Customer experience professionals benefit from a strong foundation of digital employee experience. According to or own annual research, the CMSWire State of Digital Customer Experience 2021 (registration required), there is also a growing body of research and anecdotal evidence to suggest the positive impact good digital employeeexperience (EX) has on customer experience, particularly in high-touch sectors.
Around three quarters of respondents view digital employee experience as being “very important” or “moderately important” for digital customer experience, but this rises significantly to 91% for respondents with tools “working well," according to CMSWire researchers.
Enter Katrina Taylor, who is living this reality day to day in her role as head of user experience and product design at Armoire, which provides shoppers with opportunities to rent clothes and personalized their closets from designer brands. Taylor is not only laser-focused on creating digital customer experiences for visitors seeking new outfits but also closely watches the connection between customer experience and employee experience.
CMSWire's Rich Hein and Dom Nicastro, hosts of the CMSWire CX Decoded Podcast, caught up with Katrina to discuss this vision and how she and her teams apply it into a practical reality.
Rich Hein: Today, we have with us Katrina Taylor, who is head of user experience and product design at Armoire, and she's also a member of our CMSWire Advisory Board. For those of you that are unaware, the advisory board is a group of practitioners and experts in their field, who the CMSWire editorial team works with, and they help us inform our strategy, the types of content we create and everything else we do on CMSWire they have a say in that. So yeah, that's Katrina.
Dom Nicastro: Yeah, they make us sound smart. In short, that's what they do. And why is she joining us today on CX Decoded, Rich?
Rich: Well, you know, Dom, we've talked about many times on the podcast, and of course, we've written about it on CMSWire, the connection between customer experience and employee experience. It's easy to say great EX means great CX, but actually getting that work done in your employee journeys and your customer journeys, it's like a never-ending job. And Katrina lives this reality day-to-day in her role at her growing startup Armoire.
Dom: Exactly, Rich, it was so happy to have you on today, Katrina. How are you doing?
Katrina Taylor: Hi Dom, hi, Rich. I'm doing great. Happy to be here.
Rich: It is great to have you with us, Katrina. We'd like to start off with a little background on you. Could you tell us a little bit about you how you got into customer experience and design and how you got with Armoire?
Katrina: Absolutely. So I've been working in design and experience for about 15 years, and joined Armoire about two and a half years ago as head of user experience and product design. And where I really love to kind of play in the digital space is talking with users, understanding users and customers and developing empathy as much as possible to really like drive innovation and experiences that are excellent for customers.
What I've learned at Armoire, which we are a growing startup, so we're a smaller team, and we have tons of collaboration, is that there are tons of crossovers between employee experience and customer experience. And when you can connect the two, both sides get a great experience out of it. So I'm excited to kind of chat about that a little bit more today.
Armoire, we are a clothing rental subscription company, we offer high-end clothing rental, to busy, working women. And what makes us a little bit different than maybe other clothing rental companies is we use machine learning and artificial intelligence to power a really cool recommendations model. So we know our customers don't have a ton of time, they don't want to scroll through 100 pages of options. They want us to know them, understand their personal style and their fit preferences, and serve them up really relevant recommendations through our machine learning model.
And so it's a very fun place to kind of play with data science and fashion.
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Rich: So just to level set for the audience a bit when you say user vs. customer user you're referring to is like an internal staff or employee, and then customers obviously externally facing customers.
Katrina: It's funny because I actually use the two interchangeably. So I mean the same thing by both.
Dom: That's too bad Katrina because you said it's women's apparel, I was going to ask you for, if you had any suggestions, I'm looking to up my business attire, and I was wondering if you had any men's sweatpants?
Katrina: You know, we do have sweatpants. Those were a top item for us during the pandemic. I also learned that $500 sweatpants are a thing. Unfortunately, they're not men's, but we do have some really great gender-neutral sweatshirts and swag that you might be interested in. Although I don't know if it would be business attire necessarily.
Rich: Dom is definitely into the athleisure look.
Dom: Rich can attest from the numerous Zooms and Google Meets we've been on over the past two years plus.
Making Customer Experience Pivots Due to COVID-19
Katrina: You know, athleisure actually was really a new category for us during COVID, because our customer base was primarily renting items to wear to work, and all of a sudden, nobody was going to work. And so we had to pivot really quickly. And we developed a new inventory strategy based on what our customers were telling us.
And so now we have a lot of fabulous athleisure, that people are continuing to rent, even as things are opening back up. And we're going back to work because I think like business attire has kind of been changed forever as a result of COVID.
Rich: And you got a question right out of the way, I mean, every podcast, it seems like we ask how your organization had to pivot due to the pandemic, and you knocked that one right out of the ballpark.
Katrina: Yeah, well, we did a lot of different things. And I think this is a great example of listening to your customers. I mean, COVID was particularly scary for us, not just because we were a small-stage startup, but because literally our use case for our customers renting clothing to go to work or events, had to like dramatically, really, really shift, right? Nobody was going to events, people were not going to work, or they were working remotely.
And so yeah, changing our inventory was one thing we did. The other thing we did is we created a social community on our platform that was geared toward sharing the looks that you were renting. And this kind of came to be by talking with customers and understanding that, hey, one of the reasons I rent is because it makes me feel good to like have a great outfit and show it to my friends, it makes me feel confident.
And if you can't show it to them in person, what if we could create this really positive community, that would kind of become a reason to rent where you could post your outfits and show what you were wearing while you were working from home, and also connect you with other women who are like minded at a time when human connection was not happening face-to-face.
And so that was a really, really kind of cool thing that came out of the pandemic for us. It's called the Power Feed, first of its kind first rental community, and it's still going strong, and we're continually iterating on it, it's been a ton of fun.
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How Armoire Listens to Customer Feedback
Dom: I love that innovation that happened during the pandemic. And you know, you talked about, we heard what our customers said, and we executed. I would love to know kind of how you listen, Katrina, like what are your listening mechanisms to collect that data that customers feedback and then put it into actionable stuff?
Katrina: So there's a lot of ways that we collect customer data and feedback. And a lot of them are going to be things that a lot of people are doing. Obviously, we're collecting a ton of data. And we're a subscription service where we're collecting, review information and feedback from our customers, if not monthly, weekly. So we have a lot of really rich data coming in, which is fantastic.
We also send out a lot of surveys, we have an amazing member experience team, which is our support team that we get a lot of feedback from. But I think the biggest thing that we do that has been a game-changer for us, is we make time to talk to customers, we make time to have conversations with customers. This can be done through user testing, or a customer interview. But it can also be done really casually with hey, could I call you and chat for an hour, and I'd love to give you an extra item to rent, if you would just give me some feedback on how you've been using the service, and how you would like to use it and maybe any pain points you have or ideas you have to make it better.
The other thing we do that I think is maybe different from a lot of organizations is that we have those customer conversations happening with employees really at every level of the organization. So one thing I see a lot in customer experience is that those conversations are happening at the high level, maybe with some of the executives who are reaching out to talk to customers, or it lives within like the UX team or the research team. And people are trying their best to kind of filter that information out through the rest of the organization. But we really empower employees at every level, to interface with customers to be curious to build relationships, to ask questions, which develops a lot of empathy and understanding.
Taking Customer Experience Playbook into Employee Experience
Dom: That's intense, the focus that you're putting into customer experiences and listening mechanisms and putting that into action. So now the question is, how do you take that skill set that technology and transfer that into employee experience?
Because practitioners like you, Katrina, you live for the customer, right? Can't you take that and just live for the employee at the same time too, kind of take that same playbook? How do you see those two connecting?
Katrina: Totally, it's the same thing anytime you're building an experience. So okay, let me give you an example. Dom, let's say I email you and I'm like, hey, Dom, I have a big birthday coming up, and I want you to plan an amazing birthday party for me.
Hypothetical, but let's say so somebody that you know, right, like we know each other, but you don't necessarily know my preferences for a birthday party. I can give you all of the data in the book, right? I could send you my credit card statement, I'm not going to do that. But I could see, you know, like, where I like to shop, or what restaurants I like. I could send you my social media profiles, so you can see who I'm talking with and who my friends are. You're not going to really know how to plan this amazing birthday party for me, unless you talk with me, am I right?
Dom: Yeah. And I have to listen to so I have to be a good listener as well, that helps.
Katrina: It's a conversation: listening, talking. You know, you could send me a survey, sure, but a phone call is probably going to be pretty important. And I like to think of the same thing with customer experience and employee experience. It is literally about having a conversation.
Now I'm at a smaller company. So that's easier to do, because you can have lots and lots of those conversations. But even at larger companies, you know, you're never going to be able to talk to everyone. But talking to a handful of people I think is always a really, really good place to start because we get so much data on how we can make the experience better qualitatively, and that explains what is going on. But the why really needs to be kind of unearthed through, as you said, a conversation and listening.
Dom: Yeah, exactly, and speaking of working with employee experience, I mean, data from Gallup says 70% of employees are disengaged at work, we've talked about customer-obsessed cultures many times, is it time to really just drill down and totally focus on employee-focused cultures?
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Design-Thinking Venture Supports Employee Experience
Katrina: You know, I think you can do both at the same time. And I'm going to kind of tell you a way that we have done this recently at Armoire.
We had a big project where we wanted to kind of understand some new ways to solve some problems for customers, not for employees. And we wanted to be really innovative and think outside the box and dive deep. We also didn't have a ton of resources. So I kind of created this cohort of employees. And I called for volunteers. And I said, hey, if you want to be a part of this really cool project, we want you to join, and we're going to go through a design sprint, we're going to go through the design thinking process, we're going to develop empathy, we're going to build prototypes, and we're going to test this with customers.
And so what was really cool is we built this experience for our customers, while also building a really cool learning and development experience for our employees. So we had people at all levels, everyone from our CEO, to people on the customer support team, to analysts and engineers, to our operational associates who work in our warehouse. And they were coming together, coming up with ideas, interviewing customers, and then testing this idea with customers.
It was so cool.
I also think a lot of companies, we hold these customer research methods really close to our chest, because we're maybe afraid that you have to have a certain type of training to do it really well. And not everyone can interview a customer. I don't believe that's true. I think it's pretty easy to teach people how to interview customers, and also keep it a conversation; it doesn't have to be perfect, you're going to want to learn.
What was really cool was that by doing this, we were creating this experience for employees, where they ended up becoming really, really connected with the customers. I had so many people come up to me afterwards and say, wow, that was so cool, you know, I'm like living and breathing this every day. I have really truly never seen it through the customers eyes like I just did. And if you want engagement, that is an incredible way to do that.
The people who are, I think the most engaged in their roles, the employees, are the people who are really excited about the problems they're solving, and are really, really motivated because they've developed this customer empathy.
Rich: The connection is great, I'm sure that it helps me your employees focus on who your customers are and what they need and whatnot. But how do you actually measure the success of that?
Katrina: Sure, in terms of for the customer, for the employee, or for both?
Rich: Well, for both, please.
Exploring Metrics That Build Customer, Employee Success Frameworks
Katrina: So in terms of customer experience, and customer satisfaction, we use a ton of metrics. Our biggest one obviously, is going to be retention and churn because we are a subscription service. And so we really need to keep proving to our customers month after month that we're delivering value and motivate them to stick with us. So that's a really big metric for us.
I think one of the metrics that I've really been using from a customer perspective is earned advocacy score, so measuring how many people are actively advocating for your brand or company, how many people are actually detracting and then calculating the difference.
Now I know NPS score is really big. I love NPS score. I think that's still really good, but NPS score really measures intent, where I think earned advocacy score, which you guys are familiar with earned advocacy score, yeah? Or should I review it?
Dom: Let's review.
Rich: I'm familiar with it, please review it.
Katrina: Yeah, so, earned advocacy is where you ask people, hey, have you actively promoted or shared this product, or company or brand or service, or whatever it might be with anyone in your life in the last year? Not like how likely would you be, but have you actually done this?
And we can all think right of the brands or services we have in our lives that we love, so so so much that we're telling all of our friends about it and screaming it from the rooftops. Because we're like, you have to know about this, it's great. So first, you're measuring that — how many people have actually told somebody about this.
Then you're asking people, hey, have you actually discouraged anyone from using our product or brand or service in the last year? Have you told people to avoid us? Or said, yeah, I wouldn't recommend them; my experience hasn't been great. And again, it's based on actual behavior, as opposed to intent. And then you subtract your total promoters from you subtract the detractors from that, and that's your earned advocacy score.
And what's really interesting is, I've seen so many case studies where brands will have like very similar NPS scores. But then when you dive into the earned advocacy score, they're actually pretty different. So I think it's good to do both.
Also, just measuring referrals. If you have a referral flywheel seeing how many customers are sharing your product or service, I think is a really, really great way to measure that.
In terms of employee experience, at Armoire we really take the same approach to customer experience and employee experience. So our leadership team is connecting and speaking with our employees constantly. We're always asking for feedback, we have a really unique culture, where people, I think, are not afraid to come up to senior leadership and be like, hey, I have some feedback. And like, this isn't going so well, or this is going really great. And I want you to keep doing this.
And I think that that kind of rapport and candor has been established, because we've had those conversations and people know that we're listening, but we do surveys monthly, where we have constant metrics that we measure, so how satisfied are you working here? Would you recommend working here to your friends?
And then we're also asking, kind of hot topics, for whatever area of the employee experience we're focused on improving for the month.
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Rich: Do you use the earned advocacy metric with internal employees as well?
Katrina: I mean, we haven't. But I love that idea. I've actually never thought of that. That's great.
And we are in a way, in the survey, we're asking like, would you recommend working here to your friends. We haven't asked about the detractor. But I think that that's a really great metric.
Rich: I tell my wife, I'm a genius all the time. But she doesn't believe me, either.
Katrina: I believe you. That's a genius idea.
Rich: Thank you.
The Challenges of Knowledge Management
Dom: Katrina, moving on with all this feedback you're collecting with customer experience circles, especially and employee experience too. How does knowledge management fit in? Because I think one of the biggest struggles in an organization, large or small, is just managing what feedback comes in. I mean, you said that employees are not afraid to go to senior leadership and offer ideas, criticisms, processes are broken. How does that knowledge management sort of be captured, if you will?
Katrina: We do it in a couple of different ways. But that is totally a problem that I've seen in organizations large, midsize and small.
I think what's really important is finding a way to surface that information so that people can digest it on their own time, and leaving it as unfiltered as possible.
So I'm going to give you a couple examples of ways that we do that. With customers, we actually created a voice of the customer channel in Slack that our whole organization is part of. And anytime anyone has an interesting conversation or interaction or data point, or research finding that relates to our customers, it gets posted in that channel.
And again, this has been kind of democratized. So it could be me posting results from a survey or some user research that we've done. It could be our CEO posting five really great quotes from a call that she had with a tenured customer that she thinks the rest of the organization should see. It could be somebody from our customer service team, posting snippets of a conversation that have some relevant feedback. It could be one of our operations associates who works in our warehouse, who maybe had a conversation with a customer during a pickup and drop off. And they're sharing that there.
And so there's like a ton of different perspectives happening, but it's these little snippets, in Slack, that you're seeing throughout the day that really do kind of give you this broad sense of what customers are going through, and what I like is there's a ton of different perspectives. Again, it's accessible by everyone.
When we first started it, I was like the only one who was posting in there so I had to know people, but now we see people posting all the time. And it again like reinforces this kind of cultural ideal that really anyone can talk to a customer. And you don't need to be a researcher; anyone can talk to a customer, anyone's perspective is valuable. And it's good to share those things so that everybody has a solid understanding.
We tend to do the same thing kind of with our employee experience feedback. So we definitely do have Slack channels where a lot of that stuff is circulated; that can get a little bit trickier because a lot of times people want to remain anonymous. But basically, at Armoire, I talked about those surveys that we do, and the feedback that we're collecting, at least monthly. And we make sure that as a leadership team, we sit down and read every single response, every month, and we do it as a team. And then we discuss.
So with that. It's really just like prioritizing and kind of holding ourselves accountable and making the commitment.
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Who Owns Customer Experience?
Rich: Katrina, you mentioned earlier that you own customer experience. And at a small organization, it seems like many times it does fall to one person. You were just sharing ways that you are engaging the whole company with customer experience. Can you elaborate on how you do that?
Katrina: Yeah, another way that I do that, for example, is anytime we do a user test or user research, I create like a video reel or an audio reel, that's highlights, and send that out and everybody listens to it. So like that's another way that people kind of feel like they are a part of the research. And they're hearing it directly from the customer, which is much more powerful than me saying, hey, here's what everybody said, and here are the insights, which I still obviously do. But if I can get them that kind of raw context, they're feeling more ownership.
I think, you know, at a small organization, it's kind of like two sides to the story. So on paper, because I own user experience, yes, I own that customer experience end-to-end. That said, at Armoire, there's this feeling that everyone really owns the customer experience. And so we all take ownership, we all kind of take responsibility. And I think one of the ways that that happens is tons of cross functional collaboration.
And so if somebody notices a problem in the customer experience, or something that they think could be improved, that usually gets surfaced to me or whoever would be kind of working on the resolution. And then we have a conversation about it. And again, that can come from marketing can come from operations, it can come from our chief technology officer, it can come from an engineer, but it's kind of like we're all having our finger on the pulse. And everyone does feel this sense of ownership. And like if I noticed something that I think needs to be improved or changed, I'm going to surface that up.
Rich: So going back to what you said earlier, you mentioned that you have basically all the employees have access to customers, there's got to have been a time where that's gone wrong. I can't imagine that just being smooth sailing all the time.
Katrina: Sure, so I think from our perspective, where it's gone wrong, is we've had people get busy and not have time.
Here's the thing, people are so afraid of having one or two things go wrong, that they forget all of the things that can go right. And I think the bigger risk actually is not talking to your customers, because when you're not talking with them, lots of things are probably going wrong that you're not aware of.
And so is it a risk? Certainly, I think that there's some trade-offs, and I think we're a small enough company where that risk is lower. I think as you grow, there does need to be a little bit more regulation and rules and training and that sort of thing.
But for us, again, the bigger risk is not having those conversations to begin with.
Rich: I can remember one time with Dom and I, we were at an event and we were, I can't remember the gentleman's name now, but we were at a dinner with him and we accidentally left the dinner without him. Remember what I'm talking about?
Dom: I do, I do, middle of downtown Chicago? And yeah, we left. He's a great advocate for the brand
Rich: A good friend of ours, too.
Dom: Great advocate for the brand, and we just ditched him, completely.
Rich: That's what happens when you have access to the customers, when all the employees have access to the customer.
Katrina: You know, here's the thing, this is what I do. This is my area of expertise. And like I've had stuff like that happen, right? It happens to everyone. We're humans. And when you're getting feedback when you're listening and when you're having conversations, sometimes things can be awkward or like not go totally right. And that's okay. There's ways to fix those things if does tend to go wrong.
Dom: Yeah, was a learning lesson for us. We took that data and we said, yeah, when you leave the restaurant, just make sure to bring the customer you brought out for dinner, with you in the Uber.
So that was a good data point and making it actionable for us for sure at CMSWire.
Katrina: Failure is a part of the process. You just you don't want to fail the same way again. So as long as you learn, it's all good.
Startup Challenges: Resourcing, Prioritizing
Dom: Yeah. And you know, being that growing startup Katrina, what is the single biggest challenge, you think in creating these great experiences, customer and employee-wise? I know we probably can relate. We're also well, we're not a startup, been around since 2003, but we're pretty small employee-wise. So we get some of those challenges.
Rich: Yeah, we all wear a lot of hats.
Katrina: Oh, yeah, no, totally. For us it's resourcing. And I'm sure that's the same thing for you guys. Because we're talking to customers and employees so much we, we know what we need to do and what we want to do. And we have these crazy long roadmaps for both of the experiences. But because we're small, we have to really figure out what the biggest impact is going to be.
And so it just like prioritizing and making the right decisions. Because, yeah, there's not enough of us to do all of the things that we want to do.
Rich: You also mentioned that UX design reports into you, and you work with marketing operations in a kind of cross-functional, I guess. How does that multi-departmental effort all tie back into customer experience efforts?
Katrina: You know, I think if you have silos in your organization, those actually become very clear in the customer experience. It's funny when you can like go through an experience, and you're like, oh, I feel like I have a good sense of their org chart, because I don't think the conversion people are talking to the people once I'm logged in, we're talking with the people that are dealing with me trying to do a return. I know, I've definitely experienced that as a customer with experiences I've seen online.
And so if you want a seamless customer experience, you have to have seamless communication happening behind the scenes. And so it's not only a hey, this is what we're doing. It's can I get your feedback on this, and are there opportunities to help you out with your part of the process and with your piece of the pie, while I'm working on this thing?
So for example, when we created the Power Feed, that social community I told you about, that's a members only community. So it's only for people who have subscribed. Privacy's really important to us, so it's only for logged in users.
That said, we worked really closely with marketing, because even though it's more of a once you've signed up kind of behind the scenes retention piece, we knew that marketing was going to want to talk about it. And we also knew there would be opportunities for sharing and viral growth, and that this could support marketing.
So it was really, really important that we were talking with the marketing team so that that connection was made, we were also talking with the merchandising team. So hey, we've got this really great social community now, which means we are able to see what's trending and that can influence our buying strategy. So how can we collaborate on that?
Those types of things, it's like the rising tide lifts all boats in terms of the experience in the business. And again, I'll say it one more time. If you are a siloed organization, that becomes apparent in the experience.
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Building Toward Customer-, Employee-Obsessed Culture
Rich: Katrina, we are just about out of time. But before we go, I would like to hear what your big takeaways are for the audience in regards to building both an employee-obsessed and a customer-obsessed culture.
Katrina: Sure, I think creating a culture of listening and not being afraid to have a conversation is really, really, really important. So I want people to take away that as a customer- or employee-obsessed culture, having conversations.
There's always this adage that you will learn more by having lunch with a customer than you would going through a month's worth of data. I think that's true, not only for customers, but for employees.
So I think the biggest thing I would say is have more conversations, listen more, and then find a way to take that feedback that you're getting and those insights that you're getting. And you don't want to like wordsmith them too much, you want to leave them in kind of their raw format, whether it's a quote, or a recording or a snippet of a user test, and make that accessible when possible, so that everyone within the organization is able to kind of benefit from that understanding.
Rich: You know, I've heard that from more than one of the people that we've interviewed, that it's very helpful to create marketing or create what you're doing around the customer's own words. That's great to hear.
Katrina: Yeah, they say it better than we can, right. So why filter it?
Dom: Exactly. Katrina, we really enjoyed this today. I mean, I can't thank you enough, we can't thank you enough to bring our listeners into your world. I mean, I felt like I was in the company because you were so great with providing real life examples of just how you do things. And it's such a breath of fresh air, I really appreciate it very, very much.
And we like to extend the opportunity just to tell our listeners a little bit more about how they can follow you and the company.
Katrina: Absolutely. So you can find Armoire at armoire.style, and you can actually follow me at Armoire because I'm very active in our Armoire social community, I'm probably more active there than I am on any other social media channel that's out there. So that's a great way to connect with the company and to connect with me.
You can also find me on LinkedIn, Katrina Taylor, those are probably the places where I am the most active. I would love to answer any questions anyone might have about CX, EX or Armoire.
Rich: I've read a bunch of that content that you create before the podcast, and it is a great way to stay connected. So, well done there.
Thank you again, for your time, Katrina.
And to the everybody listening out there, we hope you enjoyed this edition of CX Decoded, and we'll talk to you next time.
Dom: See you later.
Katrina: Thanks, guys.