interviews

Helen Shaw

Elyssa Macfarlane
Helen Shaw

To be honest, I can’t recall how Helen and I initially connected- but I know we somehow wound up following each other on Instagram while she was still working for one of the many start ups here in Vancouver. Through social media I saw that she was always doing amazing and creative things, getting featured on the Pantone IG account, giving talks at Google, providing meaningful advocacy for women in tech…but most of all she was so thoughtful with her aesthetic and everything that she externalized to the world, I loved her brand. Helen and I chatted a few times before meeting for coffee and, when I saw that she had left her role at her initial company to start her own thing, I knew on an intuitive level that I wanted to interview her for Meditations on Tech. Walking into the meeting, I had a preconceived notion that her interview would focus on how the tech industry helped shape her artistic direction, and whatever else it might have contributed to her starting her own business. Obviously I was wrong. Within a few minutes we were yammering away about sales, customer engagement, and how too many tech companies aren’t living up to their full CX expectations. I found this revolutionary since I typically I hate articles about customer service and sales simply because they’re either way too fluffy (yes- we all know customer service is at the heart of the business and of the utmost priority, bluhhhhhh) or, they’re just plain and outdated and boring. I hadn’t imagined I’d put an interview on MoT that was focussed on this topic. With that said, I hope you can enjoy these snippets of insights and discussions from Helen the same way I was able to enjoy discussing them with her over an hour and a couple of lattes.

Interview

Tell me about yourself and your background in the tech industry.

I fell into tech four years ago. I wanted to experience life in a startup, so I joined Unbounce, a marketing software company headquartered here in Vancouver. By the time I left Unbounce, I managed the company’s 50 largest advertising agency accounts (NA and APAC) and was partnering with Google on events like their first Canadian Mobile Hackathon, which I co-hosted over in Toronto last fall. Now I run my own business, splitting my time between art direction and CX consulting.

We recently discussed how businesses are moving towards the subscription model for services as opposed to providing a lump sum price and deliverable, such as in the case of Adobe’s product offerings. Do you think this trend will continue, and what will be the impact from a customer retention stand point?

The trend will definitely continue. Year over year, a third more companies are using SaaS technology and almost a half of US businesses rely exclusively on SaaS platforms. You asked about impact on retention. With SaaS, trying a new tech solution is easier, but this also means leaving a tech solution is easier! The tendency in SaaS is toward churn, but it can cost up to 25 times as much to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one so it just makes good business sense to focus on retaining existing customers. Good SaaS solutions result in an elevated customer experience for the end user.

How has your time in the tech industry shaped your overall business practice and perspective?

Above all else, working in tech taught me to take an iterative approach to projects and ideas. At Unbounce, we called this “baking a cupcake before building a wedding cake”. While a big, fantastic end result may be the ultimate goal, often a much smaller, simpler version of an idea can serve your purpose just as well. “Perfection” is the enemy of “done”.

I know I’ve held roles in both customer service and sales jobs- as have you- and I know I find customer service infinitely more difficult in that it’s the front line, you’re dealing with calls. What do you feel is the biggest differentiator between these types of roles and what they bring to the business?

Think of the customer journey as if it were a romantic relationship.

Marketing is like dating. Lures are put out. The customer is attracted. Expectations mount.

Sales handles the wedding: agreements are signed, promises made, and expectations form that will set the tone for the rest of the relationship.

Customer Success is the rest of the relationship.

Tasked with ensuring the health and longevity of accounts from close of sale onward, Customer Success teams maintain the expectations set up by sales and marketing, as well as air traffic control issues that arise. On top of this, in companies like Unbounce, Customer Success teams manage the upsell and renewal of accounts. CS owns the customer relationship in a very permanent way.

We hear so much about how important good customer service is. Why do you think, when it comes time to act, so many businesses struggle to implement meaningful practices that go beyond sitting someone down to retroactively receive calls and read off a script as they deal with a customer’s issue?

Customer care is still an afterthought for some companies: just another cost of doing business. This isn’t helped by the fact that as consumers, most of us are shockingly accustomed to mediocre experiences. Good experiences inspire Facebook posts, blog posts, even TV shows, when they should be normal. Isn’t that wild??
I believe businesses fail to implement meaningful practices because of two things: a lack of trust and a lack of empowerment. Companies would do well to remember the type of person who is drawn to customer-centric roles tends to be an empathetic problem solver by nature. Often, though, those people find themselves on too short a leash, or worse yet, with a script in their hands. By providing CS teams with the power to make executive decisions around what is best for their customers, issues can be resolved faster, and customers walk away happier.