Melissa Henley, "Never make decisions  with money  in mind. Make decisions  with customers  in mind and money  will follow"

Unbeknownst to all of us, Melissa Henley was helping anyone who read her monthly column throughout 2019 for the dramatic shift to remote work we saw starting in March of this year. With frequent reminders to tackle the strategic and cultural sides of digital transformation, the columns helped leaders understand the drivers of transformation beyond the introduction of technology (though clearly that plays a part). Her 2020 column continued the groundwork she laid the year before, reminding leaders what their teams, organizations and customers needed from them at this time.

As director of customer experience at Laserfiche, Melissa's focus remains firmly on one goal: customer happiness.

What kept you sane during 2020?

My treadmill! At the start of lockdown, I bought a treadmill that came with iFit, an AI-enabled fitness platform that allows you to do global workouts, studio classes and Google maps trails. I’ve walked, run and hiked all seven continents since April, all without leaving my house! The trainers who lead the workouts give you motivation, background on your location, coaching guidance and even funny stories. The best thing is the AI automatically adjusts the treadmill’s resistance, incline/decline and speed depending on the virtual terrain. It’s a really immersive experience.

Even though I’d much rather be running outside, the iFIt app makes the time fly by. (I swear this isn’t a commercial for iFit, I just really love it. It’s the only thing I’ve truly enjoyed this year.) From continually adding groceries to my Amazon Fresh cart with Alexa to using the smart replies on Microsoft Teams to even working out, AI has become a huge part of my quarantine life, and it will only continue to do so as more and more products become AI-driven.

Where do you look for inspiration for your articles?

I really believe we have to be life-long learners. I’m a wide reader — even though some days that just means I’m scrolling Twitter to see what Siegel Gale and Brand Culture have to say about employee experience (or for funny dog videos). The Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, Fast Company, The Economist, Forbes, Bloomberg, Wired — I read them all. I’m also a big nonfiction reader, especially history and biographies. Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” I firmly believe that. Much of what I say isn’t new or groundbreaking, but (hopefully) it’s my perspective on the situation that is. What I like to do is read and then go on a run or a walk. That’s where I do my best thinking.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I mentioned this in my most recent column, but it’s a piece of advice from Laserfiche founder Nien-Ling Wacker. She always used to tell me never make decisions with money in mind. Make decisions with customers in mind and the money will follow. It’s a great guiding principle when we think about customer loyalty and building a customer community. Customers can tell when you have their best interests at heart. Nien-Ling also used to tell me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason — we should listen more than we talk. It’s a great piece of advice that is beneficial in all relationships. We all like to hear ourselves talk because we think we are the most interesting people out there. But in reality, we miss a lot when we aren’t listening — or when we are trying to listen through the words coming out of our mouths!

Which of your projects or research from 2020 (or upcoming for 2021) are you most excited about and why?

While Laserfiche has always had an obsessive focus on delighting customers, the customer experience team is a relatively new one — just about two years old. It’s been an exciting challenge to essentially run a startup within an established organization and build new processes and procedures, as well as bring in new technology, to further improve our customer journey and drive customer happiness. For next year, I’ll be working on the strategy to roll out an upgrade to our current customer community. From developing new techniques to incentivize customers to participate to creating engagement opportunities, I’m extremely excited at the possibilities of reaching our audience in new ways. Our customers show such care and passion for our community that I know working on this project will be incredibly rewarding.

If you could only recommend one business book, what would it be and why?

This isn’t a business book but a Harvard Business Review article — "How to Write Email with Military Precision," by Kabir Seghal. I read this article four years ago and it has stuck with me. I’ve recommended it in presentations I’ve given and classes I’ve taught. The average person receives 110 emails each day — probably more now that many of us are working remotely. As much as we wish we dealt with people in person or on the phone, the first introduction people have to us is through an email. And it is one of the most important places to manage your professional brand.

This article taught me one of the most important concepts about email — the BLUF (bottom line up front). It declares the purpose of the email and action required. Your reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know “how does this email affect me?” and the BLUF should answer this question every time. Writing an email with the BLUF in mind makes it easy for readers to identify what the ask is and why they should care about responding. Despite our compulsive relationship with it, responding to email is not a sacred duty. If you want your readers to digest your message, and perhaps even act on it, make it easy for them to do so.

What was the best book you read in 2020?

This is an easy one — "The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival," by John Vaillant. I forget how I came across this book, but it is by far the best book I’ve read in 2020 or possibly in the 2000s. It’s about a tiger in Eastern Siberia who starts tracking and executing villagers and the team of trackers that is dispatched to hunt it down. That part is very gripping and the writing is excellent, but it also covers Russian history, Communism, the political and economic change of perestroika, Russian-Chinese relations, poaching, extinction, the Siberian tundra and taiga, and, of course, the physiology and psychology of tigers. I learned a lot — and have to confess, I stayed up way too late reading it! It really does read like a thriller.

What was the best movie you watched in 2020?

I feel like I didn’t watch many movies in 2020 — if I did, I can’t remember any of them. I did, however, get really into the TV show Transplant. Even though it’s airing on NBC, as someone who used to live in Canada, I recognized Ontario right away! The show is about a Syrian refugee, a doctor working in a restaurant, who ends up getting a job at a Toronto hospital. What I really enjoy about the show is it thoughtfully handles the difficulties he faces as a refugee — not being able to prove he graduated from medical school; not having any cash flow to rent an apartment and falling into the trap of payday loans; and dealing with flashbacks from his experiences in Syria. It’s a fantastic show that takes the best of ER and House, then makes it even better.

What was the best meal you ate in 2020?

The neat thing about 2020 is that we’ve started (or are starting) new traditions — Saturday hiking and nachos; charcuterie Sundays; Christmas Eve lasagna; Christmas Day prime rib; and birthday steakhouse dinners where we get dressed up to go eat in the dining room with candles, the china and fancy flatware. But my favorite meal by far was Thanksgiving. I think we ended up making a meal for 10 just for the two of us. I made an apple cider donut cake and a brown butter chai spiced pumpkin pie which seems like just the right amount of dessert for two people in 2020. This year, we branched out and tried some new side dishes based on my faithful Sunday morning viewings of Girl Meets Farm and they were big hits: Pretzel Stuffing and Brussel Sprouts Casserole. Thanks Molly Yeh!