380: Melissa Copeland—Want Your Business To Be Successful? Start With A Great Customer Experience

Hear why a great customer experience means everything

I first interviewed Melissa Copeland for this podcast in May of 2022 and loved her story so much that I want to share it, and her, with you again. Melissa had a wonderful career, as so many women have had, only to discover that flying all over the world was not great for her family, or herself. So what did she do? Pivoted and launched Blue Orbit Consulting which focuses on improving customer interactions with her clients’ products and services. Her company’s motto: “We help clients deliver outstanding customer service by combining the best of technology and people for world-class customer experiences.” Clients love this approach, and you will too. Enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

The key? Delight your customers.

Since 2014, Melissa Copeland and her team at Blue Orbit have worked with dozens of Fortune 500 organizations to deliver dramatic improvements in customer-centered experience. As a testament to her pragmatic approach, her clients often achieve benefits in excess of 10x their investment. Her goal is to craft solutions that empower employees, delight customers, and astonish owners.

The topic of culture change is one Melissa and I know a great deal about

As you’ll hear in our podcast, Melissa and I learn from each other as we share our ideas, experiences and know-how. You can read in my book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, how frustrating it is for companies, then and now, to address the core service imperative of their organization’s business. My hope is that you take away some great learning around how to step back and look at your own business with fresh eyes, and see where you might need to make some changes that will make all the diference.

If you’d like to reach out to Melissa, you can connect with her on LinkedIn, her website BlueOrbitConsulting.com, or email her at melissacopeland@blueorbitconsulting.com.

Want to know more about how to make your business’s customer experiences great ones? Start here:

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. I’m Andi Simon, I’m your host and your guide. My job is to get you off the brink and I go looking for people who have really interesting ideas to share with you to help you see, feel and think in new ways. That’s why today I have Melissa Copeland. And Melissa is here to talk about the customers of tomorrow, and how to serve them. But what’s really interesting is her own journey and what she sees going on in the market, and how she can help you see it through that fresh lens that I want you to have. Remember, time to get off the brink, and the times they are changing. So let’s soar together. Melissa, thank you for joining me today.

Melissa Copeland: Thanks for having me.

Andi Simon: Share with the listeners, who is Melissa and when and how did you get to where you are now? And why are you so interested in it? Please share your story.

Melissa Copeland: Sure, it’s a wandering path, but I think many people have those nowadays. It was less common when I started working, but I actually started as a documentary producer producing travel documentaries and traveling around the globe doing that which I love. It didn’t take long, about two years, for me to learn that it was really hard to afford my rent and lunch and a bus pass on the salary a documentary producer makes. So I went to business school, and business school wasn’t at all what I expected. It was much more of a structured education versus some of the intellectual inquiries that I was expecting to find. So if there is such a thing, it sounds like an oxymoron, but I was a bit of a countercultural business school student coming out of grad school.

I landed in a job in strategy at what was then Ameritech, now AT&T. I was sent to one of the wholesale divisions. So think of the really technical engineering, kind of in the more old-fashioned parts of the company. And here I was, this kid who had been a documentary producer. And my background was in history and writing. And I learned to speak engineering, and I learned to speak pension. I had more fun than I ever thought I would in the corporate world. So I was rotated in the seven years that I was there, through almost every functional area. I got a taste of strategy, sales, marketing, and wound up doing two types of international assignments. One was a startup based in Chicago. And the second was an assignment based in Brussels, Belgium for two years. And those were amazing.

A couple of the things that I really learned was that the language of business is really one of figuring out how to connect with people, and how to define problems, and then organize toward a solution, whether it’s through collaboration, whether it’s through directing, or self-directed teams, or any of those pieces. And so one of the things I didn’t expect that I’ve used my entire career since then, was during that time in Brussels, the techniques that you learned growing up in the United States to influence people with money, or sales incentives, or performance incentives, didn’t work the same way in a different culture and context. And that notion of what is my culture and context? And how do I get the results I need?

One of the things I learned was, in the US, if you wanted to get something done, you have a meeting, you divide up the tasks, and everybody goes in, does it. In the situation I was in, in Brussels, if you had a meeting, the way to get people engaged was to give everybody the opportunity to participate in the brainstorming, right? So no matter what it was, if you call it brainstorming, people were highly engaged, because everyone wanted a piece of the ideas and to really feel like, what would they be called, an influencer, but to really be part of the solution, and then folks would happily go and participate in terms of behavior change. So that has actually become a signature part of the consulting I do today.

Some from that role, I moved through a couple of different roles, but I stayed in that arena of really working on customer experience and employee experience, and helping folks move through changes that almost always benefit customer experience and customer loyalty. And that’s when I would say my love affair with customer service and contact center organization started.

Andi Simon: You formed your company Blue Orbit Consulting in 2014. Typically, I would start any interview like this and read your résumé. But I really prefer you to talk about this journey because it’s a setup for what’s happened since you set up your own company. So how did you come about? Your insights are extremely valuable today. We don’t motivate people by giving them more money that doesn’t do anything for the research work. You can give them more money, but it doesn’t mobilize them. It doesn’t motivate them. It’s not what makes them work. There’s something that took you from being inside to being a consultant having your own company. What was the catalyst?

Melissa Copeland: So I worked for many years for a consulting firm called The Northridge Group and helped build the firm, and was able to be the generalist moving across a lot of areas. The firm had tremendous success. And I have one of those hard learnings. After about 12 years there, my kids were eight and five, and I was continuing to travel almost every week. And no matter where I was, I was on the wrong continent for somebody. And we got to a point where more often than not, it was my kids, you know, or team members or clients. But it really became a challenge that it was my kids that were on the wrong side of that. So I left and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And that lasted, that break lasted about two months.

And we learned that I was terrible at carpooling, that I hated doing laundry, and got rid of all of our household help. But, former clients and colleagues started calling with projects and saying, hey, you’ve always been really good and helped me think through hard problems, will you come help me do this global technical support? Will you come take a look at this process problem in my organization? And that’s fundamentally how Blue Orbit was born.

So in 2014, I formed Blue Orbit. It was just me, and a couple of high school and college babysitters taking care of my kids, you know, before and after school. And as the firm grew, I really drove more focus around not just taking  every phone call, though anyone that calls and says, can you help me think through this hard problem, I really enjoy hard problems. So I’m happy to help think them through, but really, drove more focus around the pieces that I think are really important as businesses grow and move forward. And that is thinking through not just the customer journey, and some of the buzzwords around that, but also thinking through the service design for how you support that customer journey, and more recently, a lot of emphasis around employee engagement.

So how do you make it easier on the employees to deliver the service design and a fantastic customer experience. So little by little, as the firm grew, it started being engagements with me and then I started building more team-based engagements to be able to implement at large organizations. Then we land where we are today where the business supports both some startup companies that are just starting on that journey. It’s tons of fun when we have a blank slate, and you’re starting with the service design from the beginning. And then the large organizations where you might have hundreds or thousands of people that you’re trying to orchestrate. And then it’s really more that collaboration and building a funnel of ideas for how can we accomplish the goals we need to get to.

Andi Simon: You and I both understand the complexity of human interaction and conversations. And the question is, what do we say to whom in what way to get what done? And that’s not casual, and every culture is different. The culture is inside each one of these, small, large and otherwise, whether in Belgium or in the States, or whatever they are, and just do things differently. And your description of the Belgium folks who wanted some autonomy, mastery and purpose, which is what we’re talking about these days, was quite different than here where command and control tell you what to do, and tactical and practical, and not much gets done. So it’s an interesting time. So some of the insights that you’re pulling together, working over the last years, 2014 was a short long time ago. And between the pandemic and all the things going on with technology and customer transformation, there’s some key themes that you and I chatted a little bit about. Can you share them with our listeners or our audience? I do think they are going through them and they want to know, what do I do now? How do I do this? Some thoughts?

Melissa Copeland: Sure. I love how you you reference the autonomy and the mastery. One of the pieces that I first tried to size up is that culture and context and organization. I do feel compelled typically to look at data, because you always have people in your team or your organization that need to be data driven. And then we also have to look at some of the more qualitative aspects of what does it take to drive change, like, are we talking about a jello situation where you’re going in and going back out? Are we talking about a situation where people are highly receptive to doing things differently?

Some of the themes and particularly changes since 2020, a big one affecting a lot of organizations, whether we call it the great resignation or not, but the balance of power has shifted in terms of employees making choices about where they want to be. And so I challenge that many large organizations and in particular contact centers are dealing with the vacancy rate in roles that may be as high as 30%. So I have two clients right now that are down about 30% of people. And that puts enormous pressure on the organization and its ability to serve customers.

To that end, there are two big themes that I’ve been working with a lot of clients on. One is the theme around, what if the customer isn’t always right? And so how do you handle that? The first studies I’ve seen in years, probably as long as I’ve been working in customer experience, started coming out in the fall, illustrating a significant change in customer behavior, meaning, historically, customers really cared about that the agent I spoke with was friendly, were they pleasant, so we’ll call that friendliness. And then they care about, is my question answered, or has my problem been resolved?

The shift in the research over the past six months is that customers care much more about how fast something happens. So the friendliness isn’t at the top anymore, although I’d say it’s table stakes in most organizations, it’s really how quickly can you get to my question, or get me an answer. And can you do it in the media that I choose to interact with you in? So can you do it by voice? Can you do it by self service? Can you do it by chat? What are the different ways that I can connect with you? So that’s one huge arena.

The second that combines the two, getting answers quickly, and then struggling with kind of making the workplace attractive for employees and making their roles easier. And so I’ll call that the employee engagement or employee enablement tools. So in customer service, and contact center, lots and lots has been written and talked about around how artificial intelligence or AI is used in bots and self service so customers can do things themselves. The real frontier that I’ve been working with clients on for the past year, and I think it’ll become bigger in the next two years, is really around how do you use that power to enable human-to-human interaction? So how do I help an agent, right, be as quick and effective with a customer that wants to interact by voice? Or they have a question or a challenge that’s too complicated for the self service arena and so how do you deploy those tools on the market in a way that really makes the agent’s job easier, and makes employees feel like they can succeed in a difficult environment, or ultimately make that environment better? So I’d say those are the two big ones that I’ve been working with folks on that I think are the trends that are here to stay for at least 2022 to 2024.

Andi Simon: As a culture change expert, I’m curious, because I had one client who had a very bad help desk. And we actually suggested they go and make their folks remote before the pandemic. They were in a fabulous position when the pandemic hit. But the remote gave their staff a much better work environment and they lost the turnover. They speeded up the responses and they realized that having them come in and sit and wait and have to get things done in place was dysfunctional for this particular organization. They were an outsourced service provider, but what was important was that the people thought about it in terms of what mattered to them. Where did it matter that they work? What hours could they work, as opposed to a box that they had to fit into, and that autonomy and mastery. They needed something to motivate them to mobilize them to want to do this as opposed to being forced into it. And so that became interesting.

My second point is that both consumers and employees are people. If you think of them as the same as very important people, then your customer and your staff are connected. It’s not separate. And so now, if we step back and look at them as one ecosystem, it’s no longer what the customer wants, it’s how the employee and my customer can solve a problem together, collaboratively, as opposed to I’ll do it in my time. You can’t. It’s really less adversarial or competitive and much more collegial. Are you seeing some of the same things?

Melissa Copeland: Absolutely. So I think one of the really interesting takeaways is, remote work is something that has been talked about for a long time. And then companies that explored it particularly for contact centers or tasted different pieces of it in very targeted areas. The pandemic forced folks to do it on a mass scale. And what many organizations found was no productivity was lost. What they had to do, though, was figure out how to recreate some of the cultural aspects that existed when you brought people together.

It’s a great example you give around the IT help desk because one of the bigger satisfiers for folks that work in centers are being able to have hours that they can manage more effectively. And so for a center, the benefit is that they can have more people working part time or split schedules or different approaches. And for employees, you’ve removed the transit piece. So they’re more open to working. So I think those are often terrific solutions.

And it’s interesting to see organizations work through what’s here to stay because when folks flipped the switch on March 2020, right, all the old processes went with them. There’s a really interesting opportunity for organizations that are willing to take a hard look. It’s one, I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to happen in 2021 and it didn’t happen that much around getting rid of some of the low value processes and activities. But I’m optimistic that this year will be the year that many organizations step back and say, we really need to do it that way, or can I make it easier on everybody. And then I don’t think I can say it better than you did around the collegial approach to problem solving.

So it’s typically a terrific scenario, when you can have an agent empowered to conduct a conversation the way they want to. And that requires a couple of things. It requires organizational trust, and having the metrics or ways to measure the effectiveness of a conversation that go beyond process compliance. So a traditional way of doing it was, here’s the process and you’re measured on how you follow it that doesn’t drive the autonomy and mastery of that process. But it doesn’t drive mastery of the customer interaction. And so seeing more organizations move toward some of the enablement tools that in order to allow agents to have the conversation that they want and need to have with a customer, you have to solve the problem.

It’s very different to achieve the same goal. So an example of some of the cooler new tools that are coming into play is some of the same artificial intelligence technology that makes self service bots work can be deployed to help agents. So the bot can be sort of listening, if you will, to the conversation and picking up key words and tone from the customer. And then prompt the agent. Here are some documents that might help you. Here are the links and the reference material so that the agent can focus on the conversation, not zooming through multiple apps, or wikis or web links, to find the information they need. And that goes toward your point around, you can really drive a collegial situation more than you can an adversarial one. You give the employee a great shot at success versus the employee feels like they’re on the front line.

Andi Simon: You raised a very important question. How do we evaluate, assess and appraise our employees? There was a great article that talked about how I never see them. I used to evaluate them based upon how I felt about it. I mean, some of the reaach proves that’s how you evaluated them. It wasn’t on their performance, per se, it was how you liked them or not. And so now they’re having a difficult time knowing what to evaluate. It’s not just compliance with a rigorous help desk script, or how fast you answer the phone, or how fast you solve the problem, or how the customer evaluated you. This is all experiential, and it’s richer in many ways and more challenging to evaluate another.

I’m not quite sure how to tap into the customer satisfaction. What does that mean? l’ll give you one little speed thing. One of the CEO groups I was doing my research with, a gentleman in fertility centers said, it used to be that we could set up an appointment with someone interested in our methodology with a doctor, you know, over time. Now they want it immediately. And if I can’t get the doctor to contact them immediately, however fast that is, they go somewhere else. And I say welcome to a world of instantaneous gratification. You know, they’re ready right now. I want that conversation. And he said, I don’t know how to put a young person in charge of it now, so they can appreciate what that young person is looking for because I can’t figure it out at all. So now, my question for you is, as you’re looking at this, how do we appraise the success of our customer service system? And what should people think about as they are evaluating their evaluation system?

Melissa Copeland: Those are great questions. So the first one is relatively straightforward. So when looking at the success of a customer service organization, or the customer experience, many of those metrics don’t change, what changes is how you use them. So in terms of data, one of the fun things about contact centers is they usually have an overwhelming amount of data. So you can see how quickly our customers connect to the answer that they want. And you should be able to calculate how many times you’re getting the customer the right answer the first time. If you can’t calculate it, that’s a great subject for us to talk about and brainstorm how to get to it. But you should know how often the agent is able to satisfy the customer. And when they can’t, you need to divide into two groups, the things that are agent specific, and the things that are systemic.

So right, no agent could have solved it, because of other other reasons. So there’s an overall framework for looking at how quickly am I serving the customer? And then, was the customer satisfied? And I would argue, most importantly, was their issue solved on the first call? That does push by the wayside some old metrics. So an older metric would be looking at how long it took. I, Melissa, typically, I don’t care how long it took, if you did it right the first time and the customers were happy, we’ve avoided future calls and interactions that become more expensive and more time consuming. And we’ve made that customer of tomorrow happy because they have patience for very little and certainly not for mistakes or ongoing back and forth about the same issue when it comes to appraising the individual.

That also is something that I love, your example that is shifting, right. So it was always something where, when people were in the same place, you would see someone at their desk, you would see if they were working, and that vision that I can see you isn’t there anymore. So that does drive more dependence on metrics. And it does drive more conversation with the individual. So one of the things that I’m seeing is more and more trends toward talking to people about how they feel. Yes, I’ve never had so many conversations about feelings. You know, I’m working with one client right now and we’re doing a large transformation program. And a lot of our conversations are, do you feel competent? Do you feel empowered? What are the things you’re struggling with? And how can I help you? So it is a much more honest move toward what I would call true coaching and development and away from some of the performance management.

And some of those organizations wind up being my favorite clients because they’re really interested in elevating the business’s performance and the people providing it. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with some specific performance situations. But it’s a very different philosophy around, let’s look at your metrics, and let’s talk about how to make them better. As opposed to, here’s the threshold and that’s where you have to be.

Andi Simon: I love what you’re talking about. A great transformation, isn’t it? Because slowly we are recognizing what can mobilize people. We’re learning so much from the neurosciences, the cognitive sciences, everything from the curiosity quotient, and the emotional intelligence and all the ways the amygdala and the brain works and what really gets people excited about what they’re doing. You couldn’t have done this without the pandemic, generating this great transformation. And now we’re changing how we’re managing people, asking them to feel the way we’d like them to. People didn’t know what those words meant before but now we decide with the heart and the eyes, and how it feels. How does it look? And then intellectually, we can look at the numbers that come out of that. It’s interesting. One of the podcasts I did with Lisa McLeod was about purpose. And Joey Ryan’s work on purpose, purpose-driven companies. If you have purpose with mastery and autonomy, you mobilize people to do far better, and any other kind of ratcheting down to data-driven metrics, the data comes from being happy. And that’s not so terrible.

Melissa Copeland: I would add, though, that for many organizations, it’s a really difficult shift. People have been rewarded for a long time for complying with the process, doing the right things, and being where you’re supposed to be. There’s enormous opportunity in this transformation. But there’s also a lot of fear and support required. And so, I think the other interesting trend is, many organizations, whether you call it change management or organizational change management, or you just call it transformation, or I have been known to call it whatever I need to call it to get it done so we can call it process work. But really thinking through, how do you help people through that difference? Because particularly tenured employees will have a lot of trouble making the move.

Andi Simon: I want to add something and then we’ll wrap, because the points you’re raising for our audience are very important. We live the story in our mind. The way humans survive is that we create a story in our mind and that becomes our reality. And Melissa says something very important because the tenured employees have a story that registered well for them in the past. They really knew how to do that and keep their jobs and keep the boss satisfied. They played it really well, it was like a role on stage, where they knew how to play Macbeth really, really well. And now they have to play Hamlet. And they don’t have a clue what the script is or how to perform. And it isn’t that they resist the change, they don’t really know how to. If you put them on stage and told them to play a new role, they don’t know what to say or how to say it. They don’t know how to behave with each other. They don’t know what to expect. It’s very scary legitimately.

And the brain hates to change, it’s got a lot of cortisol floating around up there. So as you’re looking at your employees, don’t get angry. Figure out how to hire Melissa to come help you invent new ways to show them how to come to the new. We used to say, if you want to change, have a crisis or create one, because if not, your brain doesn’t pay attention. I never expected this kind of crisis. I don’t really want another one. But don’t waste it. It’s a great time. Listen, this is such fun, tell the listeners two or three things that you don’t want them to forget.

Melissa Copeland: Number one, whether or not the customer is right, finding that collegiality and collaboration is critical to customer experience moving forward. So figuring out your service design and how to deliver it is absolutely paramount. The second point would be employee enablement, and letting employees lead but giving them the tools to do so. So freeing them from some of the process compliance of prior iterations is a terrific tool to do it. And you know, I’m happy to brainstorm or chat with anyone about those.

And then one more item that your last comment made me think of is, I myself had one of these epiphanies in November. My daughter and I went from Chicago to New York, and we saw Six on Broadway. And so for those that aren’t familiar with Six, it’s about the wives of Henry the Eighth, many of whom wound up decapitated or died of illness, had all these extraordinary adventures. And we brought my aunt with us. So we covered multiple generations, and my aunt knew the history better than anyone and loved the show for the history. My daughter loved the pop music, and the takeoffs of Beyoncé and Adele, and the music that was there, and I got about half of each, and still loved it. And so I think of that as inspiration for listeners. You don’t have to be at any one extreme, but you do have to find a way to find some of the fun in it. And if you can find the fun, then you can move the culture forward.

Andi Simon: That’s a beautiful metaphor for everything you do for life, in fact, because it is the same experience seen through very different eyes. The lenses were completely different. The story was exactly the same. You all sat in the same seats and watched it and had very different experiences. How better can we wrap up our conversation today? If they’d like to reach you, what’s the best way to get ahold of you?

Melissa Copeland: I’m easy to find on LinkedIn, you can find me, Melissa Copeland, or my firm Blue Orbit Consulting, or by the website, theblueorbitconsulting.com.

Andi Simon: That’s terrific. And we’ll put all of this together on our blog. This is such fun, you and I could talk a great deal about the dilemmas and the opportunities. Remember, don’t waste a crisis and you’re coming out of a very unusual one, but this is a time that has pushed us to transformation, great transformations. Some of us love it and others can’t figure out how to get back to what was, but you can’t. I doubt we’ll ever see what was, we don’t even remember what it was. So it’s hard to go back. But instead, it’s a time to create your future. So don’t waste it. It’s a great time to do it. And this has been terrific today.

For all of you who come, thank you for joining us. You come from around the globe. I mean, we’re ranked in the top 5% of global podcasts. I’m honored. You send me great people to interview. info@andisimon.com is where you can get to me. But the most important thing today that I’d like to share is, buy my books, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights and Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business. You can get them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever you like to buy books. But the point of the books is to help you see, feel and think in new ways. And this podcast is here to do the same. My job is to help you get off the brink and soar. And sometimes you need a little catalyst, a little push, a little nudge because as we know, we get attached to that shiny object and we don’t want to let go but the times are changing. So enjoy the trip. Stay well and enjoy your day. Have a good one. Bye now.


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