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CX Decoded Podcast: Customer Experience With a Looming Recession

16 minute read
Michelle Hawley avatar
CMSWire's CX Decoded team catches up with Tina Dobie, chief customer officer at Calendly, on taking on CX challenges in a looming recession.

A recession can be like preparing to go backpacking. You have to decide what you need, what’s unnecessary and what might potentially weigh you down.

CX leaders have to make similar decisions to successfully trek the current economic landscape. They too have to pick and choose needs, cull waste and protect the integrity of their teams — all while serving their customers flawlessly.

Tina Dobie is the chief customer officer at Calendly. In this episode, she discusses how to think about doing more with less while still driving marketing leads, keeping customers close and your customer support agents inspired.

We caught up with Tina in our latest CX Decoded podcast.

Michelle Hawley: Hello, and welcome to our latest edition of CX Decoded. I'm Michele Hawley, senior editor for CMSWire and I'm joined by my co-host Dom Nicastro, managing editor of CMSWire. What's going on, Dom?

Dom Nicastro: Not much excited to be here with you again, Michelle, and we've scored another CX leader or an actual practitioner, which I love. Today, we're going to be chatting with Tina, Dobie. She's the chief customer officer for Calendly. Tina, what's going on?

Tina Dobie: Hello, hello, Michelle. Hello, Dom. You know, just working hard trying to keep customers happy over here at Calendly.

Dom: And this is a newish role for you. So I'd love for you to give our listeners a sense of the role and know how new it is and sort of how you kind of landed there, a little background on your career. And I always try to get our guests on this. You can not walk away without sharing a fun fact, unrelated to your work career. So you gotta give us something, too.

Tina: Oh, boy. Okay, I'll try and keep that in mind. Keep me honest. So I am privileged to have been at Calendly for the past year. And before I get into my role at Calendly, I'm happy to give you a little bit about my background. So prior to Calendly, I've been privileged to build and lead teams at two other fast-growing SaaS startups over the last 15 years, where I've really been focused on scaling those companies from less than 5 million in annual recurring revenue through to successful IPOs and over 250 million in global revenue.

Most recently, I was at a managed web services company that hosted websites built on the WordPress platform called WP Engine. I was chief customer officer there for seven years. I ran a team of 330 amazing team members that gave 24/7 support and customer success to our global customer base.

And then prior to that was VP of client services at Bazaarvoice. A user reviews company where I led our account management organization and our Centers for Excellence. Really, my career has been over the last three decades in customer-facing roles. And it's hard to believe it's been that long, but my passion is really in hiring and growing teams, again the last 15 years in SaaS, but I'm always in customer-facing roles. I love building processes and enabling technology to deliberately architect customer experiences that drive value and retention.

So that is really what kind of has led me to Calendly. I was looking for an opportunity where I could continue to use my SaaS background. Really take an organization that is super fast growing, and again, deliberately architect those experiences for customers.

So fun fact, that's not related. I don't know how I want to get there. How about having the opportunity to jump headfirst out of an airplane, somersaulting from 13,000 feet and then, you know, parachuting and landing safely on the ground back in my 20s. That seems like a pretty good one.

Dom: What was the fun part of that?

Tina: It was scary. It was fun. It was exciting.

Dom: Oh, man. How does that relate to B2B customer experience? So let's see. Is there any parallels there, jumping out of planes? Almost killing yourself? No, I can't think of any. Can you Tina, Michelle? Nothing.

Tina: I can think of a B2C experience, I can think of the soul that got me safely to the ground. He delivered a very nice customer experience

The Biggest CX Challenges During This Economic Downturn

Michelle: Well, speaking of customer experience, that's kind of our focus here today. Right? One big topic that keeps coming up and people keep debating is this upcoming recession. You know, everyone's talking about it? And I kind of want to know, what are the biggest CX challenges that you predict arising when this economic downturn becomes a reality?

Tina: Well, I think it's hard for us to know if it actually is our reality right now, or if we're just at the beginning or hopefully nearing the end. But I think first and foremost, just kind of given the current macroeconomic challenges. I think businesses really need to become more efficient. And as we've seen in the news recently, that tends to come in the form of cutting back on expenses and doing more with fewer resources.

And oftentimes, these decisions have outcomes, which come at the expense of our customers, and the experience that they may have or want to have with your product or your service. So as I think about it, I think it's interesting to take a step back for a second and kind of remember that for a very large demographic of our workforce, this downturn is really unfamiliar territory.

You know, I've been doing this, like I said, for about 30 years, and I've seen my fair share of economic ups and downs. But we have to remind ourselves that our younger professionals that work with us that are in their mid-to-late 20s, they were in middle school, and even elementary school during the last economic downcycle of 2008. And so for these folks and for the customers that we serve, it's a new and unfamiliar environment to be working in.

So yes, during the downturn, becoming more efficient is absolutely critical. Businesses cut expenses, and we're all asked to do a lot more with a lot less. And yet, you know, our marketing teams still need to drive more leads and better-qualified ones at that. And sales teams need to become even more efficient in setting those prospective customer meetings.

And those handoffs from sales teams to implementation teams and customer success teams, they need to be flawless, so that a customer can start to realize that value from your technology as quickly as possible. And all of this being said, is primarily with the goal of ensuring that those customers see the return on their investment, so that they stay loyal. And they retain over the long haul.

Related Article: Handling CX in an Economic Downturn

Doing More With Less While Still Meeting Customer Expectations

Dom: Tina looking at the big picture as a CX leader, because I have heard so many different approaches from like CX leaders, marketing leaders on where to focus, how to focus, what to look at, and depending on what company you are, you're focusing on different things. So I've heard, you know, we need to do an audit of our software, right, we need to see what's a waste? I mean, what you want in ourselves, you know, it's CMSWire and Simpler Media Group, we're doing it ourselves, we're looking at our internal tools, why are we paying this monthly fee for that tool? We don't need it, we don't need that.

Some people, marketing leaders, I did a LinkedIn Live. Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer, told me that he's doubling down on things like branding, and actually podcasts and things like that, which you would think is more like a soft kind of program where, you know, we need to hit our third quarter leads, why are we doing podcasting? You know, but he's a believer in it. And it's worked for him. So, where specifically right now as a CX leader, are you really focusing in terms of either trimming or focusing more on one thing versus another, just to really get ready for this economic downturn?

Tina: Yeah, that's a great question. In the face of, you know, the storm, I think we're all being asked again, to be more efficient, and do more with less. And you're right in the companies and even, you know, teams that we lead have to be far more judicious about their discretionary spending. And then the second thing is, you know, people are gonna expect more from what they buy from the products and services that they choose to spend their money on. I think that the service experience associated with the product has to be second to none. Because long after the recession is over, and we're looking in the rearview mirror, people are gonna remember the way that a service experience made them feel way more than they're going to remember how the product works. So for those reasons, I think that's how customer expectations are gonna change.

Dom: It's so true. It's so true. Michelle will tell you I always use the cell phone example. No one ever says, my phone is so cool. They say look at how Sprint treated me or whatever. You know, like, when I call customer service, this is what happened. Like, that's what they talk about. With people, they don't show each other their phones, they look, I have apps on it. So awesome. Right? So it's all about that experience, I'm sure you're doubling down on that a lot.

Learning Opportunities

Tina: We definitely are, you know, a lot of companies try and measure their experience through NPS scores and CSAT scores. And so one of the things I like to say is, we have to be on our A-game all the time, every time we talk to a customer because you never know when that person is going to refer a friend or they're buying a personal account. And then they are really you know, the CEO of a company that's going to advocate for that technology in their own organization. So I completely agree. It's how you make a customer feel. And having accessible customer service, especially in a down cycle is just really, really important.

Related Article: What Does Customer Success Look Like in an Economic Downturn?

Measuring Customer Experience for Digital Services

Michelle: You talk about how customers feel or how they interact, how do you measure that or measure expectations when it comes to a digital service?

Tina: I think when it comes to digital service, I think there are a couple of ways that we measure, and it needs to be holistic across all the different touchpoints. So, for example, when a customer first signs up with a subscription service as an example, what is the experience that we are creating for that customer and the way that we're onboarding them? Are we architecting a solution that is very helpful for them and gives them guided workflows, for example, do this first then do that, and make it easy for a customer to get started. And then are we measuring that internally. So a customer may not know that on the back end, in an application, we're tracking product usage, for example. And that's what most operationally excellent companies tend to do.

So if I know that it takes three steps, for example, for a customer to successfully log in and take those three actions, and through product usage analytics, I know that that customer has only completed two of those steps, then I can measure the success of that customer based on that information. And I can surface that and my frontline support organization, such that they can proactively reach out to a customer and say, hey, it looks like you may need a little help. Because you haven't completed this next step, this is what you need to do in order to use the product well.

So that's just an example of measuring within the product, so that you understand how a customer is successfully utilizing the product, but then, actually using that data to create very personalized experiences for customers. And I can, I can even take that one step further and say, if we know you haven't done that third thing and you need to do the fourth, then we can, again, proactively reach out and even build an email campaign, for example, that makes it easier for you to understand what to do next.

So thinking about that omnichannel experience, and how we measure customer success along the way. And then of course, there's the traditional measurements of customer success, such like CSAT, coming from your support organization, or NPS, Net Promoter Score, that you can measure on a given timeframe, or even Customer Effort Score, which is how much work a customer has to put into using your product. And is that a measure of loyalty and retention in the long run?

Related Article: Measuring During Recessions: 3 Opportunities for Marketers

Remembering That Customer Feedback Is a Gift

Dom: Yeah, that's cool to hear how you're looking at what the digital analytics are telling you, and you're acting on it. That's super cool. You know, another trend and theme I'm sort of hearing lately from CX leaders and marketing leaders is we need to talk to the customers more like literally talk to them, and do more face-to-face. Because even if it's like a small group, like five customers, you’ve got to think that they're representative of a larger thesis or a larger theme.

As a CX leader in your career. I mean, it's such a struggle to really get in front of them, take the time, it's hard to get their time, you know, because they're just customers, they just want this software to work. They don't necessarily have the time to sit there and serve your company. But how do you approach that? Do you have a program in place like that? Are you thinking about it to get in front of customers kind of like one-to-one?

Tina: Well, first of all, we have to make it super easy for them to engage with us. I would say number two is, we have to have something of value to give a customer in order for them to want to take a meeting with us. Because you know, at the end of the day, customer feedback is absolutely a gift. It is our responsibility, especially in times like today where the macroeconomic environment is uncertain. It's important that we seek out feedback about our product and our service. And when it's important that we listen to what customers are telling us, and that we act on their feedback. And for all those reasons. I think that really companies who, especially in times like now, are listening and acting and improving their customer experience. They're the ones that are going to be successful and have those customers for life.

Related Article: Chief Marketing Officers Share Priorities Amid Economic Stress

How Employee Experience Plays Into Customer Experience

Michelle: One thing that keeps coming up over and over lately is employee experience and how employee experience plays into customer experience. What are your thoughts on that?

Tina: Oh, I love this question. I absolutely believe that the employee experience is critical to everything that we do for a customer and the experience that they have with your brand. So customers can feel when an employee loves their job, right? I'm sure we've all been places, you know, a restaurant and our server is having the best day of their life or anytime we have to make a phone call, we can tell if the service individual on the other end of the phone really is there because they enjoy their job.

And so if employee experience is so mission critical, let's use a customer support organization as an example. So, you know, I've led support teams for years, and really with support teams it starts with hiring. And it is our mission to find people that have that innate service mentality because we can train to the skills. I see a lot of people that just hire for the skills that they're looking for. But it's super hard to train someone to change their mindset about how they're going to service a customer.

So when I think about employee experience, one we’ve got to find the right people. Two is we have to invest in really robust training programs so that the people servicing our customers feel really, really empowered, they have the knowledge to do their job, they feel empowered to make decisions that benefit the customers. And we give them the rope to make those decisions that are going to be beneficial to both the customer and the company. And then I think the next thing when we think about the employee experience is, we have to create opportunities for our employees to connect with each other and grow.

And so you know, things like peer shadowing, and belonging groups, we want to create an environment where our employees want to do their best work, again because customers feel that when our teams are working with them. So really thinking about how are we investing in our employees? How are we creating the right experience? How are we creating the right recognition and rewards so that people want to do and have the opportunity to do the best work of their lives? And customers want to keep doing business with you again if they know that you're there to support them, and that they've had a good service experience?

Related Article: Economic Downturn Ahead: 4 Ways to Trim Your Martech Stack

Using Technology for Employee Connectedness and Fun

Dom: Yeah, how do you really actually improve employee experience with a contact center agent? Because I think that it's got to be one of the most thankless, toughest jobs out there. I mean, if I were to worry about every single interaction I had with a human being in the course of my work day was rated on a one-through-five scale. I mean, my goodness, at the end of the day, I’d be like, “Oh, my God, I got all fives.” You know, and that's a bad one. I mean, no one calls the call center to say, “Hey, you're doing a great job, bye.” No, they call to complain.

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