A Shared Mission to Make a Positive Impact

By: Execs In The Know

KIA Online Community Member Spotlight: Paul Brandt

Paul Brandt has a powerful vision for what it takes to provide an exceptional customer experience (CX). It starts with creating a superb internal experience — one rooted in both empowerment and accountability. Add to this a purpose-driven culture of empathy, engagement, and attention to detail, and Paul believes an organization has the right foundation to exceed expectations at every touchpoint.

In November, we sat down with Paul to discuss his thoughts on all things CX. A long-time veteran of the CX industry, Paul Brandt’s career has stretched across many industries with stops at some of the world’s most iconic brands. The conversation touched on a variety of topics including past experiences, the importance of a strong company culture, and Paul’s personal motivation, as well as that of his organization.

Currently, Paul serves as the Chief Experience Officer at Loanpal — a purpose-driven financial services company that helps customers achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.

EXECS IN THE KNOW (EITK): Paul, although you are new to Loanpal, you are not new to the role of CX leader. Can you talk about how you first got involved in the industry, your experiences, and how they have shaped your view of what CX success looks like?

PAUL BRANDT: By trade, I started my professional career as a systems engineer, designing and building applications and systems. The key to building a world-class system is to really nail the requirements and use those to build an amazing user experience. I was versed in various technologies and industries, but I became more entrenched in the systems underlying contact center infrastructure … things like telephony, Workforce Management, Knowledge Management, CRM tools, etc.

As I got further along in my career, I became aware of a specific trend. It seemed the primary focus of many organizations was meeting deadlines, and often at any cost. All too often, the deadlines were some arbitrary date, selected with no real sense of planning behind it. Regardless, these arbitrary dates were what drove decisions, like de-scoping requirements, etc. This usually meant that the end product was rolled out with a less-than-stellar user experience, and thus disappointed. Obviously, that was not ideal. So, I started to become more of a vocal advocate for not only better planning, but for ensuring the user experience was protected. This naturally led me into the broader CX world. Fast forward to now, and I’m more passionate about delivering an extraordinary CX than I’ve ever been!

Looking back, I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by so many incredible CX leaders and I’ve learned from all those experiences. What stands out to me is that regardless of the industry or brand, the basis for delivering an extraordinary customer experience is the same – treat others the way you want to be treated. I truly believe too many companies overthink it and make it much more complicated than it needs to be. We’re all customers in our everyday lives and I know how I want myself and my loved ones to be treated, so that should be the foundation for the CX we provide at Loanpal.

EITK: It’s clear that finding yourself at a purpose-driven organization is important. Why Loanpal? What is the mission, and why is it important to you?

PAUL BRANDT: I believe climate change is one of the biggest problems facing our planet — if not THE BIGGEST. It literally affects every living organism on Earth. No one is left untouched by its effects. Climate change is the great equalizer. It doesn’t care about economic class, race, age, nationality, gender, political affiliation, etc. We are all equally impacted.

The focus for Loanpal is the same as it has always been — to be a provider of solutions to the problem of global warming. One of the ways we do this is by making green technology (like solar power) more accessible to homeowners through innovative financing options. These activities enable us to tackle another serious issue facing the world — the availability of clean drinking water. In partnership with Givepower, Loanpal is changing lives by bringing access to clean drinking water to several developing regions around the world.

Ultimately, the scope of global climate change requires a set of solutions of equal size. For us, myself included, the next level is to continue to grow and scale so we can be a positive force on a grand scale.

EITK: When it comes to creating an exceptional experience for customers, which ingredients are essential from your perspective? What are some CX “must-haves,” and even some CX “nice-to-haves”?

PAUL BRANDT: For those interactions that are person-to-person, it starts with hiring the right people. Having the right attitude and shared values is so important. We can train anyone from a skills perspective for the tools and systems they’ll use, our internal policies and procedures, etc. It’s much more difficult to train for attitude.

For person-to-AI interactions, or self-service, it really needs to be easy and human-like. No one likes getting caught in “bot hell” with endless decision trees and circular answers. This also includes having the ability to easily and quickly access a live agent if needed.

I also believe you have to meet the customer on their terms, in their preferred channel. If you have a customer that prefers live chat, but you only offer phone service, then there’s a high probability that customer will look for a company that offers their preferred channel.

Finally, I would say prove to your customers that you value them! There are many ways of doing this, but one of the easiest, but often overlooked, ways is by personalizing your interactions with them. If you truly know your customers, then communicate with them on a personal level. No one likes standard form letters that start “Dear Customer.” All that does is show me that you don’t value me.

EITK: Can you talk a little bit about how this translates into Loanpal’s company culture?

PAUL BRANDT: To me, culture is critical. I’m a huge believer that one of the differences between an average, good, and a great company is the underlying culture. From my perspective, this goes back to what we were talking about with regards to the CX — starting with how people are treated. Same goes from a culture perspective. It’s the internal shared values of a group, collectively coming together for one mission, one set of goals, and how we treat each other to get there. I think it’s absolutely critical to invest in our culture by making sure we’re growing our culture the right way and that we’re holding each other accountable, including our leadership.

EITK: Can you describe your team structure and how you bring Loanpal culture to a remote workforce?

PAUL BRANDT: My team consists of roughly 100 people and growing. We were very much an office-based organization. Now people are allowed to go in the office if they want to (with some constraints), and we do some in-office onboarding. But the vast majority of my team is working from home.

Going to a Zoom-based, virtual environment was not natural for a lot of our folks. One of the things we tried to do is be very intentional about what folks miss in an office environment. We didn’t want to lose the interactions our folks were used to (and liked) at the office, so we made sure to bring these things into our virtual environment. Those human interactions — the “watercooler moments” in the breakroom, the flybys of someone’s desk, etc. — are a lot harder to do over Zoom. But some of the things we do is schedule “non-meetings” … things like fun activities and talking about things not necessarily work-related. We have themes as well, maybe a theme where everyone wears a favorite hat, or where everyone brings a favorite mug.

EITK: As someone who believes an extraordinary CX begins with an extraordinary Employee Experience, how does your team go about creating extraordinary experiences for Loanpal employees?

PAUL BRANDT: It goes back to our mission. Loanpal is the leading financial world-positive lender tech company, where we provide financing options for those who dream of living a more sustainable lifestyle. This collective mission of making a positive impact on our planet is shared by all Loanpal team members. It’s something we all rally around and it drives everything we do. An example of how this comes to life at Loanpal is that we allow Team Members to participate in treks with the nonprofit foundation, GivePower. The work they do is really amazing, installing solar and solar-powered clean water systems for communities in need around the world. Employees have helped install these systems all over Africa, Nepal, Haiti, Ecuador, and more. Seeing the difference electricity and clean drinking water make for a community in need is a life changing event.

EITK: This past year saw a deluge of urgent initiatives in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Aside from the obvious shift to work-from-home (WFH), which projects do you think warranted the most urgency, and have had (or will have) the most positive impact on the
customer experience?

PAUL BRANDT:

You’re right on the most obvious being WFH, but I don’t think this should be overlooked. Before COVID-19, many companies were skeptical of going to a WFH environment but have since been forced to go down this path. For us and many others, the shift to WFH has been, by just about every measure, a resounding success. One of the benefits is that it allows companies to expand their talent pool by no longer being tied to a specific geography or office location.

From a CX perspective, it’s allowed companies to really shine and show that they are still there to serve their customers. Everyone has been affected, so having that reassurance is something many people need.

This pandemic has also forced many companies to completely re-evaluate internal procedures and think through how to streamline and eliminate unneeded bureaucracy, among other things. In many cases, companies needed to do this to simply survive.

All that said, we have some new and exciting initiatives to announce, but I can’t exactly say what those are right now. We’re very excited to share these in the first quarter of next year, so stay tuned.

EITK: As a self-proclaimed “CX Junkie,” what gets you most excited about this line of work, and what do you look forward to most in your day-to-day?

PAUL BRANDT: It goes back to what we talked about earlier — the human interaction and being empathetic. I love when we’re able to solve a complex issue for a customer and you can hear the gratitude in their voice. This give me a great feeling, knowing that we served them and made them feel valued and happy. Those are the feelings I appreciate as a customer, so being able to recreate those feelings really charges me up!

EITK: You have been involved in the EITK community for some time. Not only are you an active contributor to the Know It All (KIA) online community, but you also sit on the EITK Corporate Advisory Board. Can you share what your involvement means to you, and what sort of influence has it had on your approach to CX?

PAUL BRANDT: Yes! I love the EITK KIA community and being able to sit on the board. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn and continue to grow. There are so many amazingly smart people to provide help, expert insights, and advice. It’s been an immense source of support for me. I know that whenever I’m stuck or need help, I can always lean on the KIA community, or my fellow Corporate Advisory Board members.

“I love the EITK KIA community and being able to sit on the board. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn and continue to grow. “

And I realize we’re not quite back there yet, but I should also mention the live events, starting with what are always amazing speakers. They all have such great backgrounds and are so willing to share. Whatever the topic might be, I always learn something of value. But what’s also of tremendous value are the small breakout sessions, often about very specific topics. Underlying all this is the energy you find at an EITK event. They are high energy events where everyone shares a common passion — delivering an extraordinary CX. I can’t wait to get back soon (fingers crossed).

 

Thank you to Paul Brandt, Chief Experience Officer at Loanpal, for his leadership, participation, and insights. To connect with Paul, 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. LEARN MORE.

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