnight. There's no hacks for these things. It comes down to what can we learn about ourselves, by how we want to be treated. So, a lot of the times, like when I trained customer service teams, it's not about this is what you do for a customer. I usually leave that out. Instead. I say, what would you want to have happen for you in that situation? And when the tables are turned back to themselves and they're like, I'd expect this, then it's Oh, then would the customer expect them? So, I think when we turn it back on ourselves, basically like holding up the mirror in front of her face, how do we want to be treated? That can help us understand, as far as soft skills go, just being aware that this will impact the customer experience, how we are responding in this exact situation. Because even I will say this, even if empathy is one of your highest goals, and even for me, there are days where I'm stressed out and empathy may not be my top street that particular day, and I think that just goes to show like it's a roller coaster and we're all are on that together.

As far as hard skills go, there's so much to learn. There's so many more resources out now than there were, gosh, 16 years ago when I started in my career. I had no idea, like this was a thing, I didn't know it was an industry that was, it sounds so silly, but it was very different then. And I would encourage young folks that they are choosing this career path to really use the resources available to them and also join the many Slack communities out there. CX Accelerator, CX Lite,there's tons of things out there that people can join and just ask questions and start building relationships with other people in the industry who have been down the path, to learn from them.

So, really relationship building, use your resources and read a lot, listen to podcasts, just like this one, and take a lot of notes. But also be real with yourself and know that like when you're actually in the situation or on the job, face-to-face the customer, it could be totally different. But at least you know you have the knowledge to deal with it and have lots of people behind you that are cheering you on.

Chattermill: Love the positivity and practicality of that answer!

I completely agree. I think this ability to be curious and understand what to focus on the things that really matter. I think that makes a huge difference. But it's a challenge. That's all I feel like most of us go through and it's a learning process in itself; to learn how to find the right sources, find the right people to align yourself with, find the right companies to commit our time to.

It'd be great now to dive deeper into customer experience and an interesting question to debate that I think everyone has their own perspective around is: what does customer centricity mean to you?

Jenny: I think there's two elements to it because when I look at it, there's internal customers and external customers. Internal customers being your employees. So, I think when I use the word customers in this, I am including both.

I think it starts at the top of leadership and it has to trickle down to the entire company culture, to embody this customer centricity, for everyone, to take care of your employees. To give them permission to take care of themselves. Not that they need permission, but because they're human, they could do that. A lot of companies have a lot of policy and boundaries and don't include the right resources and make things really stressful. If companies were to start by taking care of their employees, that has a higher potential to filter out, to enhance the customer experience. So, I think it starts inside.

As for the external customer experience, it's literally like, what do customers need? Let's listen to what they're actually saying. I hear this so much that it's like, oh, we're going to do this for our customers. But do they actually need that? Oh no one's asking for it, but we're going to do it anyway. I don’t understand that! What if we listened to the feedback a little bit more? So, I think, yeah, and then just remembering that we are all human and it's just people helping people.

Chattermill: This leads us to an interesting question that’s super relevant today – how should companies go about building that customer-centric culture? And for the ones that already have it, how do they maintain it or scale it during these volatile times that we're living through?

Jenny: Wow. That's a loaded question. I think that, starting with the vision and the mission and everyone being on board. There's a great book out there by Jeff Toister, Service Culture Handbook. That is such a great resource. If you don't know where to start with that type of stuff, it literally guides you through step-by-step. It's something that I've personally used in my career that has helped me along the way.

I don’t think there’s a magic answer to having a mission and vision, but it is a great foundation to build. And then from there, knowing that this applies to other people in other departments, whether or not those department engineers may not feel that they impact the customer experience, they may feel they're far removed. So, communicating that globally across the company, in a way that's in a language that everyone understands and how they impact but also, looking at I guess like when we think of the time that we're in now, this is where it gets really hard because everyone, we're all experiencing the same thing.

We're all experiencing it differently and we all have different responses to the same situation. So, there's no magic formula, I guess that's my best advice for knowing that there's no magic formula to solving or making someone feel better, right? This isn't about feeling better right now. It's literally let's just get better feeling because this isn't going away and it's going to be a little wild out there. And how are we going to work together to support each other internally as a team? Then how are we going to work together as that supportive team to support our customers.

I keep going back to taking care of the team because it's so important, especially now, if you're working at a company and you feel cold and alone, you're already feeling that way in the world and doesn't really help the case here. So, really starting from the inside and, having the team make sure they are, setting up supportive systems, that are not like that are actually built on what the team needs, not just like these generic things that leadership may throw out that no one really cares about.

Chattermill: That’s definitely something that's throughout this period, something that I've been noticing, is, how easy it is for us to lose track of the fundamentals. I think one of the major lessons of 2020 for all of us is, how valuable it is to follow the fundamentals, how much we get out of it. If we actually do it consistently. But also, how easy it is to deviate from it because we're living in a world of constant competition.

Also, something that I've been trying to understand more and more is like this idea of offensive versus defensive customer experience. Should a customer experience program be offensive in the sense of our customer experience engine is the engine for top line growth? Or is customer experience something that is defensive in terms of efficiency and cost cutting and just making an organization lean?

Do you have an opinion on either?

Jenny: Looking at it as a cost center or making it lean, definitely does not speak to me at all. I've seen that flop that's that usually goes against any vision that a customer service team may create. That divides a culture that can severely damage a culture, as well as damaging the customer experience when there's continuous cost cutting. Of course, there's going to be things that at some point, yeah, you need to cut out or trim because it might not be working anymore.

But if you were looking at your customer experience team or customer service team as a cost center, and you just need to get it lean, you are not going to have very high success.

So, I definitely look at it, from the offense, because it just makes sense for your people.

Chattermill: Moving on from these macro type questions. It would be great to talk about tools. What type of recurring problems do you encounter in your day-to-day and what do you look for in tools to help solve them?

Jenny: That's a good question. So, I think, order issues. One of the companies that I work for, we send out specialty fruit, specialty, exotic fruit to customers. This sometimes like our internal ordering system, it just causes problems. And it's really frustrating. And we have to either do hundreds of orders, one by one to make changes, or we don't have access to seeing certain things. So, if we had a tool to just streamline that and make it better, that would be amazing.

I think another thing, I would love a magic wand just to be able to have my knowledge base written in a heartbeat, so I wouldn't have to do it, but that's not possible. I understand. But that’d be wonderful.

I think the other thing that comes into play is like metrics. Metrics are so important. They tell a story and having a system that will measure exactly what you need, without being too much…there's some systems out there that are really wonderful robust systems, but they make the reporting incredibly difficult. It seems that there may not be as many resources available to measure or to show you to measure what you need. And when it comes to that, it would just be nice to have it. Be customizable, but also, simple to customize it.

Then, I think, and this is not necessarily something that I use right now, but AI is huge. It is everywhere. But there are limitations. I think, like I heard someone, I feel like I can't remember who it was to quote this, but I did not say this, but they said empathy cannot be automated. And it's always stuck with me. So, when we look at AI tools, whether or not as the right tool, whatever tool we're using, how can we make sure we are using it in the right way? And that it's going to support our customers in the way that they need to be supported and also make it easy for the customer service agents to support those customers. So, it's going to be like chain reaction. Like it has to start with the team, is this going to work for us? And then, is it going to work for the customer? And if it's a yes, then yeah. Then that's great.

Chattermill: Definitely. It's really interesting to see how the trends of AI have been developing and dominating every industry. It's there's an interesting parallel, which like in finance, and, business in general where analytics has been dominated by systems. But, then there's also this big objection, which is, if we have the right humans operating these machines, and playing together, that's where it becomes a superpower. Like in chess, how grandmasters use the computer to train and improve and become even better chess players.

On that note, how do you think about that when it comes to tools, do you think AI and machine learning and systems will take over? Or do you think there will be like a way to blend, the human and empathy and those skills that the machine can't replicate yet with the machines that we know are so valuable?

Jenny: That's a great question. And I think that it’s going to be a blend. And I think the reason for that is because again, empathy can't be automated. And at some point, especially going back to what we were talking about earlier with COVID concerns and the whole world being different and that how those experiences impact the customer experience, no matter what company you're at and knowing that there might just be more handholding or more connections required, and that it can't always be done just using an AI tool. I think they're still going need to be people there to be helping others.

Chattermill: And in terms of in your daily life, what are the types of features that you really look for when you're sourcing the right tool to solve a problem?

Jenny: I think the first thing I started with is the customer service and the customer experience, the website. And I request a quote or I request a demo. Like I have very high expectations. It has to fulfill and if it doesn't, then I do not want to use their service, at all.

I think that same thing applies with a platform that you may have, if you do an add-on or an app, knowing that the customer support with that app, anything that we interact with. It has to share a similar vision to what our customer service team shares. So, I think that's important. As far as like actual tools, I'm a huge Zendesk fan, they are one of my favorite tools, and you can really customize that for, one of the companies that I work with, we have very high requirements to reply to, social media advertisements, because I don't want to leave those hanging. And one of the tools that we use to do that as well as our customer inquiries is called Resumes. So that one, I haven't noticed it being too big out there in the world, but it is, it's a great tool.

I find out about different things through different online communities or the other people in the customer service industry. if I have a question and I'm like, who's used, what, and how does it work for you? And I just drop a line in CX Accelerator, and I will get answers and everyone's used something different. Then I could look like a buffet and I could pick and choose and see what works best. So, it's nice to have recommendations from other professionals. I definitely think the ability to join these communities and have access to asking amazing people advice for free, is incredible.

Chattermill: I'm a big fan of CX accelerator as well. That’s how I learn about the space, it's there's almost no better place where you can ask a question and get a response almost instantly. So, yeah, completely agree. And the power of referrals really helps us. It cuts the search time in half. The cuts, like the time of search and like in half. You can go to G2 Crowd and Capterra and get lost for hours researching.

Now, it would be great to talk about, how COVID has impact CX and companies in general and looking deeper into the type of problems that COVID has caused. Are there any patterns that you've noticed, so far about the types of problems that companies have been facing and how they could better position themselves to solve them?

Jenny: I think one of the biggest issues is employee safety. We just have to look at how fast things have changed. For example, companies that said, Nope, we can't ever have you work remote. Suddenly had to figure it out in 10 minutes and now everyone's working from home. And so, I think, when the employers look at safety of their employees, whether it's making it possible for them to work remote, or if they're in person somewhere, I think across the board, that's been one of the biggest challenges and that right there also affects the customer experience.

Like at restaurants, for example, it's less people, at least here in California, it's less people inside. Some people might have to wait longer and then they might get angry and so it's the ripple effect of all of these things. But at the core, a lot of companies are doing their best to take care of their, their employees. And then also realizing how that impacts the customer experience and trying to be creative.

I've seen so many creative solutions for like how this can work. I think one of the biggest things that I've loved is like going to a restaurant and they no longer hand you a menu. They literally say, scan this thing with your phone. And it's a sticker on the table and I'm like, I don't want this to change. This is incredible. And so right there, that experience I have all the time, I don't have to worry about who had that menu before me even pre COVID days.

Chattermill: Absolutely. Yeah, same here. It was such a big change that I value so much now.

Jenny: Yeah! And it impacts your whole experience. You have more time to look at it, it's updated. They're not going to point and say that's on there because they can update on their website. So, something little like that is protecting the employees because they don't have to gather many menus that have been touched by so many people.

I'm trying to think of one more…I think one that I've personally noticed with customers, like we deliver products to customers through FedEx and UPS, and so, a lot of those companies have taken extra protocols because these people are going out to people's houses. And I know for a while, they stopped knocking at customer's doors. Because it's not safe, right? Like it's just not safe to be that in that close proximity. You don't know if they're going to answer, you don't know if they're wearing a mask. So, they stopped knocking on doors and they made it very clear on their website on the tracking information. But some customers didn't read that. And so, then the package would be delivered. They made me didn't check their tracking. They didn't know it was there. It would sit out and for us with produce that sits out, it can get damaged. A lot of people were really angry about this, but when we phrase it in the right way, we trust it. FedEx is taking the best care of their employees to make sure that they're safe and that you are safe. It shifted the mindset.

Chattermill: I think it's so admirable to see a lot of creative solutions in the space as well, ranging from all kinds of sectors, from financial services to delivery to retail.

How do you think companies should source these creative initiatives? Is there like a way that they should try to emulate other companies? Do you think it comes internally and how do you pass that on to the right stakeholders in your company?

Jenny: Yeah, I feel like that is huge and it's so difficult and so frustrating. And I think when it comes to understanding, like starting with the first part of your question is, how do we think of these creative solutions?

An example are like States and cities. They have guidelines. You have to follow by default. These laws and regulations have to be followed. So, it's always good, start there and see what you can work with. But then I think, it just depends on banding up with the team and talking through it - how can we do this creatively? A lot of the time looping in frontline customer service agents who are currently talking to people. “Oh, this sucks. Like we could do this instead?” And then also maybe, maybe there is a survey to customers or maybe it's some type of research with your audience of what can we do better?

Also, looking at other companies is a great way to see how to go about doing it. How did they do it? How can we do that? And how can we do it in our own way? I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Especially right now. We need to, we can learn from each other. I'm just not very competitive person but doing it from a way where it's not all about competition. How we can do it from let's learn from each other; let's use each other as support and let's just make this happen together, even though we're in the same industry. And making it personalized to your own brands.

Now, as far as getting approval from stakeholders, look, that's such a drag, but if you have to do it and the stakeholders don't always mean to do you harm, they need to understand the bottom line. They need to know how it's going to affect that. A lot of the times you have to learn to speak the language of the stakeholder. You can't just go to them and say something like, people are going to feel sad. Stakeholder does not care about people feeling sad. Like they care about how much money is this going to cost. You have to learn to understand how your metrics and customer experience are going to tell the story of customer, of being sad in the language of the stakeholder. You have to look at it based on the amount of time spent on a customer service ticket or phone call, is how much money per minute, per whatever it is, money per minute for that agent salary. And then, if it's extra-long, measure it up and have numbers. If that's how they communicate, then speak to them in that language and present it in that way. That way you are more likely to get buy-in. Tell them the story that you want to tell but in the words that they will actually understand.

Chattermill: Love the tone of the answer! Now, just to wrap up and move towards the end of this conversation. It’d be great to talk about learning in general. Both in the CX space and as a person constantly evolving. How do you stay on top of your game?

Jenny: Yeah. Awesome. there are so many out there, so I will start with The Service Culture Handbook. It’s definitely one of my top books. Moments of Magic by Shep Hyken is another one that I continuously refer to. He has many books and I think they're all wonderful

In terms of resources, there are so many blogs to read, and that's always a great thing to do. Subscribe to them so that they're in your inbox and you can have it filtered for you.

Then I’d say joining and participating in communities like CX Accelerator and having thoughtful conversations about things, but also reading other people's conversations. Doing things in real time. Like I see my chat on Twitter every Tuesday. That's a great way to just like answer questions and thinking about things differently. I think sometimes we read, and we ingest so much information, but we're not actually asking ourselves, what do we think about how we see that? And so, a lot of the times I have to step back and be like, okay, that is a great thought. Now, how am I going to, understand that? How am I going to implement that into my day to day if I actually want to or not? Maybe we should even be having conversations about that. I think that those are the best resources that I would recommend that I use on the regular basis.

Chattermill: So cool. Yeah. It's also a frustration of mine. Like you read so much, and you digest a lot of content and then it's very hard to apply them. It's definitely something that many of us could work on. I also feel like writing is a great way to meditate your thoughts around.

Thank you so much, Jenny. Are there any last thoughts that you'd like to share with the audience? Where can they find you?

Jenny: Awesome. Yeah, you can find me over it. customer service, life.com and I am also in the both stakes accelerator and support driven. If you're listening and you join those communities, send me an, a direct message. I would love to connect with you. And I'm also over on Twitter under Jenny Sue Dempsey.

I look forward to connecting with you all but remember, that in order to take the best care of others, you must first take the best care of yourself.


Jenny Dempsey is a Customer Experience and Customer Support manager with over 15 years of experience in tech startups, from the contact center front lines to supervisor, manager and director.

With a focus on self-care for customer service agents, Jenny lends her insight to a variety of different platforms. In fact, you can often find her singing about it!

Her Website

Her Twitter

Her LinkedIn

Customer Service Life

Customer Think Page

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