CX Insight Magazine

October 2022

Better Vacation Rental Experiences For Everyone

KIA Online Community Member Spotlight: Sheila Knight-Fields


Sheila brings more than 20 years of expertise leading people to provide five-star customer experiences. She is recognized for helping businesses rethink customer service, enhancing team member experiences, and driving workforce optimization. As the Director of Guest Experience at Evolve, it comes as no surprise that Sheila is onboard when it comes to shaking up the status quo and making vacation rentals a better experience for everyone. Execs In The Know recently caught up with Sheila to ask her a few questions about Evolve, her unyielding commitment to outstanding leadership, and how she likes to spend her time when she’s out of the office.


EXECS IN THE KNOW (EITK): In the travel and hospitality industry, expectations run high for customer experience. As a Director of Guest Experience, how do you keep your front-line team engaged with Evolve’s core mission to bring better experiences to life?

SHEILA KNIGHT-FIELDS: Our mission is to make vacation rental easy for everyone. To do that, we focus on delivering five-star customer experiences and creating trust with our guests and with our owners to further differentiate us as a hospitality company. Our mission and goals are woven throughout everything we do. This starts by demonstrating our commitment and reinforcing that message at both the company and team levels. Our CEO consistently shares it in monthly all-company meetings, we build it into our training, and the CX team starts every presentation with a reminder of our team’s purpose of “Delivering hospitality at scale with an empowered and engaged team that is product and process enabled and continuously striving to improve.”

To bring that to life, we frequently ask for feedback from our teammates on how they’re applying our core mission in their interactions. Through tools like our guest surveys, we can identify and share individual and team insights, both at the department level and the entire company, and we celebrate when teammates exemplify our purpose.

EITK: There’s more opportunity than ever in the fast-growing vacation rental business, but staying competitive now takes much more. With greater technological sophistication, ever-rising traveler expectations (especially among Millennials), and stiffer competition … from your perspective, how is Evolve disrupting the industry to change the status quo?

SHEILA: We’re looking for ways to leverage technology to make vacation rentals easy for everyone. That includes things for our owners, like our SmartRates (SmartRates is Evolve’s proprietary dynamic pricing technology that gathers real-time market data that helps Evolve and owners make more informed, timelier, and more strategic pricing decisions) and our revenue optimization strategy and collecting and using our guest insights to work with owners to provide added value to guests. For guests, we’re always looking at how we can streamline their experience and our interactions through additional technology.

EITK: As Evolve continues to scale properties on its platform, in what ways will the brand continue to remain laser-focused on fulfilling guest and owner needs when it comes to trusted hospitality?

SHEILA: As we continue to grow and scale, we want guests and owners to have the same wonderful experience they’ve come to expect from us. One way we do that is by using customer insights and feedback. We’re always looking at what is important to our guests and iterating on our processes to meet those changing needs.

EITK: What are the key challenges or pain points the company faces when deploying data and analytics to run a successful CX strategy? Where are your wins?

SHEILA: One of our biggest challenges with data and analytics is just how much information there is for the entire guest experience. How do we take all of it and parse it down into information we can use to take action? One win this year is that our product team did an end-to-end analysis of the guest experience, figuring out where the hiccups and pain points were in the customer journey. With that information, we were able to create a plan involving cross-functional teams to work on the opportunities we saw. For example, there are several common questions we get from guests, around the same point in their experience, and we’re working with our Marketing team to optimize the emails we send out so that more guests receive the information they need when they’re looking for it. This in turn supports our CX team and the guest experience, as fewer people will need to reach out to us as they already have the information at hand that they need.

EITK: A consistent commitment to outstanding service is essential. When it comes to creating unforgettable and memorable customer experiences, no detail is too small. In what ways does Evolve seek to “wow” its customers?

SHEILA: We want every guest to have a five-star experience, and if they don’t, we make it right through our Rest Easy Promise. This is our reassurance to guests that Evolve properties will live up to their expectations, and our four core property standards: safe, clean, as advertised, and ready for guests. So, our Rest Easy Promise tells guests that if they arrive at a property that doesn’t meet our standards, we’ll make it right. What that means varies by guest, but the point is that we want guests to rest easy when they book with Evolve. If something is off,
they should understand that it’s not going to stay that way for long. That’s how you build a great reputation, encourage positive reviews, and earn repeat guests who book again and again.

EITK: While organizations focus on incremental change, leaders such as yourself must focus on breakthroughs. Which technologies do you anticipate will help reduce unnecessary human-centered communications in the near future?

SHEILA: Technology is an essential part of the strategy, and we start by identifying the problem or opportunity and then building the tools that will empower and enable both our customers and our teammates. We’re currently working on deploying a customer engagement platform to help improve the Evolve experience and thus create better guest interactions. While not new technology, this will add text and chat to the mix in ways our guests can reach out to us so we can meet them where they’re at. Further down the road, we’re looking for ways to address the frequent requests and needs we see from guests, such as improving our guest self-service portal and automating the check-in process.

In the future, I can see AI (Artificial Intelligence) playing a larger role in workspaces to drive human/technology collaboration, and how we create a consistent experience across our distributed workforce.

EITK: Most of us can look back and remember less-than-ideal experiences we’ve had as customers. 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?

SHEILA: A recent “delight” happened when my daughter and I were shopping in a mountain resort town. In many of the stores, the employees either ignored us or were indifferent during our visit to their stores. However, in one shop, we had a completely different experience. Both the owner and the sales associate were friendly, attentive, and informative. They dialed into what we were looking at and offered additional choices that we might be interested in. Even though we didn’t buy anything, they treated us with care and attention. After our prior experiences, I was moved to let them know that I appreciated how friendly and helpful they were. And guess which store I’ll go back to in the future and recommend to my friends?

EITK: Did you always want to work in hospitality? How did you get to where you are today?

SHEILA: I was at a conference once where the keynote speaker said: “Who dreamed of leading a customer contact center when they grew up?” Of course, no one raised their hand. Like many of us, I fell into this profession. My career has always included some aspects of customer service, starting with my one and only job at a fast-food restaurant at age 15. From there, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a multitude of industries with the customer always at the forefront. This is something I’m passionate about, and ending up in hospitality was just a bonus. I enjoy traveling, so the opportunity to do what I love (leading people to provide amazing experiences) in an industry that feeds my passion for travel, and the opportunity to take this team to the next level, was the icing on the cake for me!

EITK: What lessons and experiences can you share as a senior-level customer operations leader?

SHEILA: First, listen to your team, learn what’s working and what’s not, and then actually do something with the information you’ve gathered. Listening to customers is critical, too and acting on those insights is paramount.

Sharing your knowledge and learnings with others and then collaborating to improve the organization is also key.

I’ve had the opportunity in my career to go through and apply Lean/Six Sigma methodology, which has taught me to never accept the status quo; there’s always an opportunity to do better.

Another key thing I’ve learned along the way is to make sure your team is aligned with the organization’s mission, they understand it, and know how it applies to their day-to-day responsibilities and activities.

Finally, always think about how to advocate for yourself and your team. As one boss told me, “If you don’t do it, who will?” I wish I had learned that gem earlier in my career!

EITK: What are a few key qualities of leaders who inspire you?

SHEILA: Some key qualities of inspiring leadership are being a visionary, authenticity and self-awareness, effective communication, and someone genuine and caring. The greatest leaders I’ve worked for in my career demonstrated all these qualities. It was motivating to me and drove me to want to succeed. They also not only created a great work environment, but helped me to learn about how I want to lead.

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

SHEILA: If I could be outside every day from dawn to dusk, I would be. I am fortunate to live in the state of Colorado, and even if I can’t be in the mountains, I get to see them every day. Luckily, being just 30 minutes from the hills, I get to hike on the weekends. I also love to spend time on the endless trail system in Denver to run, walk, or bike. Additionally, I like to spend time gardening (pulling weeds is cathartic).

EITK: Since joining the KIA Community, what stands out about your experience so far? What does the community mean to you?

SHEILA: The KIA Community is an amazingly helpful, passionate, and knowledgeable team of leaders. I have reached out to the team multiple times asking for feedback and advice and the team always steps up to help. It’s important to have a tribe like this to lean on, as we are all experiencing similar challenges in our roles and can learn from each other.


Thank you to Sheila Knight-Fields, Director of Guest Experience at Evolve, for her leadership, participation, and insights. To connect with Sheila, 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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