CX Insight Magazine

April 2024

Anticipating Customer Needs and Creating Experiences That Give Them What They Want Before They Ask for It

KIA Online Community Member Spotlight: Amber Fogel

Amber is an innovative collaborator and creator with experience building teams, forming and scaling L&D and customer success programs from the ground up, and driving operational excellence through targeted training, learning, and development. With almost 20 years of experience, her career has spanned various sectors, including travel, retail, and automotive. Most recently, she served in a dual capacity as a team leader of Operational Training and project lead for HR alignment and mentorship initiatives at Vroom Automotive.

Execs In The Know (EITK): What are the key drivers of delivering exceptional customer experience, from your perspective?

Amber Fogel: I think there are two things:

#1: Know your customer. Put succinctly: have the right data in the right place at the right time. The more insight you can glean from your customers’ activity with your product or service, the better you can anticipate their needs and create experiences that give them what they want before they ask for it. The more effort a customer must put into engaging with you, the less likely they will be loyal in the long run.

#2: Mobilize your teams with the right information and a service mindset. Service teams must have easy access to customer data to see customers’ full profiles and experiences with your business, highlight wins, and anticipate pain points. Access to knowledge tools and the decision-making authority to remove pain points is also key for service teams. Combining these tools with a value-driven, customer-focused approach is a winning combination for exceptional service.

EITK: Can you share an example of when you had to innovate to solve a leadership challenge, particularly in building or training a team?

Amber: My most recent and biggest challenge as a leader was restructuring my team after layoffs. From my experience, you are often left with fewer people to do the same amount of work. I come from an operations background, and I learned early on that to weather interruptions like this, you must have strong project management, backup team members for all key functions your team handles, and current, documented standard operating procedures for key tasks and projects.

  • I recommend using a project management tool shared by the team that tracks who is assigned what and all the notes/documentation and info for a task in one place. (Asana is my go-to tool). This will allow you to easily reassign work to your current team members and provide the context they need to get aligned and move on it quickly.
  • I ensure that there is a primary owner for tasks and a backup so that if the primary owner is out or released, the backup can take over.
  • For any key function or project that my team manages, I ask that the primary owner create an SOP document, job aid, or manual outlining how the work is done. This ensures that we have a resource to train others or explain our process to stakeholders.

Once you take a look at what work is still assigned and to whom, you can re-prioritize and set expectations with your stakeholders.

EITK: Drawing from your experience, how do you align team training and development programs with the evolving voice of the customer? Can you share a specific instance where this alignment significantly improved customer satisfaction or business outcomes?

Amber: I like to think of the VOC, QA, and Training areas as a cyclical system. The VOC feedback tells you what your customers need from you and what they expect. Your QA standards are then built off that feedback (and also off operational requirements). The training programs then set the agents up for success by showing them the QA standards they will be held to and how to meet them. If VOC data is continuously analyzed by both the quality and training teams, it gets incorporated into the standards and training continuously. This way all of these areas are constantly in sync.

Early in my tenure at Vroom, our Knowledge Base was in its infancy with a short list of responses and some redundancies. We recognized from our audits and VOC feedback that different agents were giving very different answers to the same questions, or they couldn’t find the answers at all. The training and QA teams held focus groups with agents and the QA auditors to find out the most frequently asked questions and worked with SMEs to validate the correct answers. We implemented a centralized, consolidated, and formalized Knowledge Base within the CRM and held training sessions to re-introduce agents to the tool and its benefits. The primary quantitative outcome was a 40% reduction in handle time over two months. Qualitatively, the agents and auditors were grateful for a more useful and consistent tool.

EITK: How do you prioritize and tackle performance gaps within teams or processes, especially in fast-paced environments like those you’ve worked in across travel, retail, and automotive sectors?

Amber: Classic needs assessment from the ADDIE model of curriculum development! LOL. The A is Analysis, and the key question is: What is causing the gap? Is it will, skill, or knowledge? If it’s a will, that’s not a training issue; it’s a culture issue that needs to be surfaced to leadership so change management processes can be implemented to alter the perception of the work. If it’s skill or knowledge, training/learning can help to bridge the gap. A caveat here is tools – if the tools are poor or outdated, that can create a performance gap of a different kind, but it can show up as lack of “will” because agents don’t want to use it. Prioritization usually comes down to the performance gap’s overall impact to the business and how fixing it will get us closer to achieving strategic goals.

EITK: With your experience in scaling learning and development (L&D) and customer success programs, what key factors do you consider when identifying areas for operational improvement and efficiency?

Amber: Study your KPIs. It would be a huge miss to identify a metric as important, rearrange tools and resources around it, and then determine that metric isn’t that critical after all. Know what you’re measuring and then identify what success looks like for that metric. If a number isn’t where you want it to be, that’s where you should put your attention.

From there, a needs assessment is a useful tactic. Again, is it will, skill, knowledge, or tools that negatively impact the process? The answer to that can help you determine what kind of change management approach to apply overall, what training may be required, and what tools and resources need to be re-evaluated.

EITK: As someone passionate about positive transformation and mentorship, how do you approach mentoring emerging leaders? Can you share a success story?

Amber: When mentoring others, I try to ask the right questions to determine how the mentee wants to grow or improve. I encourage them to verbalize it so they can “own it.” We will also try to define what success looks like to them, so we know what we are aiming for. Then we work together to explore ways they can practice that skill or attribute. Usually, there is a current project they can apply this to, but if not, we will find a way to practice it as a pair – I’ll give an assignment or lead a role play. As the mentorship progresses, I’ll do check-ins with specific questions to gauge how they are feeling about the direction they are going.

I’ve found that project management is not widely taught to younger workers, but I feel like it’s a critical skill for anyone to have. For those on my team who didn’t have this experience, I would require that they demonstrate specific project management steps as part of their tasks. They had a lot of freedom to run their project their way, but I wanted to instill the fundamental steps as their foundation. This proved to be extremely beneficial for them and our team, and we became reputable for our transparency, planning, and execution of projects generally.

EITK: Most of us can look back and remember less-than-ideal customer experiences. However, even more memorable are those times when a company’s customer service exceeds our expectations—even delights us. What has been your most delightful customer experience to date?

Amber: My most recent delightful experience was at Lowe’s – the hardware store. I was buying flooring for a friend; he renovates houses in Southern Ohio. He found a great deal on some specific material in Columbus via the store’s website and asked me if I could pick it up for him before it sold out. I went to the store location in question, but I couldn’t find the material. The flooring representative, Jesse, spent a good 20 minutes with me trying to determine if they had it in stock. It turns out it was listed as “staged” in their internal inventory, and they were getting ready to send it back to the manufacturer as it was being phased out, hence the low price. (This is an example of the importance of having the right data in the right place at the right time.) Jesse could have left it at that, but he called two other stores and found the same flooring marked for sale at an even lower price. The flooring representative at the other store, Casey, offered to pull the product and have it waiting when I arrived. They both took the initiative to research as far as they could to get to a solution and make it easy for me to get what I need.

EITK: Even the most successful and productive leaders prioritize outside interests and passions. How do you prefer to spend your leisure time?

Amber: My son is running track this season, so my Saturdays are spent watching and cheering him on. I am a formally trained artist, and I like to tinker around with making collages or coloring detailed adult coloring book pages. I also love to read. I read a variety of newsletters related to Learning and Development or Organizational Leadership, but I also love books about business, leadership, and personal development. (My top three are: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, Atomic Habits, and Four Thousand Weeks). For exercise, I do weight training and take daily walks. I listen to podcasts on my walks, and those are usually a combination of business news and “brain candy.” My favorite podcasts are Pivot, The Jordan Harbinger Show (especially his Feedback Friday episodes), and whatever current true crime story gets a podcast.

EITK: What are the three key qualities of leaders who inspire you?

Amber: Transparency, self-awareness, and an outward mindset.  Being transparent in a respectful way leads to trust, which is the foundation of all healthy relationships. Self-aware leaders exhibit an authenticity that reassures you that their decisions are sound and not based on an inaccurate picture of their role in any given situation. The quality of the outward mindset is one of the best takeaways from my time at Vroom. This comes from The Arbinger Institute’s course, “Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset,” a company-wide leadership training I and others facilitated. To have an outward mindset in this context means seeing that other people matter like you matter, considering their needs, challenges, and objectives, and focusing on collective results. Wrapped up in this are empathy, openness to feedback, listening intently, and recognizing that we are all better when we work as a team.

EITK: Can you share how your involvement in Execs In The Know and the KIA Online community has created value for yourself and/or your organization?

Amber: Both have been excellent resources to get insight into common questions that come up for service teams. What tools are the best to use for a given need? What can I do to address X evolving technology or trend? The folks that make up the community are so graciously willing to offer advice and direction! Inclusion in the community has helped me expand my network to aid in my job search and to learn more about the areas where I want to develop my skills. I haven’t been able to attend an in-person function yet, and I’ve only scratched the surface with the amount of resources on the website. I’m looking forward to exploring more!

EITK: Is there anything else you want to share with our corporate CX leadership community?

Amber: I would say keep up the great work of supporting the community and spreading knowledge! Our human connectedness is what will get us through anything the world can throw at us. I’m grateful to be here with you all to share the experience!

Thank you to Amber Fogel for her leadership, participation, and insights.

To connect with Amber, or to participate in the wider conversation, consider joining the Execs In The Know “Know It All” (KIA) Community. The KIA Community is a private, online community designed exclusively for CX Leaders at consumer-facing brands. Come learn, share, network, and engage to innovate.

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