Tara Kelly: “Be prepared to make tough decisions”

Be prepared to make tough decisions. You’ll never get to a WOW customer experience without sacrificing either time or the budget on some level. That’s part of leadership — making the hard calls — and it’s critical to be ready for that. As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer […]

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Be prepared to make tough decisions. You’ll never get to a WOW customer experience without sacrificing either time or the budget on some level. That’s part of leadership — making the hard calls — and it’s critical to be ready for that.

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Kelly, President and CEO of SPLICE Software. Tara founded SPLICE Software in 2006 on the foundation of using data for good. She has grown SPLICE into an award-winning customer experience firm by living the mantra of “We believe it can be better.” Tara writes frequently as an expert in technology, communications, and customer experience, and can frequently be found speaking at industry conferences. For more information on her many accomplishments, visit her page at the link below:

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a relentless, pragmatic optimist. And I always see a world full of curiosity and opportunity for improvement. SPLICE Software started with an incredibly frustrating experience I had with a robotic voice service at my bank. I thought there had to be a better way for companies to use customer data and technology to deliver a great customer experience in automated encounters, so I founded the company to make it happen. At SPLICE, our proprietary technology combines large and small data and splices audio or text phrases together to customize interactions on all sorts of platforms, including text, phone, and personal assistant devices. What customers hear or read is still an automated voice or message, but instead of being robotic, it’s warm, responsive and on-brand. SPLICE serves retailers, banks, insurance companies and other businesses that want to engage customers and build relationships effectively.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When we landed our first contract with a large enterprise, we quickly realized we didn’t have a legal contract that was appropriate for that situation. All we had was a scope of work, so there was a mad scramble behind the scenes with our attorneys to put a suitable contract together. Thankfully, our attorneys are great and worked with us to produce a document within 48 hours, but I learned a valuable lesson about being prepared. When you’re running a startup business, you have to wear many hats, and some of them look goofy on you! That was one situation where we were able to push the boundaries because we had relationships in place.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m grateful to so many people for helping to make SPLICE such a huge success. A while back, we had a “Thank you” party to celebrate the many people who made it all possible. We honored more than 30 individuals. I awarded a star to each person as a symbol of my appreciation, told stories about how much their help meant in my thank-you speech and said that they were like the stars in the sky, providing guidance and light. It’s impossible to name just one. There was a middle school teacher who opened my eyes to new career possibilities. A bank officer who believed in our company and provided the line of credit we needed. The list goes on, and every single one matters. It truly is an “it takes a village” situation.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Customer service has always been important, but it’s arguably even more crucial in an environment where people are continuously bombarded with information. There’s so much noise in our daily lives that when someone shows up where we are (online, at home asking Alexa a question, on our smartphones, etc.) and helps us find out what we need to know or get where we’re trying to go, that’s a huge win. That’s why it’s so critical to meet customers where they are. Providing excellent customer service is an opportunity to convey your organization’s values and build strong relationships. I believe that companies and customers are on a journey together, and when the customer service team shows up where customers are and helps them thrive, that makes for a great customer experience.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I think one reason customer service doesn’t always get the attention it deserves is that it can be hard to measure. We measure things like sales and revenue with hard numbers. We know intuitively that things like the customer experience, company culture, organizational values, etc., are also important, but unless we figure out how to create a baseline and monitor progress, it can fall by the wayside. To make sure customer service gets its due, we must measure not only the “what” and “how” of business success like sales numbers and merchandising statistics but also the “why.” We’ve got to be crystal-clear on our purpose; we should focus primarily on the “why” and facilitate the “what” and “how.”

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Definitely. A company can choose to compete on price only up to a certain point, and then the customer experience becomes a key differentiator. Keeping your existing customers on board is always cheaper than finding new ones. To grow, companies have to do both — bring new people in and retain customers they already have. Another thing I’ve noticed: when new companies enter the marketplace, they have to introduce themselves, so they tell people who they are and why they exist. I think established companies have to do that too. It’s important not to take customers for granted.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One experience that stands out in my mind is our work with a retail client who has more than 100 stores located from coast to coast. We provided them with a customer communication software platform, which store personnel accessed via tablets to collect contact information. Their campaign was a success, which we knew from talking to our contacts at the client’s headquarters, but we wanted to experience the journey from end-to-end, so we asked if we could go into the stores and observe how the program was rolling out “in the wild,” so to speak. It was such a privilege to see how this unfolded at the store level.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

We learned so much during our store visits, which allowed us to add even more value to the client. The main takeaway for us was that no matter how thrilled the headquarters contacts are with our platform, it’s always worth doing field visits when that’s feasible because of the learning experience. It had a huge impact on our product roadmap, and it helped us stay tightly connected to the market and understand the entire scope of how we make a difference for clients — it underscored that what we do matters.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. As the experience with our fieldwork illustrates, leaders need to be genuinely excited about the product and willing to go on the journey with the customer. If you’re making a form or creating an audio experience for customers, use it yourself — and make sure you love it.

2. You’re only one person, so get others involved when you’re working on a large project related to the customer experience. I’ve done that for platform rollouts — I asked people to test it and requested their reaction without telling them I was the CEO. I wanted honest feedback.

3. Keep in mind that it’s a big world, and you need to be open to new ways to create a beautiful customer experience. You can’t just stay in your own back yard. That’s why I’ve made a point to attend conferences abroad, including in Amsterdam, where I was exposed to different design standards and alternate approaches to creating an excellent customer experience.

4. Be prepared to make tough decisions. You’ll never get to a WOW customer experience without sacrificing either time or the budget on some level. That’s part of leadership — making the hard calls — and it’s critical to be ready for that.

5. Keep in mind that WOW means different things to different people. That’s why you’ve got to know who your customers are; you have to understand what they find exciting and inspiring. A single campaign is just not going to WOW everyone, and that’s okay.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Creating an emotional memory is really important. Part of the WOW experience should be something that triggers the senses and creates a social connection. Keep in mind that people are really busy, so in addition to being rich and exciting, the experience should be easy too!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of our core values at SPLICE is that technology can be a force for good. It should make things easier for customers, not more complicated. It should help them get where they’re trying to go, not distract them. There are some great leaders in the tech space who get that, but not everyone does. I’d like to see more people join a movement to use technology for good to make people’s lives better.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter at @TKtechnow.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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