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When In Doubt, ask the Employees

Release Date: August 4, 2020 • Episode #128

Empowering more people throughout the organization to help with CX strategies can be effective – especially when working with frontline employees that interact with your customers the most. Host Steve Walker welcomes Sue Brady (@suebrady), vice president of marketing and customer engagement at Hughes Network Systems, a global satellite broadband solutions and services company, and a provider of managed network services and applications, to discuss how they implemented a program to gather employee recommendations for improving the customer experience.

Watch the Hughes Network Systems video contribution to the CXPA Innovation Awards.

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Steve:
Customer experience is not something that's only overseen by a couple of people in your company. It's an organization wide effort.

Sue:
We were thinking about, well, how do we know what a customer needs? And we said, well, why don't we ask employees? And then somebody else said, well, why don't we ask our call center agents and then somebody else said why don't we ask our installers? They're talking to customers every day when they install the service. So it's sort of just it was evolutionary in that way.

Steve:
Engaging employees throughout the company to think innovatively about customer experience on this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is produced by Walker, an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their XM success. You can find out more at Walkerinfo.com.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host of The CX Leader Podcast and thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. What customer experience professional has not gone through the struggle of trying to get the entire organization behind their CX efforts? It's a common challenge, but it can be overcome. And empowering more people throughout the organization to help with CX strategies can be effective, especially when working with frontline employees that interact with your customers the most. In fact, I think that's a game changer, is when you can actually get the front line employees really engaged in your customer experience efforts. My guest on this week's podcast is going to tell us more about the creative way her company encouraged employee engagement. Sue Brady is vice president of marketing and customer engagement at Hughes Network Systems, a great company, a great name. They are a global satellite broadband solutions and services company and a provider of managed network services and applications. Sue, thanks so much for being a guest on The CX Leader Podcast.

Sue:
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Steve:
I'm really excited to have you. And obviously Hughes is a great brand name and a great organization with a great, proud history. And maybe if you just for the benefit of our listeners, give us a little context about your career and how you got into CX and how you got to Hughes. And just so everybody knows where you're coming from.

Sue:
Sure. So I've been a longtime direct marketer for my entire career, and I've been at Hughes for going on nine years. And we a couple of years ago decided that we needed to have a real focus on customer experience. So what we did as a company was we pulled somebody from marketing, that was me, and somebody from customer service. We decided to go run a new department. And it's called our customer experience department. And we're really focusing on all things customer experience. So my key focuses have been employee engagement, but also and especially working on anything that a customer would view. So customer experience on the website or on a welcome email or on a welcome brochure or on F.A.Q.s, things like that that are relevant to a customer. So anything customer facing is really has really been a focus of mine.

Steve:
That's interesting that you come from the direct marketing background. We've actually found that is kind of one of the patterns that we see with our guests. And it's something that we really come at it more from the market research background. But some people have come at it more from like customer service or help desk type of scenarios, call centers. But the direct marketing is definitely a key. So you guys were always pretty metric driven.

Sue:
Yeah, that's that's that's exactly what it is – it's the metric. And I also I had spent many years at AOL and so talk about metric driven and direct marketing machine and all of that, you know, it really becomes ingrained in the way that you work.

Steve:
Yeah. I think it's interesting the way you guys put that together. Was this the first creation of a CX effort within Hughes?

Sue:
Yeah, it definitely was. And it had buy-in from the executive team, which was really key. And that's that's how we ended up creating this department in the way that we did. We are reporting line was not just the marketing just or just through sort of a customer care area. It was up through both executives. So we've got a lot of attention.

Steve:
And you may have mentioned this and I didn't catch it, but how long ago did you do this?

Sue:
It's been about two years now.

Steve:
Two years. So you're relatively new at this compared to some other organization?

Sue:
Yeah. In terms of it being an official task at Hughes, yes. But of course, we've been working on customer experience for many years in terms of anything customer facing. So, you know, making our websites really user friendly, all those kinds of things we focused on for a long time.

Steve:
Yeah, that's one of the things I always say to new clients and prospects, is that any successful business has had some customer experience success already. Yeah. Or they wouldn't be a successful business.

Sue:
Yeah, that's exactly it.

Steve:
But formalizing the the function and that's sort of where we're at as a profession, you know, it's still a pretty new profession. Not many of us came out of school to do customer experience. So I always find it interesting where the backgrounds of people that have come into this. And so…

Sue:
Yeah, no, it's true. And I think really that ultimately the customer experience, if you look at companies like Disney, is always set up as being the thing everybody should strive to get to. And what I like about their approach is basically that everybody's involved with customer experience. They don't need a separate group for it because it is now a part of everybody's job and hopefully, that's what we'll get to at Hughes.

Steve:
You guys have really come up with some creative ways to engage employees and I think that's what we want to talk about most of the time here today. So…

Sue:
Yeah, sure.

Steve:
I read that it's called "CX Now!" with an exclamation point?

Sue:
That's right.

Steve:
Is that your brand for the program internally?

Sue:
It is. That's so we're calling it the "CX Now!" exclamation point program, [laugh] and it leads to a little confusion in the branding guidelines. But… but yes, that's what we're calling it.

Steve:
And how did that come about? We actually advocate for our clients to brand their program. So I just… I love to hear the story about how that came about.

Sue:
I don't exactly remember. I think we came up with a short list of names and then we let the program manager choose which one she liked the best. So I think it was it was as complicated as that. [laugh]

Steve:
And what is kind of the overall concept of "CX Now!" just kind of describe the program and what the intent is?

Sue:
Yeah. So the program itself is an employee idea generation program and it focuses on ideas that will improve the customer experience. So we want engagement from employees to give us their ideas, but we also have opened it up to contractors. So, for instance, our front line is our call center agents. They talk to our customers, thousands of them, every day. And we wanted them to be able to participate because they really know where the pain points are. So those contractors can also give us feedback into this program and as well as our service installers who are in the customer's home installing our service for a new customer, they can also give us feedback. So we've gotten a lot of great ideas that way.

Steve:
Yeah, I should ask, too, in the up front section, but just for context, the scope and size of Hughes, just so that people know how many employees, how many customers we're dealing with here.

Sue:
So we have one point four million customers that we serve high speed Internet service to on the residential side. But we've got many more enterprise customers. We've got government customers, franchisees, et cetera. And we have about twelve hundred, fifteen hundred employees. And our headquarters are in Maryland.

Steve:
And then many, many contractors that work for you out in the field, and…

Sue:
Yes, yes, we have an extensive installer network and an extensive call center, a call center agent network.

Steve:
Yeah. And so it's a combination of B2B, B2C…

Sue:
That's right. B2G.

Steve:
B2G…

Sue:
Yeah.

Steve:
Employee stakeholders and key contracting stakeholders. So this is a complex system of delivering customer experience.

Sue:
Yes. One correction there. The customer experience program is actually just focused on our consumer and small business side for the for the moment.

Steve:
Yeah, OK. Any any plans to add the B2B side into that?

Sue:
Well, you know, we're thinking about it. It's a different set of challenges. But we're… we definitely do want to expand it. And we had a fair amount of success already. So I think it's probably in our future.

Steve:
You mentioned the management buy in. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that and was a management that really came up with the idea this something… where did the idea originate to formalize your CX approach?

Sue:
The idea came out of a meeting where we were sitting around talking about how can we get ideas to better the customer experience? And it just evolved as this discussion with the two executives I mentioned before and the team. And we were thinking about, well, how do you… how do we know what a customer needs? And we said, well, why don't we ask employees? And then somebody else said, well, why don't we ask our call center agents? And then somebody else said, why don't we ask our installers? They're talking to customers every day when they install the service. So it's sort of just it was evolutionary in that way. But because it started in a meeting that had the executives in it, it immediately had this sort of credibility to it. And everybody liked it. We just ran with it.

Steve:
So was that like a formal employee survey or was it done more qualitatively or…

Sue:
You mean… Which part?

Steve:
The just getting the feedback from employees and contractors.

Sue:
So the way we do it is we've got a designated link for each group of people that are involved in the program. So there's you can come through our intranet if you're an employee and submit through a link. There's a special link for our installers and special link for our contractor customer care agents to come through. And in that link, they're asked, what area does it impact? What's the idea and what's the benefit to the customer? And then we've got a monetary reward associated with ideas that we pick and then choose to implement. So there's a lot of you know, there's sort of a lot of moving parts there, but it's it's fairly automated at this point, although we physically discuss altogether the sort of our little mini committee, we discuss the ideas that come in and whether or not we should pursue them.

Steve:
Now that it's been in place, how successful has it been in generating ideas?

Sue:
Yeah, so it's funny. It actually has been really successful. Although not necessarily yet quantifiably successful, but we've had over 400 ideas. We have implemented are in the process of implementing about 40 of those so far, and the ideas range from simple to complex. We have ideas from engineers. We have ideas from, as I said, customer service. I mean, just to give you a sense of some of the ideas that have come through that are sort of so simple. One idea was to when somebody is logging in to our customer portal, for instance, when you type in your password, you can't see your password. And we've got a lot of customers who might be older or even those that are not have a hard time seeing a password, especially on a mobile phone. And so we just want to add that little eye that says, you know, show me my password. Yeah, it's fairly common, but it was just something we didn't do and nobody thought to do it. So there was ideas like that. And there was an idea to require our installers to wear booties into the home. We used to recommend it, but making it a requirement. This is even pre-COVID. And so now it is a requirement. So there's a lot of different level of ideas that we're getting and some are more complex to implement than others. But we've gotten enough that we're definitely improving things and we're improving things. Also, like one idea that came through from one of our installers was there's this one feature that you guys don't let me show a customer at installation, and it's because it takes some technical work on the back end to activate it. And so it's activated sort of within the hour of someone becoming a new customer. But this particular installer said, you know, it's a great feature and we'd love to demo it to the client while we're on site. So we took a look at it and we thought, why not? Why don't we make it active right away? So now that's that was a meaningful change. And now our installers can actually demonstrate this feature, which happens to be a really important feature for our customers, because it shows them how they can better manage their data.

Steve:
My guest on the podcast this week is Sue Brady, the vice president of marketing and customer engagement at Hughes Network Systems, a huge provider of global satellite broadband solutions and services. And I'd be interested in sort of how you kicked it off to start getting the first ideas coming in idea.

Sue:
So we had there are actually there's a video that I think you're going to post, along with this podcast. We launched officially to the company in two ways: one was we we have these big tent meetings. They're pre-COVID, they were every quarter where everyone would gather outside in a big tent. Our CEO would give a speech. And during that meeting, usually t-shirts are handed out, that kind of thing, and a little bit of swag. So we actually had t-shirts. We got to own the t-shirts for that particular tent meeting that talked about the CX program. We had some swag that was given out at that time. And then when people went back to the office the next day, there were posters throughout the buildings that highlighted our employees doing various things that we could tag as being a champion for the customer, such as high fives and fist pumping and that kind of thing. So that was really fun for people to come back into the office to see it are actually just getting ready to redo that campaign and change out all our posters. So hopefully when people go back to work after COVID, we will have a whole new look about our program.

Steve:
Have you seen any change since the COVID thing happened? Is that still people are still interacting on the program?

Sue:
Yeah, we're still getting ideas. It's not I would say the ideas are probably not as many, but they are more related to here's how we can make this more of a touchless experience. For instance, when an installers in the home, let's figure out a way that they don't have to sign the contract. They can do it in a different manner. So there are some ideas like that still coming through. And, you know, all along we've had we sort of had a huge intake at the very beginning. And now I'd say we probably get maybe three or four ideas a week. So it's not bad. It's you know, it's it sounds small, but when you're a big engineering company, you know, it's not easy to get things pushed through. And as some of these smaller things, I should say, push through and and some of them really do make a difference.

Steve:
It's interesting, you mentioned the fact that Hughes is an engineering company. That's something I've seen over the years, is that, you know, particularly companies that historically differentiated more on technology or product features now are discovering how you can integrate the customer experience into that and getting those people involved, like the story you told about the installers saying, hey, we ought to be able to demo this feature. That's exactly what you want to do. And I assume that getting those success stories is a big part of generating additional ideas.

Sue:
Yeah, that's right. That's that's right. And we do have serial submitters who – especially from the engineering group – who love to give us some unique ideas, and they are their great ideas in general, so.

Steve:
Yeah. And you know, the cereal's submitters, those are your champions out there in the environment. So…

Sue:
Yeah, exactly.

Steve:
…you need to leverage it. Another thought that popped into my mind just as I was listening to you talk is I've had a lot of conversations with CX pros that say, you know, like, man, once I got this program out, I had no idea how many people were going to give me input. So it's always a you know, it's a be careful what you ask for. But but as pros, we got to embrace this because this is exactly what we want. We want everyone in the organization to be thinking about the customer.

Sue:
Yeah. Yeah, that's exactly right.

Steve:
Any other benefits or success stories that you might be able to share?

Sue:
You know, we… a lot of it's obviously proprietary, but I'll give you one more basic one. So because we're a monthly Internet service, we do allow people to put our service on seasonal suspend. So let's say you have a vacation home somewhere and you're away from your home. And that process, let's say you put your account on suspend for three months. Well, the three months is up. Your charges start coming back through for Hughesnet. And typically a consumer has forgotten that they put their account on suspend and they're surprised to see the charge. And so it generates a phone call into customer care. And so it was a completely simple solution. How about if you email people a couple of weeks before they go off of their seasonal suspense and now we're doing that, reducing calls on that topic? And, you know, again, it's a big win, even though it's something really small.

Steve:
It is a small deal, but there's a real cost benefit there. And that's one of the things we try to keep sharing on the podcast, is that you have to as a pro, you have to keep trying to keep track of the ROI on this stuff because people's memories are not that long. But that's a perfect example of where a quick process fix is going to reduce the volume back into the call center. And that's going to allow your reps more time to focus in on even better value add for the customer experience because they're not dealing with those calls anymore, right?

Sue:
Yeah, that's exactly right. That's exactly it.

Steve:
So what's the vision going forward? Where are you going next?

Sue:
Yeah, so know for right now we're pretty happy where the program is, but as I sort of alluded to, where we definitely want to expand it onto our business side, bigger enterprise side, probably into our franchise. I'm not sure how it'll work on our government side of the products, but but probably we could do something there as well. And in terms of keeping the excitement going and all that, we are relaunching with new posters, which is a big thing because we have a lot of campuses. And so we've got these posters all over. And we also have one of our products is lobby signage through screens. And so we've got screens in all of our lobbies and we play our videos there for CX. And we've got score boards of who submitted ideas and what ideas we've implemented things like that. So we want to put some new material there to sort of keep this excitement going and and make sure these ideas continue to flow in.

Steve:
Awesome. We've reached that point in the show, Sue, where we ask our guests to provide that important part of our podcast, which is take home value. If I think you could probably do three or four here off the top of your head. But what is your one best tip for our CX pros listening that they can take back to their program, implement tomorrow and improve their own customer experience?

Sue:
My tip of the day would be to as soon as you are done listening to this podcast, call up somebody in your customer care department in management and ask them to identify the one thing that drives the most calls for them and then figure out a way to stop that from happening.

Steve:
That is a really good tip. And it goes back to some of what we were talking about. And that's how you're going to prove some ROI if you can immediately take some of the load off the call center by some of the simple steps you do.

Sue:
Yeah, that's exactly it.

Steve:
We'll sue. Thanks so much for being a guest on the podcast. If people want to continue the conversation or network with you, can they find you, like on LinkedIn or…

Sue:
They can. I'm Sue Brady on LinkedIn. My Twitter handle is @SueBrady, I believe. And you can find me either place.

Steve:
Yeah. Sue Brady at Hughes Network Systems. So check it out. And to all of our listeners, make sure you do watch the video. It's very good best practice in terms of branding. And I thought you might go with that for your take home values, branding it and getting that communication out, because I think you guys did an awesome job on that, too.

Sue:
Thank you. Yeah, that video actually was our submission for the CXPA Innovation Award. So…

Steve:
yeah, I did it… Is that award, is that been given yet?

Sue:
It was given, we did not get it but we did get runner up. So we're happy with that.

Steve:
Well congratulations. And we're big fans of the CXPA here at Walker we actually do lots of podcasts with CXPA members, and that's another great thing for our listeners, if you're not engaged with the CXPA, you should. If there's anything that we talked about here that you heard on the podcast or anything that Walker can do for your customer experience, please feel free to email me here at Steve.walker@walkerinformation.com and be sure to check out our website, cxleaderpodcast.com, to subscribe to the show and find all of our previous 127 episodes. We also organize those episodes by series and we have our contact information. And consistent with our theme here today, there's a suggestion menu, too. So if you guys have ideas for how we can improve the podcast or maybe a potential subject. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker with an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their XM success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening. And we'll see you again next.

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