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Cordless interview series: 29 august 2023

Heather Evans
Head of Client Experience
at Jacada Travel

In this episode of Cordless Interview Series, Heather Evans - Head of Client Experience at Jacada Travel discusses the significance of listening as a crucial skill for customer service success. By understanding the unique needs and concerns of each client, her team is able to pass on valuable insights to the product team and the rest of the business.

Prefer to read? Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Luba: [00:00:02] Hello, this is Cordless Interview Series where we talk with Customer Support Leaders about the best practices and trends in the industry. And today I'm very pleased to introduce Heather Evans, Head of Client Experience at Jacada Travel. Welcome, and thanks for joining me today.

Heather: [00:00:20] Thanks! I'm very pleased to be here, Luba. Thanks for inviting me.

Luba: [00:00:22] Thank you! Um, just to kick us off, could you please introduce yourself and say a couple of words about your career so far?

Heather: [00:00:30] Yes. So I'm Heather and I'm Head of Client Experience at Jacada Travel, which means that I'm in charge of most of the post-sale process, everything leading up to travel and afterwards as well. And I'm in charge of all the concierge teams and the loyalty team as well. So my career so far as a student, I worked for STA Travel, which was not necessarily a career choice, but it meant I could, uh, yeah, talk to people about travel all day long and was the President of the Travel Society as well, which was quite cool. And then straight into London when my career began, I worked in recruitment, but still that was for international jobs. So still people were travelling and it was still kind of related enough. And then I started to work for Flight Centre in a couple of different roles, and in there that was in their flagship branch in High Street, Kensington, and I've been working for Jacada for five years. But I always say that really my role in hospitality began when I was about 15 and I used to clean hotel rooms for £3.50 an hour. So yeah, it's been a long, long career.

Luba: [00:01:35] Hey, thank you. Thank you for sharing this. So I guess given all of that, what do you think is the most important thing to make customer service a success?

Heather: [00:01:44] I think it's quite a boring and maybe predictable answer, but I honestly think just listening because even if you're doing the same thing day in and day out, it is what a client actually is going to make them really happy. They are going to tell you what it is and it could be different for every single person. So really listening, the listening skill is the most important skill. And honestly, for us, like your unhappiest client can become your biggest cheerleader. But that's only really true if when they are your angriest client, you give them the space to vent and you listen to them and you bring out absolutely everything that they want to say first. And then you take note of that and then you move on to solutions. So yeah, I think to be a really amazing kind of customer expert, you've got to be a good listener.

Luba: [00:02:26] Yeah, makes sense. Makes sense. I mean, you mentioned that. I mean, most of the time customers come to you with problems and feedback and issues. How do you pass on these insights to your product team or the rest of the business?

Heather: [00:02:40] Yeah, that's a good question. It can be tricky, but it's super, super important. So for us, we do it in two different ways. We sort of do it anecdotally every single what we call a welcome home call. All of that information gets passed to the relevant people and it gets discussed in team meetings. And for me, I always say that the nice stuff is great, but the things that weren't perfect are a lot more useful. And then also we do track trends and things as well. So we're moving CRMs pretty soon, which is very exciting and that is going to make it a lot easier for us to track all of the feedback. And again, like the happy stuff is great, but it's the things where things, places where things go wrong is a lot more interesting. And that's what we need to kind of dig out and work on. So yeah, the product team is going to be helping with a lot of that.

Luba: [00:03:23] What kind of process do you run? Like have weekly meetings with the product team or how do you?

Heather: [00:03:29] So we have four regions just last week, five regions which guess it's kind of continents, we call them regions. So we just launched Middle East, which is really exciting and we split our product into different regions because and they each of the product managers and their teams works on different projects at different times because you can't actually always apply one, you know, it's not always urgent one thing compared to another. But in an Asia Pacific team at the moment, for example, we're doing a big product overhaul. So there's a giant spreadsheet that's so ugly that we need to look at. And because when you're kind of having that welcome home call with a client, you're just putting down every single thing because every single bit of that feedback is so important. And it's, yeah, mine in the Asia Pacific Product team's job to kind of go through that and pick out the good thing and kind of spot the trends. But yeah, moving on to the different CRM will make that a lot more smooth, I think. Yeah. So we don't have weekly product meeting. I mean there is obviously a weekly product meeting, but that isn't about feedback because the feedback is more important for the sales people who we call our travel design team and the concierge team and operations as well, to be honest to hear, because they are really like on the kind of front line and they might pick up the fact that like, Oh, actually this different client is going to the same restaurant and things like that.

Heather: [00:04:42] So with restaurants, for example, we also everything has a spreadsheet, right? We have a big spreadsheet for that as well. And as soon it's kind of like a three strikes and you're out rule. So recommending restaurants, especially in Italy, for example, the restaurants that are the most like local, authentic, the best food are typically the worst at forgetting to actually reserve a table. Even if you call you email, you get that you get the hotel to call an Italian, you ring them on the day before your clients will get there expecting the best meal of their lives. And there's no reservation. Even though we did everything we could from London or Switzerland or wherever the concierge is. And so then that helps because we obviously note that feedback down. And then when you recommend it to the next client, you say it could be the best bowl of pasta you've ever eaten, or there could be no table. Even though we've done everything. Here's three other places in the local area. What do you think? So, yeah. Guess the short answer is a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of communication within the team. Very quickly.

Luba: [00:05:39] Yeah, makes sense. Makes sense. Guess when you're launching a new product that's. That always starts with an ugly spreadsheet and then, yeah, exactly.

Heather: [00:05:46] Yeah. Yes. But that's why we spend a lot of money on CRM because maybe those things will get better. Yeah.

Luba: [00:05:51] Yeah. Makes sense.

Luba: [00:05:53] Yes. With a large team it can be quite hard to maintain the quality of support. How do you manage that and how do you make sure that you maintain consistency?

Heather: [00:06:03] Yeah, that is tricky. And I think one of our biggest challenges at the moment is how quickly we are growing, which is obviously very exciting but is quite difficult as well. The way that we're kind of handling consistency of service in the teams is to make sure that managers only have a small number of people to manage. So it's important that people get the support because with travel, even though you can be sending people to the same countries over and over again, all of our itineraries are bespoke. All of our clients are high-end clients and every single trip is genuinely a little bit different or very different. So people knock against different challenges all the time. And to have the support of a manager who knows what's going on with you and who knows what they're doing and can offer that support is really important. So that definitely helps with consistency. And then another thing as well that we make sure happens all the time is research trips. So that's always really important in the travel industry in general. But for us, again, with the feedback, it's just really important to actually get out there and see what's going on to kind of cultivate connections with the hotels and with the destination management companies, but also to make sure that that kind of consistent on the ground service is happening. We need to see it with our own eyes so we can endorse it. So that helps a lot as well.

Luba: [00:07:16] Yeah.

Luba: [00:07:16] Got it. Okay. Um, so these days everyone is talking about AI and ChatGPT. What do you think about this? Are you thinking about running some kind of experiments at Jacada Travel or anything really?

Heather: [00:07:31] I don't. Yeah. What am I thinking? This is such a great question. I've done a bit of kind of research because I'm so curious. I know that like Expedia, they're using it and other kinds of companies are using it as well. But we are at the moment definitely not using it. So the luxuryness that comes with Jacada is the human-to-human experience. And that's why we have not just the travel designer and then like a backup person, you have your travel designer and your concierge who equally both are focused on your trip and are both people who are well travelled and can speak many languages and know what they're doing. It's not you know, it's two people who are fantastic. And so we don't need ChatGPT in that sense, um, because we have people who are great, but it is interesting to use it. I definitely use it to avoid that. Like, you know, when you have just a blank page in front of you and you just think, I don't even know how to start this email or this project or whatever, I will use ChatGPT just to kind of get my like off the starting line and then whatever I write will be different.

Heather: [00:08:28] But yeah, we're not looking at using it for anything client interactive at the moment and we're definitely not going into like live chat, um, you know, using ChatGPT or texting or emails using ChatGPT whatsoever. There's lots of things, to be honest, that we already could automate that we choose not to. So, for example, we take a deposit and then a balance payment and other companies that are similar will just take the balance automatically because you know, what dates do you know how much is due, you know who to email, blah, blah, blah, blah. But even then, we don't automate that. A concierge will get reminded of that and then we will ask, you know, they will write a genuine email as well because that's kind of the service that we want to offer. So I'm not going to say never, but definitely never direct from ChatGPT to client-facing, there will always be someone in the middle.

Luba: [00:09:13] Now. Yeah, I think I'm sure I'm sure your customers really appreciate this kind of approach and support where it's very.

Heather: [00:09:19] But the thing is, ChatGPT is getting so clever. Well, will people even realize? So like for 2023? No, but I mean, will people even realize in the sense that like, are you right? Our customers really, really appreciate it. But then if other people are doing it really, really well, are they going to be able to tell the difference? I think so. But I'm not going to claim to be more intelligent than they are. So guess we'll see.

Luba: [00:09:44] Yeah.

Luba: [00:09:46] Yeah. It's very interesting to see how it will all evolve in a couple of years because it seems to be progressing super quickly.

Luba: [00:09:52] So yeah.

Heather: [00:09:53] I think already with technology we've kind of come full circle and luxury used to mean technology, but now luxury means human again because everyone has such easy access. Not everyone, but people. The kind of clients that we have have such easy access to automated things that to actually have a real human being is a luxury. And so hopefully that loop will happen again. We'll see.

Luba: [00:10:12] Yeah, no, definitely agree. Um, what is your biggest challenge right now? What keeps you awake at night?

Heather: [00:10:20] Great question. Um, definitely the growth. Yeah, because we have such good retention, like amazing staff retention at Jacada and we have lots of perks and everyone kind of really loves working with each other. But the thing with growth is that there are people who have been in their roles now for even like two and a half years who are so amazing and so cool and we want to utilize them, but it's difficult to have people who are really amazing at every level while we're growing so quickly. And I want to make sure that so what I was doing, I wouldn't say it keeps me up at night, but what I was doing late on Friday night when I should have been at the pub was the hiring plan for 2024 and trying to predict what staffing we're going to need. But while also thinking about the learning and development of the team, because there's just so much work going on that we need to nurture every individual to make them better and then, you know, maybe they'll get better and then they'll leave or they'll get better and their stay and like, that's fine. But the growth, while also being able to nurture the team that we have is really difficult. We've had onboarding at Jacada almost every single month this year, which is crazy. So there's new people every month. So we need to make sure that the people who are here are super happy and excited about their careers while also still kind of having that progress. So yeah, guess balancing those two things is challenging. Yeah.

Luba: [00:11:41] Yeah. That sounds really tough. Yeah. Onboarding every month for sure.

Luba: [00:11:44] I know.

Heather: [00:11:46] And I always think like all of us on the senior team, we want to make sure that we're involved and we have face time with the new people and all the rest of it. But it's like it's just, yeah, it's a lot of every single month and it's the same training every single month, so it gets a little dry.

Luba: [00:12:00] Sure.

Luba: [00:12:00] I guess one follow-up question on this one. Given that you're so bespoke and you have it's not like you use canned responses for a lot of customer interactions. How do you manage that onboarding and especially at that kind of scale?

Heather: [00:12:14] It's tricky. Yeah, it's really tricky. I mean, honestly, in for concierge teams, for example, what we do is we reframe the assistance as training. So it's like, okay, so this is what, you know, this is what we would say about travel insurance, for example. And so for you to kind of embed this into your knowledge and for you to learn about this, here's a couple of emails about insurance that need answering this week. So we use the new people to help us do our work and then also kind of train them. So it's like you get taught about something and then you do one and then you can do one kind of by yourself. So we try and marry those two things together and there's also a lot of shadowing. So my team is completely remote. In September there'll be 20 concierges, but there are none of them are in the UK whatsoever over kind of for just turning into five teams. So shadowing is just basically being on Google Meet, but it's also really important to spend a lot of time with those people to make sure that they are feeling comfortable with Jacada and with the company culture. So really, that's kind of you want to use all of the hours wisely, but it can't just be lecturing and learning all the time. It can mostly just be like chatting while you're doing your work and then be like, Oh, this is why I'm doing this and this is why I'm doing this as well. But yeah, you're right in that it's tricky.

Luba: [00:13:27] Do you have any, given that you're managing such a remote and distributed team, do you have any advice for other Customer Support Leaders who are managing remote teams because I guess it's a fairly new phenomenon as well.

Luba: [00:13:38] Yeah.

Heather: [00:13:39] Definitely. Um, what would my advice be? That's a good question. Honestly, it is to spend the time to befriend and to cultivate connections that are not around work with people. And sometimes you have to be strict about that and say, okay, this meeting is the meeting. And then we also this is the like coffee catch up thing. And you really have to structure it because people won't do it otherwise. And even if that kind of peters out and it doesn't become like once a week or whatever, and it does feel it can be feel a bit like school or whatever to like make friends with people on purpose. It makes a huge difference because then even if you've had to do that a few times, then you will go to that person with like your silly question or you'll say to them something that you may not have said otherwise. So that's really important. And also the other thing that's important is to have small teams or at least small cohorts that are working on things together. Because if you have a huge team or even a huge meeting, no one will speak apart from the speaker and maybe the one like the really confident person who speaks up and you'll just get into the habit of that. So it's really important to have small meetings and to be able to spend the time bonding as opposed to just working together.

Heather: [00:14:49] So and it doesn't have to be in teams necessarily either. So people have like different interests or whatever. Then we want to encourage those things. And you also really have to lead by example as well. So even though it's really cheesy, if you're on Slack, like send a picture of your lunch, like send a picture if you're working remotely, you know, do you have to put yourself out there and people will mirror because you can't just say to people, Tell me about your day if you're not going to do the same back. But it's really tricky. And I would love kind of yeah, I would love to kind of hear other leaders kind of tips as well because yeah, it is very tricky. But we are I'm really proud of how we do it actually. So we had an engagement survey recently and in my team and the marketing team, both of whom are quite remote teams, one of the things that was rated most highly was co-worker relationships on one of the categories, but it was rated almost as highly as it could be, which for a completely remote team of people who have never met or met once. That's really amazing. So yeah, we're definitely doing well.

Luba: [00:15:49] Yeah, that sounds great. Okay. Um. Final question, can you tell me about a company that's whose customer service you really admire and why?

Heather: [00:16:02] Yes. So I really love Monzo, the bank. And when I was at a customer experience event last year, I think I told the woman who was there that I was a fan girl, which is embarrassing, but they're such a cool company because they think of all different kinds of channels for their customers to speak to them, like live chat or, you know, videos or, I don't know, Twitter, things like that. Just and there seem a lot more kind of open than other other companies. Like for me as a client, I really appreciate that. And also they try to they put a lot of effort into like demystifying the banking world and kind of taking down barriers for people who might not be able to, you know, understand the legal jargon and things like that. And they have a whole team about communication and writing. And that team works on client-facing stuff, internal stuff like, you know, the social media, blah, blah, blah. And I think that that is really great because accessibility is really important. And I think to kind of have a whole team and put so much kind of research and resource and money into that, it's really impressive. And yeah, I would consider myself a very happy customer of Monzo. So that's why. Yeah.

Luba: [00:17:11] Amazing!

Luba: [00:17:11] Well, thank you so much! Thanks so much for joining me today! That's it!

Heather: [00:17:15] No worries. Thanks!
Luba Chudnovets
Co-Founder and CEO