I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Coveo’s own VP of Customer Experience (CX) – Jennifer MacIntosh. Jennifer is a whirlwind of knowledge, passion, and a take charge attitude that made interviewing her a delight.
Her journey in the tech world started twenty years ago. With roles such as Sales Support, Technical Support, to Product Manager and Knowledge Manager, all of Jennifer’s previous positions have all pointed to one direction: customer experience.
In the world of SaaS, you’re not selling a physical product, so your customer experience becomes the de facto differentiating factor and it’s an increasing priority for customers and prospects. In fact, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better brand experience. With an increasing demand for personalized experiences and Jennifer being named as a Top Woman of SaaS by The SaaS Report, there’s never been a better time to ask Jennifer what has lead to her success and how those learnings can help today’s SaaS scale. In our interview we touch on the importance of customer experience, advice for women entering the SaaS field, and so much more. Without further ado, here is our interview:
Isaac: Why did you decide to pursue a career in customer experience?
Jennifer: I’ve always had a deep passion for customers and delivering world-class service. I started my career in Sales Support, providing support to reps in the field and I liked it. I went on from there to Technical Support, then to Product Management and then Knowledge Management. I believe all of these roles were preparing me for a role in CX. There’s an exciting movement happening now that puts the customer in the centre of what we do. Organizations that embrace this movement will do well, and those who don’t won’t be around to talk about it. I’ve seen the customer-centric movement coming for a long time, about 20 years. Being an advocate for the customer is not always a snazzy role, but I’m glad the tech industry has come around to this and I believe SaaS really drove this.
Isaac: What does your typical day look like?
Jennifer: I’m not sure there is a typical day. I travel a lot, presenting at industry events, visiting customers, or other Coveo offices. But when I’m not traveling much of my time is spent collaborating across the organization with my peers, following up on customer feedback, researching industry trends, or analyzing data for trends of our own. I help to ensure that we’re learning from what we are doing today and planning on how we can improve it tomorrow.
Isaac: What are some major misconceptions when it comes to customer experience?
Jennifer: There are two that stand out for me: First, that it is only about “service”. Certainly, traditional “customer service” is a piece of the experience, but it’s much bigger than that. It’s about culture and having a customer-centric culture must be something that everyone owns, and buys into across the organization, not just the support organization.
Second, that it’s something that can’t be measured and that it can’t be translated into ROI for the business. It’s hard to do because there are so many silos of data to connect and analyze but it is most certainly doable and it’s crucial if you want to provide a complete picture of your organizational health.
Isaac: Being recognized as a Top Woman in SaaS is a big deal. What are some of the biggest challenges, and opportunities, for women who want to venture into the world of SaaS?
Jennifer: Balancing home life is probably the biggest challenge for women, especially with demanding travel schedules. As a mother, it has been hard and I had to learn that I can’t be everything to everyone, every day. It has taken me time to learn to not sweat the small stuff. It’s okay if my family has to eat out or have a dinner that I didn’t make from scratch, they haven’t starved yet. Having a great social network of friends, colleagues and family has really made it possible for me. I have had tremendous support from my husband and my inlaws who helped a lot in the early days.
I think it’s important to recognize that opportunities do exist for women. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that you have to have your eyes open, be willing to share your success, be humble about your learning and be ready to make decisions that you hadn’t seen coming or planned for. This has been my biggest gift; I have always been ready to take a role and shift directions even if it was different from where I had thought I was going. It has never served me wrong and has always helped me get to my next opportunity.
Isaac: What things can leaders in SaaS organizations, or any organization for that matter, do to support women in tech?
Jennifer: Be supportive, pay people equally and build a diverse workplace. It is proven that doing so actually gets your organization better results and more accurately reflects your customer base. It also ensures a wider range of experience that enables you to avoid groupthink. Placing an emphasis on diversity helps to ensure that this doesn’t happen. This does not only apply to gender, but educational backgrounds, cultural diversity and organizational experiences too. This is why a bank hired me as a tech professional with no banking experience. They had lots of bankers, but zero colleagues with a tech-based digital experience background. It was a good match for both of us, we both learned a lot.
Isaac: What advice would you give to women looking to get started in the SaaS field?
Jennifer: Try different roles, even if you’re not sure they will be a fit for the long haul. I’ve spent time in many areas of the business: Finance, Support, Training, Product Management, Marketing, Knowledge Management, and Customer Success & Experience. I’ve purposefully taken roles that required me to stretch my thinking and learn new things, and see how the other side operates.
Secondly, find a mentor. This doesn’t have to be a woman, but someone you can openly talk to and share with and ask for advice. I’ve had a mentor for almost 20 years. It wasn’t the formalized mentor-mentee relationship that some think is necessary to be successful. I would call him for advice any time of any day and he would coach me through things. Even though he’s retired now, I know I still call him to set me straight. He may be on the seventh tee, but he’ll always take my call and tell me “can I call you back after I finish this round?”, which he always does! His coaching has been a tremendous asset to me and I only hope I can give back to someone else what he has done for me.
Isaac: Have there been any other women in tech who have contributed to your journey?
Jennifer: There have been many, starting with my first boss over 20 years ago, Penny Ball, who helped me understand the importance of taking risks and trying new things. I also worked for another women leader in tech who was a ground breaker and early woman executive in software, it was much tougher for her. She had a very strong personality and was difficult to work for. But, she helped me learn me things that I wanted to emulate, as well as things that I didn’t want to repeat, both were important. I didn’t really appreciate those insights from her until several years after I’d moved on. I’ve also had to learn to work with other women leaders from other cultural backgrounds and learn how things can be done differently in different parts of the world.
In particular though, I’m a huge fan of Jeanne Bliss, I like her tough-love wrapped in velvet approach to the journey of CX. It’s helping me understand that change doesn’t happen overnight, but through one step at a time to improve experiences. I am pairing a lot of her ideas and approaches together with my own experiences everyday and using that to build out our CX program here at Coveo.
Isaac: Do you have any books or other resources you would recommend for women who are interested in pursuing career growth?
Jennifer: Not only for women, but a book that resonated with me is Escape Velocity: Free Your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past by Geoffrey Moore. I love this guy and had the chance to meet him when he did a leadership event for us.
Isaac: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice with what you know now, what would it be?
Jennifer: Chill on timelines. Early in life I set these markers and goals for my career progression and if at any time I wasn’t where I wanted to be by that artificial date, I got discouraged and felt like I wasn’t progressing as fast as I should be. I’ve learned to chill on this and have acknowledged that as long as I’m learning then I am progressing.
The second thing is that change takes time. I’m a change agent, I lead transformational change in organizations. I personally accept and adapt to change very well, but what I had to learn is that not everyone reacts to change in the same way. I’m continuing to practice patience as others learn and adapt to change at their own pace and hope to help guide them through that process.
To learn more about Jennifer MacIntosh, her experience as a woman in tech, and her role as VP of Customer Experience, be sure to keep your eye on our Twitter page for a full video interview. If you have any questions for Jennifer regarding her experiences, send her a tweet!