The second of this year’s Women of CX series takes a deep dive into the career of Sarah Personette.
Personette is Chief Customer Officer at Twitter. In this conversation with Chattermill’s Anisha Kainth, she reflects on her time at the social media giant and the journey she has taken to get there – from her early agency work and her drive to keep learning new skills, to dealing with imposter syndrome when entering a male-dominated space.
Read on for our key takeaways from the webinar. As always, check out the video below for the whole conversation with Sarah, including the Q&A.
How have you journeyed into the world of CX?
Personette’s career started around 20 years ago in the agency world.
‘I loved that you could bring the art and science of media and technology in helping businesses strive,’ she says. ‘My aspiration and ambition pretty early on was to want to run an agency someday.’
To achieve this dream, Personette knew that she would need to build up a diverse set of skills. She points to several functional skillsets, including strategic planning, long-range planning, management and leadership, communication skills, running domestic teams vs global teams – all critical assets in ensuring her career moved forward.
When the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008 and 2009, Personette took this as another opportunity to reflect on the skillsets that she might not yet have.
‘Social and technology was starting to boom but really hadn’t taken hold,’ she says. ‘I wound up leaving the agency world, and I joined Facebook. At that time, it was a 1200-person company, and (the move) would be deemed a quote-unquote, demotion… but one ultimately in service of wanting to learn something new.’
Personette then spent three years at Facebook building out a go-to-market team supporting agencies before being asked to run Universal McCann media agency at the age of 33 – her dream to run an agency was realised.
A couple of years later, she returned to Facebook, building out their global business marketing team, before taking on another role as Chief Operations Officer of women-focused digital publisher Refinery29.
And then came the move to Twitter. ‘That’s really where I think the pureplay aspect of customer experience has been front of the spear for me in this role,’ she says. ‘Being on the front lines, driving revenue, also making sure we are customer-centric in the decisions and the service models we are creating.’
How do you stay motivated to keep learning, and what skills are most important?
‘The thing that is super-important is to be the master of your own education,’ Personette says. ‘The team I’m leading and where the market is going has dictated which skills I needed to learn at which time.’
Reflecting on her stint at Facebook as the company underwent a significant digital transformation, Personette was enthusiastic about using new technologies and learning to collect and process increasing amounts of data. Likewise, her current role at Twitter involves public policy, and Personette is currently completing a Masters Degree in the subject to ensure she is a better partner to the team.
When it comes to what she believes to be the most important, Personette has found communication skills to be some of her most valuable assets over the years.
‘For any person to be successful as an IC, all the way up to manager and leader, have great communication skills,’ she says. ‘Work on your writing. Work on the way that you publicly present. Especially in a virtual world where all teams are de-centralized, communication and the way you help people feel and connect to the vision and the mission you’re trying to create matters.’
In addition to being as good a communicator as possible, Personette also urges those working in tech to know their product exceptionally well. And when it comes specifically to managing or leading teams, she has been inspired by the work of Kim Scott and the idea that “Feedback lands on the tarmac of trust.”
‘If you are a manager or a leader, it’s a requirement to create a team dynamic that feels psychologically safe and feels trusting for all,’ Personette adds. ‘That’s where the best teams ultimately shine through.’
What has been your experience as a woman in the tech space?
Talking of her time at Universal McCann, where she was not only a woman in a male-dominated space but also relatively young for someone in a management role, Personette was aware that there was a small (but powerful) group of people who didn’t want her there.
‘For me, one of the biggest things was consistently writing down what I wanted to say and then making sure that no matter what meeting I was in, I always at least had a point of view, and I shared at least once,’ she says.
‘There can be dynamics in a room where there are microaggressions that come through which can disrupt your confidence. Make sure you have the tools that get you back to “I am supposed to be here, I earned this job,” the more you do that, the less you need that piece of paper.’
Although she certainly has more confidence today, she admits she still suffers from Imposter Syndrome – as so many of us do.
But Personette also agrees that those of us whose competence levels are higher than our confidence levels do best in tech. And those of us who can find allies within the workplace and who are keen to be an ally for others.
What is it like working in CX at Twitter?
Personette describes her role in customer experience at Twitter as raising revenue by supporting and servicing customers.
She describes Twitter as, ultimately, the customer’s organisation. After all, without its users, the service ceases to be.
It follows, then, that a company that is so customer-centric sees CX shaped and touched upon by a large number of teams. It is Personette’s role to keep them all joined up.
‘They all play a very significant role in making sure our customers have the best experience possible,’ she says. ‘Whether it is making it easy and lightweight to get on the platform and understand organic tools. Through developing a unique brand strategy. Through launching new products, making sure billing is frictionless, making sure we speak to folks in the language they operate in. These are all different problems, but are ultimately all connected.’
Personette works hard to ensure everyone understands the interdependencies and connectedness of the teams and that they are constantly staying focused on making sure their customers feel cared for.
On top of this, Personette highlights how future-facing the business is. Something which underlines a thread that runs throughout her career to date – never stopping learning and building up the skills that might serve her well tomorrow.
‘We’re evolving the organisation and our skills relative to the composition of the business today and the composition of the business three or five years from now,’ she says.
‘There’s that extended view of how we’re preparing for the future overall. ‘So we don’t miss the opportunity as it comes up.’