Podcast

CXperts Episode #9: Richard Smith: VP Customer Experience at Therabody. Whoop and Uber alum. - Planning for Hyper Growth in Economic Uncertainty

CXperts: Alexander Kvamme meets with Richard Smith, Vice President of Customer Experience at Therabody to discuss leadership, the importance of EX in CX, and how he’s planning for the holiday season.

Josh Witty
Josh Witty
July 21, 2022
  •  
31 min read

CXperts is a podcast where we dive into the hot topics and trends around customer experience with thought leaders and luminaries from the world’s most recognizable and successful companies and brands.

This week’s episode: Alexander Kvamme meets with Richard Smith, VP at Therabody, to discuss building successful CX teams at hyper growth companies, becoming a leader, the importance of EX in CX, and how he’s planning for the holiday season

Richard is the VP of Customer Experience at Therabody, an innovative wellness technology company that focuses on recovery, physical therapy, and natural solutions for everybody. Richard has worked and lived around the world including the US, UK, Australia, Africa, and completed a 2 year expedition of Antarctica. Previously he was VP of member services at WHOOP, spent over six years at Uber in various operations and CX roles, and consulted with Bain & Company. Richard  has an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

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Transcript:

Alexander Kvamme 00:27
Welcome everyone to the CXperts Podcast. Once again, for those who are new, this is where we dive into hot topics and trends around customer experience with thought leaders and luminaries from the world's most recognizable and successful companies and brands. I'm your host, Alex Kvamme co-founder and CEO of Pathlight. Pathlight is an end-to-end platform for managing customer facing teams. We combined analytics, performance management, quality, workforce optimization into one platform. And I'm really excited for this episode. My guest today is Richard Smith. He's currently Vice President of Customer Experience at Therabody. Before that he was at WHOOP and he spent many years at Uber through some hyper scale times. Therabody for those who don't know is a pioneer in the wellness technology space.

They develop products and services that optimize human performance and unlock the body's natural ability to achieve health and wellbeing. Popular products include the Theragun, which I have one, RecoveryAir, PowerDots, Wave Series, and TheraOne. As I said, I own the Theragun. I've got a Theragun mini in my desk that I'm looking at over there. So I'm a big fan and I aspire to be as athletic as all the customers I see in the marketing materials. I'm probably two orders of magnitude away, but it's a dream. But well, Richard, welcome and it's great to have you.

Richard Smith 01:54
Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to chat.

Alexander Kvamme 01:58
So Richard, we like to keep this podcast super technical for operators by operators. And so the questions and discussion, I really want to focus it on what's going to be most valuable to the other operators that are listening in. Before we do that though, let's just do some quick introductions and establish your credentials and your background for the audience. So you've got a super interesting background. I think like many college graduates, you started your career in finance and consulting. You worked around the world, both in the UK and Australia, and then you were a consultant at Bain and then in 2014 you joined Uber. Uber was ascendant at that point. And we'll get into that but you held a lot of different roles. You were there for six and a half years.

You started in community operations, looks like you did some work in strategy and planning and Uber Eats, and then you started running support, maybe halfway in, and then started doing support in Europe and then more global service design and operations. So you were there for six and a half years, so I'm sure it was a wild ride and we'll get into that and the lessons learned. And then you went from the passenger seat to the driver's seat by becoming the leader of membership services first at WHOOP and now currently at Therabody where you're VP of Customer Experience. So lots of interesting stuff there, but I guess I'll go on the first tangent of the show, tell me about Polar Vision, because that's the one thing on this resume that I think is a little bit of an outlier.

Richard Smith 03:58
Yeah, not as much to do with customer experience, but plenty of operations and planning involved. So Polar Vision was an expedition we undertook back in 2011 into 2012, where I became, I think I'm the 44th Britain to trek unsupported from the coast Antarctica to the South Pole, which is a wonderful achievement, I think. But it is shadowed by one of my teammates, Alan Lock, who is visually impaired, and he became the first ever blind person to do that coastal pole track. A truly remarkable human. And I was lucky to be able to do it with him, but it was quite the experience.

Alexander Kvamme 04:47
Wow. That's pretty amazing. So CX leader, polar explorer, super cool. And maybe we'll get into that a little bit later at the back half. So I think the first thing I want to talk about and normally we kind of structure this as past, present, future. And so maybe let's first just chat about your time at Uber and specifically at Uber you did see an incredible amount of scale. And the support team, I think, is well known for actually surviving through that scale and actually being an asset for many years through that scale. And so from your perspective, what did Uber and what did you all at Uber do well that allowed you to successfully manage all of this scale and manage all that hyper growth? And maybe you could also give us a little bit of context of the growth that you saw.

Richard Smith 05:47
Sure. So as you know, I joined Uber in 2014. And I actually went straight into support and I worked in support all the way through. The job titles they chopped and changed, but it was all the same thing, really. It was support in different guises. But the reason I joined Uber was because it was this rocket ship that I had heard about from my time in the states. I was now back in the UK, and I knew I wanted to join the company. And I was employee number 15 in the London office. Honestly, I would've swept the floors to just go work for Uber at the time, but the only thing they had was, we need someone to run support. Can you do it?

And I was like, of course I can. Of course. I didn't know anything about support. And weirdly a lot of my peers in other parts of the Uber operations were exactly the same. That Uber had hired no industry professionals at that time who understood support to run support. Weirdly, that naivety turned out to be one of our biggest strengths, because we were not burdened with the pressures to, gosh, we've got to set up this support business the right way with the right technology infrastructure. All the stuff I think about now.

But we were like, holy crap, we've got a lot of contacts coming in super fast. How do we do this? How can we just get creative? We weren't burdened by the pressures of profitability at that stage. So we could throw bodies at the problem. We figured out how to do outsourcing after a few sort of stumbling sort of insourced efforts, but honestly, I think it was just our abject naivety at the time which allowed us to move at the speed that we needed to move.

Alexander Kvamme 07:53
So I love that, honestly, a surprising but an answer that makes sense, and maybe the real way of calling it is naivety, but we'll brand it as first principles thinking, right? And we'll make it seem a little bit more thoughtful than perhaps it was back then, but it's super interesting, right? Everyone was outside. Everyone was an outsider, they were new to this space. And so they did have the ability to kind of think about things from first principles.

Richard Smith 08:32
Absolutely.

Alexander Kvamme 08:32
What might be an example of something that came out of that thinking that if being the grizzled CX veteran that you are now, if you had been parachuted and at that point you would, whoa, guys, this is not how we do things.

Richard Smith 08:46
Yeah. So again, let me give you a bit of context. When I landed, support was being handled by these MBA grads from various Ivy League schools from the states. Marketing professionals were handling the riders, driver ops were handling the drivers. Everyone was doing all these contacts themselves. And so when I came in, I was initially heralded as this guy that was going to take all tickets away from them. I'm not. I just dived in with them. And I was doing tickets all day, all night, weekends. I really got to understand the job of an agent because I was an agent for a long time under very sort of stressful circumstances. Cause also I was accountable for it. London things, I was accountable for it that goes wrong. It's on me.

And so being able to really get into the details of how does this agent, why is this agent flow like this? Why can't we just shortcut? Why can't we put that information there where it needs to be? And so really having that agent lens initially really helped because then we went to the Philippines to sort of kickstart the outsourcing. But again, we had that lens that was drilled into us. It wasn't shadowing, wasn't side by sides we were doing. We were handling significant volumes of contacts. And for me that has served me incredibly well throughout my entire career. And even now, like when I'm hiring people, people that have come up through the ranks as CSRs (customer support representative), team leads, et cetera. Oh, wow, I love those guys, especially if they worked in brands that I love, because they really understand what works and what doesn't.

Alexander Kvamme 10:38
So another great insight which is, and this kind of leads me into my next question, which is the transition from someone in the management layer to the ultimate leader. But it sounds like in general, regardless of where you are in that hierarchy, your core piece of advice is just do tickets and do a lot of them and not do maybe a sampling like I'm going to do a couple of tickets today.

Just to get a general sense is... Live the agent's life for as long as you can. And that's really going to highlight the biggest opportunities for improvement.

Richard Smith 11:21
You see everything. You see QA, you see training, you see technology, you see everything that ultimately you are accountable for. And if you don't understand it, you don't understand how to improve it. It's one of the things that I've tried to do wherever I am. Clearly, I don't get to do as many tickets as I did back in Uber days, but the principle still holds true for me.

Alexander Kvamme 11:45
How many tickets do you think you did at Uber?

Richard Smith 11:48
I actually pulled that. I did over five and a half thousand tickets.

Alexander Kvamme 11:52
Wow.

Richard Smith 11:53
In my time at Uber. Some of them may be automations that are attached to my name, but the vast majority were my tickets.

So, yeah. I did my time.

Alexander Kvamme 12:04
Yeah. I think everyone understands it's important to handle some tickets, but I'm betting that's two orders of magnitude more than what most folks do. I'm going to handle, maybe I'll do 50 tickets, right? That is kind of the status quo mindset right now. So that's a really interesting learning and something that sounds like has kind of served you well.

Richard Smith 12:36
I wouldn't recommend that many though, Alexander, I wouldn't recommend that many. I would recommend a lot, but I wouldn't recommend that many. It came at the cost of a lot of evenings and weekends and other social events I was supposed to go to, but needs master at the time.

Alexander Kvamme 12:52
Well, we'll keep the 5,000 as the click bait and then they'll have to listen for that kind of caveat, but that's super, super interesting. So let's talk about the transition to leadership, to being the ultimate leader. Obviously it sounds like at Uber, you felt a big sense of responsibility and there were areas that you totally owned. But let's talk about that transition to the ultimate leader of the customer care organization. For the folks who are listening, who are either going through that transition right now for the first time, or want to in the next couple of years, maybe you could kind of talk about that transition, surprises that you might have had, lessons you might have learned. I think that'd be super, super interesting.

Richard Smith 13:46
Sure. So I would clarify that I never actually wanted to be the leader of the function. What I wanted was to go back to that stage of company where I really felt fulfilled at Uber, where it was when we were launching new breeds, when we were launching sort of a lot of the different rides, countries across EMEA. I really enjoyed that growth and that figuring out that brick on brick building. And so the only way I could really go back to that is to go to an earlier stage company.

But because of career progression, I go in as the leader. Now, that comes with great opportunities. Wow, fantastic. I get to control things like the technology that we use, the strategy of what is our channel strategy? How do we approach different customers in different ways? I get to do all that sort of cool thinking. You also get the responsibility of the whole team looking to you for guidance. But for me it was, I'm still a builder at heart. And I wanted to find opportunities where I could do that building. I'm not worried about how big the business is. I'm worried about what does the growth look like and what does the opportunity look like?

Alexander Kvamme 15:15
So once you were in that seat, though, did you experience anything that you kind of weren't anticipating or... Help the folks who, as I said, are kind of going through this or want to go through this. Let's see if we can help them not maybe make a mistake that you made.

Richard Smith 15:36
Yeah. Yeah. Everything's on you. That I tend to realize that pretty quickly, everything's on you. Every decision you make it ends up in a budget line item somewhere, and you got to be held accountable. That can become a little bit paralyzing at first because you want to then be really cautious and thoughtful about every single decision you take, but you can't make the change that you want to make. You can't be the inspirational leader that maybe you want to be if you are so inherently cautious and slow to do things. So realizing that, embracing it, know that you're going to have to apologize for some mistakes that you make, but also you get to do the things that maybe you weren't empowered, but maybe not as brave to push in previous roles.

So for me, at WHOOP I was really passionate about the technology infrastructure that we have. I didn't want to build the biggest support business in the world, but I really wanted to structure it well so that our agents could just exclusively focus on the member because WHOOP is this, it's a high end product. Our members are so engaged in the product. I really wanted the technology to really support that interaction with the members. And we went a long way down that road of building a really beautiful support technology infrastructure for the agents, so that they could really just focus on delighting that member.

Alexander Kvamme 17:30
I completely agree with you. One of the things that you realize early on is you realize that, hey, this one decision that I made in this one minute of communicating, it has these trickle down effects and people are operating off of that decision six months from now. And gosh, I don't think I was thoughtful enough in making that decision, right? It trickles down.

Richard Smith 18:00
Or you don't even remember making it.

Alexander Kvamme 18:00
Yeah, exactly. That's right. That's right. But that's the name of the game. Maybe just quickly, what is your kind of framework that you use to make decisions? Cause as a leader, your job is effectively a professional decision maker, right? And some of those decisions are big, some are small, some are reversible, some are irreversible. What's the general framework you use to make these decisions?

Richard Smith 18:22
Yeah. So our job is to be customer-centric and it's very, very easy to trot out platitudes like that. In reality, what I think that means, it means unless you are the one handling the customer, what you mean is you are employee-centric, you're CSR-centric. You really want to make sure people feel empowered. People feel motivated to deliver this amazing service to the customer. So I tend to always err on the side of how would this make my team's life easier? How do I make it easier for these guys to serve our customers? And if I in the back of my mind can defend why I have done that to the CEO, if I can justify the cost benefit trade off in my head, I don't necessarily need the model to prove it out. Then I will always just err on the side of the CSR in order to err on the side of the customer. It is a rubric that hasn't really gone wrong for me in too catastrophic fashion yet.

Alexander Kvamme 19:42
Yeah. And at the end of the day, any plan is better than no plan or any framework is better than no framework, right? And so what you've done is you've created your center of gravity or the cohorts that you care about most. And you're filtering your decisions against that, which I think is super valuable. We've got a lot to cover, so let's kind of quick, let's move to Therabody in earnest. I'm really excited to chat with you about Therabody because I was doing a little bit of thinking, and intellectually it seems like a collision of all of the different challenges that CX leaders are encountering.

And I've got a list of them and let me know if I miss any but, rapid growth, obviously, growing very quickly. Rapidly expanding product lines. When I bought the Theragun, I hadn't been on the website in a few years. I went on this morning and I was shocked how many different products there were. Well obviously every single product, there's a huge support kind of burden there. It's hardware. God bless you. I'm a software guy. I will never do hardware, right? So you've got Supply chain 3PL issues. And it's complex hardware, right? You got chip shortage issues. You've got all this kind of stuff, right? Professional/prosumer users, so super high expectation of reliability and performance. So very exacting customers. The market, you guys are one of the early, if not the first enter into the market, but is becoming a competitive market, right? And so all those intangibles like brand and customer experience really matter. You've got an online presence and retail. So you've got multiple customer touchpoints. 60 countries and B2B. So a couple different go to market motions. You're in 60 countries. And then finally we're all dealing with this. The market is completely changing and we're in a once in a decade kind of market correction. So I just wanted to start there and recognize and maybe discuss. This is really the confluence of every kind of intellectual challenge in the CX organization. So I guess I'll just start as, how are the first couple of months going?

Richard Smith 22:07
It's been a ride, it's been a ride. Look, honestly, I knew what I was getting into at Therabody. And this is one of the reasons I ran to it. As I said, I consider myself a builder. That's what energizes me. That's what gets me excited. And part of a builder is getting to solve problems. I think back to Uber, I felt like I was solving problems that nobody else had to solve before. And that's an exhilarating idea. I get to do that all the time here at Therabody. And it's super, super exciting.

And yet it's hard. The days are long cause I'm also trying to get up to speed on the products, the company, how it's all structured, who the various stakeholders are. I've only been here eight weeks or so, so far, but it's a company that I really admire. It's a product that I love. I was a Therabody customer as well before I was an employee, as I was with Uber, which I think is really important. And the team that I'm working with are phenomenal. So all of that makes it so much easier, but it... I'm not bored, to answer your question, however. I'm definitely not bored.

Alexander Kvamme 23:25
So I want to get into those challenges although I do want to highlight one thing that we're hearing here. Just from a career kind of progression perspective is you weren't... I heard two really important things. One, you weren't searching out the role, you were searching out the responsibility and the impact. You weren't searching the title, you were searching out the kind of the responsibility and impact. And two, you work at companies where you truly believe and use the product.

Richard Smith 23:55
Yes.

Alexander Kvamme 23:56
And I think it's very tempting for us to get excited about the title and kind of say, oh, I can work at any company. I can support anything, but if you're going to answer 5,000 tickets or you're going to work nights and weekends to kind of figure this out and really put your effort in these things are roller coasters, right? And so when things are up and up it's all good, right? But do you have a bad day, bad week, bad month, bad quarter, we all have those. It's your belief in the company and in the mission and in serving your customers that really gets you through those tough times.

Richard Smith 24:34
And I think it also filters down to the team because you can't... I think authenticity is everything. You can't stand up in front of the team and tell them how excited you are, tell them how excited you are about this new product launch or whatever it's going to be. That's actually just going to mean a crap ton of work for them without sort of coming across as disingenuous if you don't have that sort of passion and enthusiasm for the product yourself.

Alexander Kvamme 25:02
Exactly. So of those challenges that I just listed, which ones are top of mind for you right now? What are the ones that you're trying to really solve and navigate?

Richard Smith 25:16
So one of the things that's sort of given me the most pause for thought is the changing economic conditions, because I think it's affecting so many people in the industry right now. It's putting a real break or a squeeze on all the plans that you may have been making everywhere else, because we see the tightening consumer expenditure. We see the shrinking budgets. Even if you're lucky enough to be in a company which is still experiencing terrific growth, you want to make sure that you are being sensible in how you approach economic slowdown so that you are not caught swimming naked as the tide goes out. So I'm trying to be responsible as to sort of how I approach decisions, but equally I don't want to compromise on that agent experience. I don't want to compromise on that customer experience. How do I do that? How do I do that when I want to be very prudent in how I'm spending money? That's a real difficult line to cross.

Alexander Kvamme 26:37
So I know everyone that we speak to is going through this challenge right now. Let's think out loud or I would love to kind of hear how you're actually thinking about solving it. Let's perhaps use a real world scenario right now, which is planning for peak holidays. Correct me if I'm wrong, but obviously anyone in kind of consumer goods, holidays is a big moment. But if you're in health or fitness, you've got holidays plus New Year resolutions, right? So it's like your double peak. How are you thinking about, and how should our listeners think about, planning for peak? But you've got this added wrinkle this year, which is you're probably not going to get all the head count that you wanted in the past, right? You're going to have to be more efficient and productive. How are you thinking about that strategy?

Richard Smith 27:38
Yeah. And the other thing to sort of throw into this mix as well, is that the comps that you're looking at coming off last year were very skewed because of the pandemic, where direct to consumer businesses were doing really well. But also you had all these supply chain issues, which were driving up customer contacts across the board. So how well can you rely on the comparisons from last year? So for me it's about building a ton of flexibility into the plan first and foremost. Clearly we are looking to get some flex staffing and the zone of tolerance on my forecasting may, instead of being say, plus minus 10% actually may be sort of plus minus 30% now. And I need to make sure that the vendors that I work with are aware of that and can accommodate that uncertainty.

Secondly, I'm looking to lean in more on technology. Like how do I automate more of these low value contacts quickly? And I'm always very nervous about over automation or excessive deflection when it comes to contacts, because as we've discussed I'm a big believer in having that customer contact yourself. Because only when you feel that customer pain, can you start to eliminate it. If you don't feel it because you've automated it away or you deflected away, you don't care about that contact, but the customer does. The customer still cares because they have to go fix it. So I've always sort of been nervous about too much automation, but we are going to have to sort of lean in, do more automation to give us the levers that we can pull to say, hey, it looks like we're at the upper end of our estimate. We need to pull that automation lever. And so given again, it's about sort of preserving that optionality for you.

Alexander Kvamme 29:41
This leads me into a question we always like to ask because there's always this... I'm inspired by this difference of you can ask someone what their priorities are, but then also you can just look at their calendar. And their calendar's going to show you what their real priorities are. I think in managing customer facing teams, I can ask you what your priorities are. I can also just look at your dashboard. What metrics are you managing against? And obviously data driven management is near and dear to our heart at Pathlight. So what are your priority metrics that you are managing?

And it's so interesting because every company thinks about things differently and they structure their metrics accordingly to their prioritization, right? And so kind of maybe following up on this idea of, hey, maybe I don't want to over automate deflection. I care about other things. What are those key metrics that you are managing at your level and that you want all the way down to the agent or the CSR to manage?

Richard Smith 30:47
Yeah. As unglamorous as it is, I have to care about cost. So first and foremost, am I spending the right percentage to sales? Are we bringing support in, within the envelope that I need to? Okay, fine. We've talked about cost. Okay. The metrics that I really care about, because that's a hygiene metric. The metrics I really care about are NPS or CSAT from my customers, ENPS from my employees, and defect rate. That's not contact rate, that's defect rate. So where are we causing pain and friction to our customers in the system that is ultimately manifesting in a support interaction, whether that's self-serve, deflected, automated, or agent serves. For me, defect rate is the biggest needle mover that you have to improve your business.

Because what you can do is you can increase your customer happiness, you can decrease your costs, but also you can then spend the money on those fewer contacts that remain, which are complex, which are harder to resolve, which are more moments of truth for customers, which are way more satisfying for agents to deal with. And if you are able to lean in and spend the money on them, you can create truly wow experiences for your customers. So for me, getting that defect rate down is such an important metric.

Equally, it mobilizes the whole business. It stops support as being this downstream activity, this mortician and embalmer of problems, to being the voice, the active voice of the customer in their room say, hey, don't design your packaging like that, do it like this because it's causing all of these defects to our customers. It's not clear. Make the nozzles screw on the other way, rather than that way. It's causing us a bunch of customer contact. Giving that sort of feedback just creates such a strong virtuous circle throughout the business, really elevates the role of customer service within any organization. So I am passionate about defect rates as a sort of motivating metric.

Alexander Kvamme 33:25
Super interesting. And let me just make sure I understand. So defect rate as you define it, or at least from my understanding, this is not something that a CSR can drive. This is a product driven metric.

Richard Smith 33:40
No, but it's something that a CX function or a CS function can drive. A CSR just has to handle the contact. But if I am a good customer service leader, I'm saying, what is the nature of contacts coming into this business? Why do we have to handle these contacts? Why can we not eliminate them up at the root cause? Yes, yes. You may want to have the customer self serve. Yes, you may want to try and deflect that contact. And those are like cheap drugs. Really you want to eliminate that defect at the root cause. And that's where I can add value to the rest of the business. By giving them that intelligence. Say, hey, you're causing our customers pain. Here's some tools to eliminate it.

Alexander Kvamme 34:28
And so the way you're measuring that is through some sort of categorization or tagging workflow in your tickets. You're then reporting on that to leadership, to product, to whatever that might be. And as you go to your boss and talk about the ROI of customer support and the value that they're getting for this investment in the customer support, not only can you point to a customer satisfaction metric, but you can also say, hey, the product is getting better and defect rate is going down. And that's very clear. That is a very clear both quantitative and qualitative impact on the business.

Richard Smith 35:07
Yeah. And right at the start. I said, look, I care about my cost as percentage of sales. What I actually care less about is my cost for contact, because if I'm doing defect reduction right, my cost for contact should be going up because I want to be able to lean in more on those moment of truth interactions. I want to be able to spend more on these complicated transactions. And of course that's so much more fun for the CSRs. And you can create some incredible customer experiences out of it.

Alexander Kvamme 35:38
That's really, really insightful. And honestly, something that I haven't heard that much, because normally what we hear from leaders is a focus on the metrics they feel like they can control at the CSR level, at the agent level, right? But also thinking of your ability to effect and impact the product at the top level, at the leadership level, it's really powerful. And it can really move the business forward and it allows CX to maintain and have a really important seat at the table strategically

So perhaps just to kind of make sure we like wrap up on the data driven side, my next question, you already kind of got into this is, what are the metrics that you don't care about? I think you mentioned kind of cost per contact, right? Are there any other metrics that you look at that maybe are taking that page out, your first principles thinking that, hey, it's a red herring or, hey, we shouldn't be optimizing towards this or, hey, there's an over focus on this in the industry?

Richard Smith 36:48
I don't like AHT (average handling time) as a metric because it drives the wrong behaviors completely. I wouldn't say I want to get rid of it because if you start to dig into AHT as a metric, you can identify some really interesting workflow problems. And this isn't agents spinning yarns with customers. It's why did it take so long for the agent to get access to the information? Why did it take so long for the call to get routed to the right person?

You can dig into your processes, but using it as a mechanism to manage frontline teams, I think is a little bit self-harming because all you end up is people just trying to get customers off the phone. And again, if you think about these as data points, what a wonderful opportunity to connect with a customer, to talk to a customer, to really understand them, to resolve this in one shot. If it takes a little bit longer, so be it. I would much rather the call didn't have to happen in the first place, to my defect reduction points. But if you do, let's treat these customers like humans, and let's also treat our agents not like robots.

Alexander Kvamme 38:12
Great. Yeah, yeah. It's one of those metrics where, hey, we're going to keep an eye on it, but we shouldn't be managing against it because of the behaviors it can incentivize. It makes sense. So in the time remaining, the last topic I want to talk about, it's something that you brought up in the beginning as kind of critically important, is agent empowerment, CSR empowerment. You really think about, hey, my path to customer satisfaction is through employee satisfaction and employee empowerment. So let's look at that holistically. What are the different elements of employee empowerment or the different kind of initiatives or products that our listeners should think about if they truly want to empower their front lines?

Richard Smith 39:04
So, first of all, I think the biggest piece of empowerment you can give agents is through knowledge. Make sure that you hire them well, that you train them well, that you give them access to good searchable knowledge bases, because there is nothing more paralyzing for an agent. And I know from when I was one that you just don't know the answer, you just don't know what to do. And it makes the job so much harder. So that's the first thing. The second thing is discretion. A lot of times, especially our experienced agents know what the right thing to do is. Do they have permission to do it? It chills me that we would have to think about it in terms of permission. Why do we have to sort of go to team leader, manager, whatever for approval, when we know what the answer is going to be? I would much rather delegate that decision making authority as close to the customer as possible so that we can just make it right for the customer.

Again, it's so much more satisfying for the agent, rather than say I'm sorry, I have to go check with my manager, da, da, da, I'll come back to you. Just give them the authority now with that comes, okay, we need to make sure the systems aren't being abused. But I would much rather do the checking on the back end than doing the checking on the front end. We build so many systems to avoid policy abuse from our customers. It makes no sense to me. Trust your customer. And for the 1% or less than 1%, that try to abuse it. Why punish everybody else? It's the same for agents. Trust our agents. There could be some bad apples in there. That's fine. We'll find them, we'll pluck it out and then we'll move on. But let's not make everyone else's jobs harder. Let's push as much empowerment as we can to the frontline and just make sure we got the mechanisms to monitor in place.

Alexander Kvamme 41:06
Something we talk about a lot, which is moving from command and control to trust and verify.

And yeah, perhaps there's a higher likelihood that there's going to be some ongoing kind of cost of that verification because there's just folks who are going to overstep in some way and you're going to have to correct. But the benefit both to your employee base, as it relates to productivity and retention, as well as the benefit to customer satisfaction, most importantly, vastly outweighs that minor costs you're incurring from those bad apples.

Richard Smith 41:42
Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately, you don't see that cost. You don't see the benefit until a little bit after you see the cost. So you need to take a leap of faith, but it's there.

Alexander Kvamme 41:52
Yeah. That's where you need to have faith because the cost is very visceral. It's very easy to see. It's people cheating you effectively, so it's painful. But you need to really kind of stay the course because the long term benefits, which are a little bit less apparent, especially in any moment in time, are certainly going to make that cost a worthwhile investment.

Richard Smith 42:16
But I don't think any customer service leader worth their salt gets too affected by people trying to rip them off. That's what we do. That's what we have to deal with.

Alexander Kvamme 42:31
So maybe the final question I'll ask is looking towards the future. Well, I'll make it a two part question. What are you looking at? Not in the next six months, but the next 18 to 24 months. What do you see on the horizon? Perhaps you're not acting on it now, but you have in the back of your mind, I need to start putting together a plan over the next, for these trends or these challenges that I see over a medium term horizon. And then the second part of that is same question, but how do you think about that from an employee retention perspective or just the general employee empowerment? But more generally, what are you looking at on the horizon that maybe our listeners should also be wary of?

Richard Smith 43:33
Yeah, so I see a couple of things. I think there's the obvious threat which we talked about: the worsening economic conditions. How long is that going to last? How do we make sure that our customer experience survives through it? That's very much front of mind for me in the medium term, I think. But for me, one of the things that I am on the positive side, on the opportunity side, one of the things I'm really excited about is how else can I use my team of agents to impact my business? And this is, again, getting out of this thinking that customer support is just this funnel where everything just sort of falls to the bottom and has to get handled by customer support.

How can I engage my teams more actively in say, presales activity? For a company like Therabody, which has this multitude of different products that can have this incredible benefit. How can we help people realize that benefit? How do we do that proactively? How could we facilitate building communities of like-minded users that actually does have a support benefit because they can help each other, but it also has a brand and community benefit because again, you're creating a much greater level of stickiness with the product because they feel like they're part of something. And this is all stuff that my team, that a scaled workforce can really add rocket fuel to. So that's some of the things that I have in the back of my mind. Whether I can act on them in the timeframe that I want to because of the economic pressure, I don't know, but it's certainly an opportunity that I see for the business where I am at the moment.

Alexander Kvamme 45:32
You've talked about this a couple of times, really inspirational your belief in the support organization's ability to impact the business, right? And I think, unfortunately, there are lots of companies who just see support as a cost center that's just necessary evil and it doesn't really impact the business. It puts out fires, effectively. And so I think that's a great kind of inspirational note to end on is this belief that the customer support organization can truly be a strategic partner and can move these businesses forward.

So, Richard, I know you've got other important things to do. All those challenges that we discussed before. I'm sure you've got three other meetings this afternoon that you got to talk about each one of those.

And so you've been super generous with your time. It's been great to chat with you. For our listeners, if you want to get in touch with Richard, please reach out on LinkedIn. If you're interested in Therabody products, and I highly recommend that you check them out, go to therabody.com. And if you want to learn about Pathlight, please go to pathlight.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. That's it for this episode of CXperts. Richard, I want to thank you again, and I hope everyone has a good day and we'll see you next time. Thanks, Richard.

Richard Smith 46:59
Thank you.

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