Women of CX: How Thumbtack Achieves CX Success in a Two-sided Marketplace
By Arron Westbrook
The latest in our Women of CX webinar series took a deep dive into how the US home management marketplace, Thumbtack, achieves CX success.
Emily Estes is Senior Director of Support Operations at Thumbtack. Last week, she sat down with Chattermill’s Customer Experience Manager, and CX expert, Billie Bradley, to chat about bringing women to the forefront of business, linking high-intent customers with service professionals, and maintaining a market-leading CX during the business's rapid growth.
Read on for our key takeaways from their conversation. And if you want to watch the webinar again – including the Q&A – click the link below.
Emily’s Journey Into CX
Estes has had a passion for business and customers from a young age. ‘I grew up in a family that started a lot of businesses,’ she says. ‘I loved the idea of solving problems.’
She points to the explosion of social media around the mid-2000s as a game-changer in terms of the kinds of work she could do.
With the arrival of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, customers suddenly had a more prominent voice – and Estes was quick to notice how important it was for businesses to get CX right.
What it's like being a women in CX
‘Being a woman in the tech space is unique,’ she says. ‘There aren’t many of us – there aren’t a lot of women in the CX space in general. The good news is that it’s changing. But change takes time.’
Estes reflects on her experience at Thumbtack as being somewhat refreshing compared to the businesses she has worked at before.
‘They support women. They are very focused on putting our skills and abilities on the table,’ she adds. ‘It’s hard as a woman to be engaged and be involved and not struggle with imposter syndrome or getting out of the trap of being a mom or the secretarial role.’
Estes admits she hasn’t been one to hang around at a business too long if they haven’t been working to bring women to the fore. ‘You have three options,’ she says. ‘You can put up with it and deal with it. You can choose to educate and try to make change. And sometimes, you have to walk away. I’ve had to do all three in my career.’
Creating a space where women feel that they can excel in their work
‘One of the biggest things is opening the conversation,’ Estes says.
‘If you open up the conversation and talk about imposter syndrome, talk about the challenges that may be working in an environment that’s male-oriented…if you make it a discussion where everybody can talk and improve and change, you set yourself and other women up to be successful.’
‘It’s when we try to hide it or ignore it when we create an environment that’s not helpful and not useful,’ she adds.
Managing complex relationships with buyers and sellers
According to Estes, the arrival of online marketplaces has made it the case that anybody can now run a business.
‘As a marketplace provider, I have customers who rely on me to ensure I’ve got qualified and background-checked professionals,’ she says. ‘And I’ve got professionals who want to ensure that I have high-intent customers. So it’s balancing the needs of both of those and making sure that we’re helping them communicate.’
Thumbtack is in the curious position of having to guide users to the channel that provides the best CX for them, and those they are linking up with, as well as ensuring the experience between the brand and their users is frictionless too.
‘We have professionals who aren’t tech-savvy, who don’t use a lot of technology in their day-to-day craft, so using email for technical support is not a good situation,’ Estes says. ‘Also, a professional may want to text a customer when a phone call is needed to get the best conversation.’
So how does Thumbtack guide consumers to the right channel? Crucially, they are constantly working to ensure less friction for using the preferred channels. For example, this might mean making phone numbers readily available rather than providing email addresses.
How Thumbtack identifies which channels are best for users
Estes and her team at Thumbtack rely on survey feedback and data from their users.
‘We look to see: Where do we get the best experience? Where’s our highest first-contact resolution? Where’s the quickest handle-time in respect of the user’s time?’
The next step is to take that feedback/data and partner closely with the product teams to ensure it’s used.
Convincing product teams to invest resources in customer service
‘The biggest thing is about having an open communication,’ Estes says. ‘I am responsible for communicating with both sides – so both my customer service team and my product team.’
Estes finds The Purple Lego analogy useful here. The idea that engineers will use everything in a Lego box, even a purple Lego. ‘But sometimes we have the data to point out why the purple Lego isn’t effective,’ she says.
‘On the flipside,’ Estes adds, ‘I’ve got to make sure the product team knows I have their back. So when I’m talking to my service teams, I’m communicating that what I’m hearing isn’t always the biggest picture.’
Reaching a balance becomes important for Estes, again, here. Be sure to communicate that while those giving feedback are bringing up a specific thing – e.g. the purple Lego – there will be X amount of people (probably the vast majority) who aren’t seeing that friction.
For Thumbtack, all teams need to know when things are going well, just like they need to know when things aren’t.
How Thumbtack approaches customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention
‘I’m a strong believer that for loyalty, retention and satisfaction, the differentiator comes in the service experience,’ Estes says.
‘So it’s about gaining the voice of the customer, understanding what they need and then being able to communicate it to both sides. It’s also about communicating to the customer how to best use your product.’
Estes also puts a lot of effort into figuring out what story the data is trying to tell.
‘Because if you just look at hard data,’ she says, ‘you’re not always getting all pieces of the story.’
Another critical point of Estes’ strategy is acknowledging that customer service and customer experience are industry agnostic. ‘They’re comparing my service experience to anybody: at a grocery store, at an eCommerce site, at another marketplace site,’ she says. ‘So I’ve got to be able to gain loyalty and retention across the entire span of service experiences.’
How Thumbtack has upheld its CX strategy through rapid growth
‘A lot of it is the ability to communicate the message and the other side is the ability to pivot with them,’ Estes says. ‘It’s important to have strategy roadmaps, and it’s important to have plans in place, but when you have rapid growth, you have to be able to pivot and change. And that requires very open communication channels.’
She also warns against sacrificing the good for the perfect.
‘It’s easy to want to sit back and say we’re not going to launch something until it’s perfect,’ Estes says. ‘But when your growth is happening as quickly as it has at Thumbtack, you have to accept the good and then use continuous improvement processes to get better and better.’
How to ensure the whole senior team buys into the agile mindset
‘A lot of the time, it’s asking questions,’ Estes admits. ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we moving forward? What is the solution here?’
She also points to Thumbtack’s quarterly planning sessions, where they can introduce what everybody’s plans are to all of the leadership. This ensures everybody is on the same page in terms of respective priorities and overall business strategy, but it’s also an opportunity to pivot or change tack if necessary.
What marketplaces need to focus on to gain market share as more competitors enter
Looking to the future, Estes returns to the idea that the big differentiator for marketplaces is the service experience.
‘You need to be able to educate users and guide them,’ she says. ‘You need to be able to stand behind your product with guarantees and opportunities to ensure the value.’
For Estes, educating users should be a blend of multi-media and multi-channels. ‘Sometimes it’s in-app notifications. Sometimes it’s proactive outreach when they’ve reached a specific stage in our platform that might be more difficult,’ she says.
SEO needs to be at the forefront, especially as consumers move to voice searches using Alexa and Siri. There also must be recognition of how users learn best – with audio proving especially useful for certain Thumbtack professionals listening while driving to their next job.