The latest episode in our Women of CX series looks at driving customer-centric growth at scale.
This past Thursday, we were joined by Amanda Whiteside, Head of Worldwide Customer Optimisation and Enablement at Amazon. In a conversation with Chattermill’s Anisha Kainth, Whiteside talks about how she got into CX and speaks about the principles that drive her work at Amazon as the brand continues to grow.
Read on for our key takeaways from the webinar. As always, you can watch the full episode – including the Q&A – in the video below.
How did you end up in the CX space?
Whiteside’s journey into the world of customer experience wasn’t altogether straightforward.
‘I really started off in sales,’ she says. ‘I enjoyed my time customer-facing in B2B but then also moving into B2C.’
Whiteside spent some time working at HelloFresh but admits that CX wasn’t really something they were thinking about in a meaningful, tangible way back then. Once she had moved to Amazon, she found herself working in customer support and was introduced to customer feedback data.
‘That started to give me a bit of an indicator into how you really listen to customers and how you use that data,’ Whiteside says. ‘The data can be very difficult to interpret, and often it can point in different directions and so it takes some time to understand how to use it effectively, how to bring it up to the board or senior management level, and how to drive some of those specific results.’
Whiteside also speaks of the need to understand different job families, such as product management or staffing, to understand how CX touches those parts of the business. Building up this knowledge means she now feels she has a good, rounded, view of what customer experience might mean.
How has your experience in sales and product affected your outlook on CX?
‘The great thing about doing any kind of customer-facing role in your career means that you get to step into the customer’s shoes and get that sense of empathy,’ Whiteside says. ‘That can be something that is a little more difficult to do if you’ve never engaged with customers one-to-one. I try to bring a lot of that experience with me.’
When it comes to bringing that customer-facing experience to product development, Whiteside reflects on the value of being able to contextualise and explain problem statements and UX issues to product managers.
This is clearly a key skill which has developed from the perspective of both end-users and product developers.
How have you found it as a woman in CX?
‘I’ve had a positive experience, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily related to being a woman or not,’ Whiteside says. ‘The CX space is tough. There are many things the business wants to prioritise, and so it can be difficult to make sure that CX is at the forefront.’
‘Really, a lot of the work I have had to do is to really figure out how to advocate for that being front and centre,’ she adds. ‘You have to put a very strong business case across to ensure it can go head-to-head with priorities that might be there.’
‘My experience has really been about refining that problem statement and figuring out how to communicate at a senior level what’s important. That takes a bit of work. How can you use metrics? How can you use data to really define what the problem statement is for the customer and ensure that you make a strong business case?’
You have a strong female team around you. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
‘I’m very proud to have a large female organisation,’ Whiteside says. ‘It’s something that I think kind of naturally happens in any business; females attract female leaders and vice versa.’
‘It’s really about being there for women on your team,’ she adds. ‘When individuals find themselves with imposter syndrome or maybe they’re just coming back from maternity leave, and they’re finding their feet getting back into the role again, having that open door to talk about it is really important.’
And yet, for Whiteside, it is not just about trying to diversify the organisation from a female point of view but also to do so more broadly across race and background too.
‘We’re working on that alongside a lot of the objectives of Amazon, and it’s something that I’m really proud to be a part of,’ she says.
What advice would you have for women who want to grow their careers in CX?
‘Talk to people,’ Whiteside says. ‘It’s really important to get out there and speak to people that are doing CX today. How are they doing it? What could you learn from them?’
‘CX has a really broad and welcoming community,’ she adds. ‘I’ve been so welcomed, and everyone has been really supportive anytime, getting on a call, talking about a problem and a solution. There’s a really nice network of sharing.’
What are the basic principles you follow when it comes to customer experience?
For Whiteside, it all starts with the problem statement for the customer, before getting good at interpreting your data, running your VoC programs, ‘and really being clear about what problem you’re solving.’
‘If you don’t get this right up front, you can find yourself way further down the line trying to advocate for an improvement and just not having the right problem statement defined,’ she says.
‘My teams often do deep dives on whatever data we have available related to: number of customer contacts, number of defects… we’re constantly trying to go into what are those key things that are problematic today – and how do we prioritise them to find a business impact and think about what could potentially be the downstream impact if we don’t fix it.’
She continues: ‘Once you have a good understanding of what your problem statement is, you can start to move forward with what you think the plan might be. That may require a program or product aspect or maybe something completely different that requires both of those components.’
‘Whatever your solutions might be, having those prioritised and having a clear backlog and then bringing that to a senior leadership level to say: this is what we’ve observed in the business, this is how it’s impacting our customers, and this is what we feel needs to be done to resolve it…’
But of course, beyond this, there’s a lot more work that needs to happen. For Whiteside, the next steps are: mechanising, following up, and being committed to the strategy. She is relentless about getting over the line and getting the outcome the company needs.
How do you prove the value of CX to the whole company?
‘Often it’s about trying to speak the language of the company,’ Whiteside says.
‘If you’ve got a really high ongoing spike in customer contacts related to a lost item, for example, that costs the business money. Those types of things can be fairly easy to document, and being able to tie it back to costs, limited growth, and being able to grow the business faster if we fix it… can really help them see how this plugs into the greater priorities of the organisation.’
For Whiteside, there’s something of a sweet spot she is always aiming for – ‘where you’re advocating for the customer, but you’re also making a point of how it will improve the business.’
How do you approach your VoC program?
‘Your VoC program is one of the tougher ones.’ Whiteside admits. ‘You get a lot of anecdotal information, and it can be difficult to cut through.’
Whiteside points to how within Amazon, they always have someone dedicated specifically to VoC.
‘They’ll spend their time running the mechanism, making sure those keywords are coming through,’ she says. ‘They’re building logic for how they might go and categorise it. So you may go and categorise it under a certain set of themes. You may categorise it under a predefined defect or predefined opportunity. And again managing that backlog to be able to turn that anecdotal information into data. So if you’re seeing X number of comments about Y, you want to be able to track that and see if that changes on a monthly basis or on a quarterly basis.’
Beyond that, Whiteside points to how vital it is to actually make the changes that need to be made and communicate that back to the customer – otherwise, they may stop being engaged or suffer from survey fatigue.
What are the biggest opportunities with a VoC program?
For Whiteside, artificial intelligence and machine learning are set to revolutionise Voice of the Customer programs.
‘It’s something that I think will help take a lot of the manual work that we’re doing today off something like a VoC program,’ she says. ‘Being able to pre-identify those keywords, bring that information and that data to the surface, and build those dashboards.’
‘Some of the challenges with CX is being able to do that quickly. Being able to have technology that can identify that for you and interpret it into dashboards or trends so that you can spend your time taking action more effectively is super valuable.’
How important is customer feedback to your CX strategy?
‘It couldn’t be more important,’ Whiteside says. ‘It’s really important at any level to always ground yourself back in that feedback and keep yourself as close to the customer as possible.’
‘Making sure that is one of the key objectives of your business is really vital,’ she adds.
How do you ensure CX is maintained at a global level?
Whiteside admits that driving consistency globally is tricky.
‘In particular, how do you think about taking a process that works in one area and scaling it globally – is it always going to work? Or is it only going to work 60% of the time, and then you need to apply local nuances to account for exceptions or differences?’
Again, there is a sweet spot here, between respecting local customers and trying to find global efficiencies.
‘There’s a couple of different steps that you need to take in order to make sure that you’re scaling your program effectively,’ she says. ‘A lot of it is related to how you pilot something and really understand what the desired customer experience is within any new area.’
What do you think other businesses and brands can learn from Amazon's CX strategy?
Whiteside says she doesn’t have a silver bullet, but she does have three key takeaways here:
- Make sure you have a robust customer feedback mechanism.
- Be determined about what you want to do for your customers.
- Make sure your teams stay close to your customers on a local level.
And when it comes to how organisations should remain proactive in their approach to CX, for Whiteside, it is really a case of internal structure – having that dedicated team for which the customer is all-important and who can communicate the needs of the end-user to others across the business.