Three Lessons From Leaders on Adapting During the Pandemic

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Over the past few months, I’ve been hosting live interviews with a range of C-Suite leaders on my LinkedIn and Twitter. We’ve had discussions about their role in developing a customer experience strategy within their organization or for other organizations, and about how they’ve had to recently pivot in their jobs. I’ve also spoken to gurus, authors, and evangelists about the ways in which leaders can continue to guide their teams through the pandemic as customer behaviors continue to shift.

I recently interviewed three, extremely driven women who are making a big impact in their roles. Today, I share their key takeaways from my interviews with Aisling Hassell, VP of Community Support at Airbnb, Chelsie Rae Lee, Chief Revenue/Customer/Innovation Officer at SnackNation, and Barbara C. Morton, Deputy Chief Veterans Experience Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Offset Anxiety Through Clarity of Vision

In our conversation, Aisling Hassell addressed the challenges of communicating effectively with your leadership team and your employees.

“When you talk about concern, anxiety and sustainability kind of go hand-in-hand. So we’re trying to balance, one, having a vision for the future. And obviously, the last couple of months, as myself and my leadership have had to recast that vision. We had our 2020 plans. We knew exactly we’re going to do we were delivering against this roadmap, which I talked about, and all of a sudden our world went off the pass. 

And so, we still have the same roadmap that we actually had “zoom-sites” since we couldn’t have an off-site. […] Usually my leadership team and I get together every quarter and we would have a deep planning or a deep execution-type discussions around making sure that we’re on the same page and, and troubleshooting any areas of ambiguity. Well, obviously, we couldn’t do that together because we are all working across every continent. So, and we decided, well, we would have it, you know, basically online. So we broke it up.

[…] So one of the things we said post-COVID, and post all of the swirl and change that we’ve been going through: it’s important to really simplify our ways of working as well. So not just what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it. So we spent a large part of that time really trying to figure out what could be a simpler way of working. And now we’re just coming out of that, and we’re going to roll that forward. So going back to the question, I think, yes, there’s anxiety, but I think as leaders how you can offset the anxiety is by giving clarity of vision, so that’s what we’re trying to do that we’re saying, Okay, H1 was crazy. Here’s our plan for H2. Here’s what we need to accomplish together. And I think everybody is super keen to know: ‘okay, where are we going? And how do we pivot towards the new future? And how can we lean into that?’ So that’s important to do.”

Don’t Assume; Check-in with Customers to Understand How They Feel and Where They Stand

Chelsie Rae Lee is the Chief Revenue and Customer Officer at Snacknation, a subscription-based snack company. Since a large percentage of her customers operate out of offices to receive the snacks, Chelsie, who spends a lot of work on customer retention strategies, shares how SnackNation has had to adjust to accommodate changing consumer behavior:

“One of the things I always try to say is to ask yourself about your customers: Where are they at right now? How can I add value with the skill sets that I have? And sometimes, like, how will they buy it? Or can I sell it to them? But essentially, we did that. We looked really deep in and said, What do our customers need right now?

One of the things I always say to people, too, is: don’t assume you know what your customers need, no matter how well you know them. So it’s really important for us to ask.  I’ve sent all of these emails saying, you know, ‘I care about you, I want to help you, How can I do that?’ and got some really deep and wonderful conversations with our customers, saying, ‘I need to support and make my employees feel cared about. I don’t know where they’re going to be.’

Then I thought to myself, we’ve got amazing products, amazing food and snacks and we can ship to anywhere which most companies are not based in. And we understand how it is to make somebody feel special. Let’s take that, and transition it to work-from-home. Now we developed a fluid interface where people could put their addresses and their employees could now get snacks at home instead of in the office.”

Use Customer Journey Maps to Strategize Around a Positive Experience

Barbara Morton’s job as the Deputy Veterans Experience Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs involves working with a few different groups of customers. Working with a range of customers impacts the language they use internally, how they view veterans, and how they strategize the best ways to create a positive experience for them:

“We don’t want to assume that we understand what’s most important to veterans, so we do a journey map. For example, in outpatient experience, that’s one of the largest business lines in the US. I have that type of care service. So as they’ve gone in for some help, they’re departing; It’s what happens after that, or in general, even if they haven’t gone in. And so it’s those who are utilizing it end to end.

And it actually starts before the actual appointment. It’s scheduling the appointment. It’s arriving at the facility, it’s waiting. It’s meeting your provider, it’s post care and follow up. Right. So we mapped that. And so we can have a very clear understanding, again, not what our process is, but what the process and the experience was for the veteran. And we identified key moments that matter to them.

So for example, navigation of a VA Medical Center was very important. And that came out in the research that never would naturally appear on an operational metrics dashboard, it never would naturally appear, right? So we actually took that insight and we now measure that as part of a survey have that type of experience. And by the way, we don’t just measure it, we implemented and tried to scale and how scaled with Veterans Health Administration and Ambassador Program, red coat Ambassador greeter program to address that particular pain point identified in the HCV research.  So we have navigators now at every medical center helping veterans find their way around these complex buildings. Why? Because it’s important to them.

Like we can’t all just have the feel good about this is the right thing to do. There has to be evidence, there has to be proof that we’re actually moving the needle. And I’m proud of the department and the frontline employees have been able to show that.”

Be sure to check out previous blog posts in which I share more advice from other C-Suite leaders about how to navigate these uncertain times.

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