It was at a neighborhood ice cream parlor that Elisa Steele first discovered the power of a great customer experience.
“I scooped ice cream at a place called Rose Glen Dairy with the old-fashioned windows where people lined up to get their ice cream on a hot summer evening,” Steele says, recalling her very first job while in high school.
“That’s when I realized how much customer service can make a person happy. I had a very long line because I would always be generous with my scoops. I just enjoyed making people happy. It was a physically hard job, but it was a fun job to be able to serve people and make them smile and create that kind of connection.”
As Steele moved into her professional career, that passion to delight customers only burned brighter. Instead of serving ice cream, Steele searched for ways to help businesses work more effectively and provide the best possible product or service to their own customers.
“What do they need?” Steele says of a typical customer. “How do you help them solve problems? How do you create a relationship that drives satisfaction and pays off for the people and the company? I got very enamored with the ability to think about those customer problems and how you can solve them at scale.”
As president and CEO at Jive Software Inc., Steele has found the perfect place to feed her passion for customer service. The company of more than 700 employees is a leading provider of modern communication and collaboration solutions for businesses and works to help its customers boost employee productivity, alignment and innovation.
“The trend to be able to use whatever technology you want to use to be able to communicate with each other feels liberating to an individual, but for a company, it creates a pretty big problem,” Steele says.
“It leads to content being created in a silo that is not accessible. It creates teams working together in groups that are not connected to other groups who need to know that information. You can imagine just starting to add layers that it is extremely inefficient.”
One of the primary missions of Jive is to help customers maximize the power of technology, but do it in a way that brings people together and combines the unique skills and talents of that customer’s employees so that they can better serve their customers.
“Every leader, every business is going through some sort of transformation to embrace and think about how lifestyle has changed the way people work in their company,” Steele says.
“That’s a massive thing for leaders to think about. No matter if you’re going to go very aggressive on technology or less aggressive, the fact is people have changed their work style because they have changed their lifestyle. You need to be able to understand that in order to provide the right work environment for your organization.”
Bring people together
Mobile accessibility has driven a major change in the way companies function. Working on the go is not just a perk or a skill that only matters to the high-tech businesses. It’s everywhere.
“It’s not work on the go,” Steele says. “It’s just work. It’s the standard today.”
Given that change, companies need to change the way they approach the training of new employees.
“Before, you would join a company, get trained, learn all their systems and you really didn’t have any other option whether you liked the systems or not,” she says. “You had to use them because that’s the way the company operated.
“Today, if I want to get something done, all I have to do is pick up the phone and I can use anything I want or my colleague wants to use to do our work together. It has been creating a tremendous number of silos in organizations.”
Those silos are exactly what companies don’t want in the age of a stronger focus on culture and collaboration.
“Companies are trying to create engagement strategies for their employees to keep them interested and involved in their company because talent wars are really tough out there,” she says. “You want to hire the best people, you want to retain the best people and you want to provide career development and engagement for them to stay at your company.”
Those strategies need to be given top priority since in many ways, they are as important to your company’s future as the work itself.
“Put in a strategy for unification,” Steele says.
“You have teams and departments at the company level that are able to interact in ways that are very efficient and productive. Create a repository of information that is searchable and visible and drives corporate memory.
“It should be able to be found by anyone who might need that information in the future. It’s very important to have a strategy around how you do that. Otherwise, your company can get bifurcated and end up working in all these different hidden pockets.”
One of the first things Steele did as CEO at Jive was to put out an idea jam on the topic of employee satisfaction and engagement.
“I’m the new CEO and I want to know what’s on your mind,” Steele says.
“What can we do to make Jive an even better company? You get all sorts of ideas. Some of them are not so good, meaning they are short-term or they are not something that is strategic for the company. You get some ideas that are really good. What you find is the community comes together and the great ideas that are really meaningful rise to the top.”
Key to making this strategy work is your ability to listen. If you have sessions to generate ideas and you get ideas, but you don’t respond or take action on any of them, your people will quickly see that it’s all for show.
“You have to listen to your customers and listen to your teams,” Steele says.
“The reality is most of the best information is closest to where the problem is. The CEO is typically not closest to where that problem is. There is someone in the company who is closer. There is a customer who is closer. There is a leader who is closer. Active listening is critically important to develop your own perspective, to help the team make decisions and to empower them to go faster in the market because they have decision-making capabilities.”