Does Poor Leadership Impact The Customer Experience? With Cameron Farrar

Updated: May 17, 2021

Juanita Coley: Hey, guys, and welcome back to Call Center Chronicles. I'm super excited to have you with us here today. Man, we've been having such an excellent conversation. Would you guys agree if you're joining in with us alive today, so we're streaming on Facebook, we're streaming on YouTube, LinkedIn, so follow us?

Okay, wherever, alright, and type in the comments, let me know that you're here. Well, let me know where you're joining from, or the organization you're listening in from, we've been having such a good conversation, and you guys have been sending in some great topics.

So, I have an announcement about season two, but I'm going to stay focused. We're going to talk about season one and get through this episode first. And then we'll get into Episode Two at another point in time.

But for right now, I'm super excited about this week's show, because it's titled, does poor leadership impact customer experience?

What you all think? Somebody let me know, what is leadership has to do with the customer experience that we get on the end isn't just about, taking phone calls and making sure that the customer gets their account balance, or they get what they're calling in about, what is leadership has to do with that anyway. So, I want to talk about it. And I want to bring on our guest expert.

Today, Cameron, we met a while back, a long time ago. And he was such an awesome person to work with. But I'm going to bring him on. I'm going to let him introduce himself. And we're going to dive right in because I have a lot of questions.

And you guys already know how the show goes where we ask a question, and it goes into a whole tangent on something else. But that's okay because you all want to know the answers to these questions because you all send me the emails about these questions.

So, I know that you guys want to know. Okay, so without further ado, I am going to welcome Cameron.

Cameron, welcome to the show today. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Cameron Farrar: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Juanita Coley: Tell us so we were talking earlier. And we were I was like me and Cameron. We've known each other since. What? I don't know. A while. It's been years.

Cameron Farrar: Yes. I would say close to a decade.

Juanita Coley: Yes. Probably about 10 years. That's insane. Tell me, you're recounting about the first time that you've met me.

Cameron Farrar: Yes, I think I had just become, Site Director or taken it over, while Elena was out in England on an assignment. And so, feeling a little overwhelmed. And I would come downstairs every day to walk the call center floor to greet everybody, it was my way of taking the temperature of how all the programs are doing.

And I had to walk by the command center. And I think our first substantive interaction happened, where you and I had a conversation about the business. And I remember walking away going, WOW, she knows her stuff.

And what struck me and what I want to talk about today in terms of leadership, is you had a vision about how things should be and you had an opinion and that's what matters, I think, is that you felt very strongly about how the business should look and feel and run.

And you took your role in that equation there are so many people in the call center that make up the experience. But if everybody has that passion and that degree of dedication, then we're going to be in okay shape. We can fix things right. And I remember walking away going, okay, I'm not alone. I've got a partner and that meant a lot to me.

Juanita Coley: That's awesome Camera and I remember, we would get a lot of visitors in the command center because one just the way we were structured, we were this center focus point. And so, for those of you, we were like this fishbowl. And so, when united would get our optimum, we get new customers or clients, they will bring them by the command center.

So, we were just like this, viewers type of place. And so, people would always walk in, what is it that you guys do? We make sure that the business runs, that calls are getting answered, effectively and efficiently, the lines are up, we play triage to IT.

And so, we had a lot of different roles. And so, it was interesting building that department and running the department and building relationships with, yourself and Elina, and just all of the different people that we had to work with and build relationships, just make sure that we were able to get the job done.

That a whole episode for a whole nether time about building relationships so you can get the job done.

And I think it's something to be said, to build authentic relationships. It's one thing to be kind of like opportunists where you're building a relationship just for the sake of getting done what you need to get done. But building relationships to where 10 years later, I could say Cameron, I got the show you want to come on?

And you're like - ABSOLUTELY.

And I think that's something to be said about been building genuine relationships. And being a leader that takes ownership, one of the things that you said that stuck out to me is that I had this vision. And I had one boss who used to say, he was awesome and amazing, he used to say success rises and falls on leadership, which is, we know that comes from, I can't remember the book right now but it's a book that, that comes from someone else that it comes from, but he's to say it all the time, he introduced me to that.

And I believe that that's so true success rises and falls on leadership. And so, when we succeed, great, that's leadership when we fail, great or not great, that's leadership, as well as so we have to figure out what's important? What are the business's goals and objectives beyond metrics?

Beyond metrics, and that's what I was concerned about in the command center, beyond just the metrics, service level ASA, things like that. What is United Healthcare’s, because that's where we were at, helping people live healthier lives. That's our mission. And that's what our culture says.

So, how do we do that? How do we embody that culture? Even though we have metrics that we have to meet, how do I help people live healthier lives? And that is not only the customer that's calling in for customer support, but that's even my agents. How do I make sure that they have flexible shifts, or they have the type of work-life balance that helps them to live a healthier life? And so yes, I am super passionate about Call Center Operations, workforce management.

I like to say I'm, the Disney of call centers, I, When I think of call centers, I see the stars, the rainbows, and all the fun stuff. That's me. I don't know why I'm kind of quirky like that. But I love it.

Cameron Farrar: It's a world unto itself.

Juanita Coley: It is, it is its discipline, for sure. So, tell us a little bit more about you, Camera. So, you've moved on from United Healthcare. I've moved on from United Healthcare. Tell me what you've been doing, catch us up.

Cameron Farrar: Yes. So, I loved United Healthcare, great leaders, great experience, great mission. And what happened was our division was sold to another worldwide contact center company TTEC, a lot of people know about that. And so, we moved over there. And I went from kind of my multi-hat role to focused on process improvement for the healthcare vertical as TTEC expanded their footprint in that market area in healthcare.

And so, I spent about 18 months doing that great company, they invested in their employees invested in me. They sent me to Villanova University to get my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. So that was a wonderful, great department over there. Good leadership. So, that was a great story.

I had an opportunity and I took it and went to Everise, and ran their training and quality team for the United States under Paul Szymanski and Dave Palmer, he's now the CEO of that worldwide company. So worked with them in that and since then, I decided to take a break from the call center industry and completely left that went on into an unrelated industry, and now I've decided to open my shop back up.

So, I'm working independently as a consultant and I'm working on improving the employee experience and helping companies not just with their process improvement in terms of getting things done, but their process with their people.

So, that people find meaning at work, find a home, and can thrive and grow. Because ultimately, if they feel the freedom to spend more than a third of their life at work, and it's meaningful, they're going to have a successful company on their hands.

Juanita Coley: Your career has been amazing. But one thing, one thing that stood out to me when you were at United Healthcare is process improvement. And that's where I had the most interaction with you was process improvement, the change management and you were instrumental, you see, I got to put all the syllables in there, okay. Instrumental to helping us to implement playbooks. You remember, when we rolled out playbooks? My gosh, it was like, why, Lord? Why did I think I could do this?

Cameron Farrar: It's so complex, especially when you think of, okay, so at that time, we had probably about 10,000 seats all together across the United States, and to do anything and not miss a phone call, not drop a phone call, not interrupt the business, deliver great service, even though you have massive changes going, just moving the site location, that was another thing we had to do together, make sure that happens smoothly, implementing brand new performance management systems, doing cutovers, and IT all the data centers had to get cut over and not miss a phone call. And that process is a team effort.

Juanita Coley: My gosh, I remember those cutover calls at 3 am and being on those calls. When I was talking to get the cash to the episode with Ebony, I was talking with Ebony I was saying, Ebony, do you remember all of this stuff that we used to do together in the call center? And she was like, do I?

My god, it was so many cutovers and move insights that I was like, is the backup ACD working? And do they have this, you know, logins and all those good things? And I think that is what people don't see when they think about leadership. So, the topic of this episode, is, does poor leadership impact the customer experience?

Think about it, if we weren't making sure that we had redundancies to our cutover plans, and we had a rollback plan.

And I remember, Brian, he was very instrumental and helping, he was helping with IT at the time just building those relationships to say, if this isn't done, by this time, we need to do a rollback, or what is the contingency, and that's where those playbooks were just so helpful, in making sure that we knew who was responsible for what we had a contact for whatever the case may be, in that we had a plan, our plans had plans. And so, I remember rolling those out, and having to socialize, and we had a phase in there.

So, you helped with really process improvement in the change management of that, and saying Cameron, so we have this plan is multi-departmental, leave focus. It crosses departments. So, not only is its workforce management, but its operations, is IT that's involved, how do we get everybody on the same page, and you helped with helping to change, do that change management, that process improvement and be a champion for playbooks and making sure that we had that in place so that when we did do cutovers, or when the ACD went down, or whatever the case may be, we had the playbook in place, and they had been socialized? That was key.

Cameron Farrar: Yes, and we had good partners along the way. So, you mentioned Ebony, another person who's dedicated to doing things right, and doing things well. And so, it's important to have partners like that throughout the process, which goes back to your point about creating relationships, not just, how does this relationship elevate me? But no, how does this relationship create a good partnership so that we can collectively do something wonderful?

And I think that was the reason why we were able to succeed at the level we did was we had those relationships, we had people who cared.

Juanita Coley: I think that's so imperative is making sure and I think it's so right on time for this show about, does poor leadership impact the customer experience?

So, we just talked about just that example of how rolling out playbooks or not rolling out the playbooks could have had a tremendous impact when we did things like cutovers and call centers, what would be the agent experience, if they're coming in the next day, trying to log on to the phone and they can't get onto the phone.

So, in your opinion, Cameron, what makes a good leader?

Cameron Farrar: So, that's a great question. I love acronyms, kind of corny but helps me remember things. And so, my acronym for what I think leaders need to bring to the table is the word value. So, take each letter and tell you what that means.

So, for me, the V in value is you have to have a vision, and you have to be visible as a leader. Those two things are imperative.

The A stands for approachable and accountable. You have to be approachable, you can't scare people away, and you have to be accountable for your actions.

And then the L stands for you got to be a great listener. And you have to be a continuous learner. So, learning and listening, listening to your folks who are doing the work.

And then the U stands for being unambiguous, and unbiased. So, you have to be clear when you provide direction as a leader, don't leave things to chance. I'm famous for lobbing stuff over the fence, hoping everybody will get it. And I've learned and I've learned from my employees telling me to stop it. Don't be unambiguous. And don't be biased, be unbiased, that's the U.

And then the E stands for edifying or building people up and empowering people, good leaders will develop other people.

So, all of that put together to me are the key characteristics of a leader, there's more, that's a huge topic, but that's how I remember and how I hope to be as I go forward in my career.

Juanita Coley: Now, Cameron, you don't know to watch the shows enough to know about these gems drops. Okay.

So, I got to roll this back on this VALUE, a good leader value which I'm going to recap this keep me honest. Okay.

They have a vision, and they're visible. Is that such a good thing that you mention?

It's one thing to be a leader that sits behind the scenes, no one ever sees you. And you don't get your hands dirty. And no one understands really what your vision is. It's like, today we're doing this, today, we're not doing this, you're not visibly in the business.

And you don't have a mission, or you don't have a vision. It's just like, we do this because it makes us money. Or we do this because my boss told me to do it. It's like, okay, but what is your vision for the department or the people that you're serving?

Because we can say that the people that you're leading, but it's the people that you're serving.

So, when I was in the command center, I thought about all of the different various workforce teams and operations teams as my customer. And I treated them as such, he was like, you tell me what you want. And I will help make that happen. And if I can't make it happen, that I need to be able to explain to you why, why can I give everybody breaks at the same time? What impact does that have on the business? Or Why can’t X, Y, and Z happen?

I talked to the people who are serving as though they were the customer because, in my opinion, they were so not only did I have a vision, but I was very visible, you could come into the contact center and talk to me any day.

Approachable, being approachable, that is so important. When people feel like they can't talk to you, they can't get through, you don't have that open-door policy, so to speak, then you're not approachable, which disconnects you from the business, the very people that you're serving.

So, listener, you have to be a listener, that was your L, right, you have to be a listener? So, I talked to my daughter about this probably all the time, and I'm talking to people about it all the time being a communicator.

Communication is more than just speaking, is sending a signal, it's about also receiving a signal. And so, we can't just listen with the intent to respond, we have to listen with the intent to understand, receive a signal send a signal and NASA, I think the makings of, at least, fundamentally, have a good listener, am I listening with the intent to understand your perspective and what it is you're trying to communicate the signal that you're trying to send?

Because if I don't understand the signal that you're sending, you are communicating, if you're speaking Spanish, and I'm speaking English, we're both talking, but we're not communicating because the signal that you're sending is not being understood. So, I can't send back an intelligent response.

So, sometimes we're speaking the same language, right, but we are not listening, we're not communicating at all. So, being a good listener, I think that is so valuable, then being unbiased, and ambiguous, and give me the word again, I know it's ambiguity. Not being ambiguous is important.

Because as we think about it, I have these abstract ideas. How does this translate to hard concrete? And I think it makes a good leader. So, I'm kind of half in half on that. Because I think it does make a good leader when you can deal with ambiguity. I don't have a roadmap, that's kind of how it was when I took over the command center.

No one gave me a roadmap. So, I had to kind of take, okay, the culture of United Healthcare, figure it out. But then as a good leader, I had to be able to make it very concrete for the people that I was serving. And so, I think it's twofold to that, right?

Cameron Farrar: Yes, I agree. You have to be good at dealing with ambiguity. That's not a lot of interview questions. Can you deal with ambiguity, that's fine? As a leader, there are things you don't need to be ambiguous about, though.

Your standards, the expectations, you're setting the agreements you're making with your people, you don't need to be ambiguous there, you might not know every step on how to get to your destination, and there's going to be ambiguity there. But your standards, your expectations, your routines, what people can expect from you, as a leader, none of that should be ambiguous.

They need to be able to rely on you and have that certainty of who you are and how you deal with people. So, that's what I mean by being unambiguous. Because there's always going to be ambiguity. There's going to be this like you and I dealt with, “we're going to go from logging in with one password to now you have to have a card you plugin, we're going to do that across 10,000 computers, and we can't have you dropped any phone calls. Get it done.”

Juanita Coley: By the way, it goes live Sunday. At this time, it's like waiting a minute now.

Cameron Farrar: Yes, so there's some ambiguity there. But what's not ambiguous is A, we're going to get it done and B, I can count on you as a leader to be a certain way. You can have certain standards. And that gives me a sense of security as an employee or a partner so that I can work with you at a certain level. And together, we can navigate the ambiguity that we share. Does that make sense?

Juanita Coley: Absolutely. And I think that's key, right is being able to deal with it as a leader, but then be able to compartmentalize that, and then be able to organize it so that it is very clear when it comes out and you are giving it to the people that you're serving. So, that's very good.

That's the gem drop, I got to give you a gem drop. So, you may get it out. And you may deal with a lot of ambiguity as a leader, as far as the information that you're receiving, but a good making of a leader is being able to digest that and then be able to spit it back out to the world in a way that is very matter of fact- this is the performance goals. We want half-performance goals. And this is what they are so forth and so on.

Yes. So, I think that's a really good distinction. And then you're E was what edifying, so building up, making sure that your people know that you're there and that you're there to support them. I think that is good. A good acronym for what makes a good leader is VALUE.

Cameron Farrar: Yes, that's a nice way to memorize it and then work it living up to that, and the way you show up every day.

Juanita Coley: Yes, you're looking at those core things, and saying,

Do I have a vision?

Am I approachable?

Am I a good listener?

Am I being unbiased? Then,

Am I edifying the people, am I adding value, to the people that I'm serving?

That's good. Tell me, Cameron, how does leadership impact the overall customer experience?

So, we kind of talked about it from a command center standpoint, but just generally, if you were to give me like, this is how leadership impacts that overall customer experience, what would you have to say for that?

Cameron Farrar: So, to me, there's a law of customer experience that needs to be honored and that law is an employee will never treat the customer any better than they're being treated at work.

So, if a leader isn't treating their employees well, we can't expect them to turn around and treat the customer in a good way consistently. There are a few great people out there who have that strong internal standard, they're going to be nice, no matter who's yelling at them. They're still going to be nice to the customer, but there are not enough people like that to build a business that's repeatable, scalable, and duplicatable.

So, it's super important to take care of your employees. And if leaders don't do that, there are a million ways to show you care and demonstrate your care. If you're not doing, that you can't create a great customer experience.

Juanita Coley: Cameron, I can see. You've been practicing for your show. I know you want all the gem drop. You want all the gem drop today, Cameron, okay.

This is what we call black girl magic when we start clapping, you know is good for us.

Okay, that was good.

He says that agents will never treat the customer better than they're being treated as an employee, production team when you all cut that, okay, I need that.

Okay, I need that clip and that's so true. Cameron thinks about Chick-fil-A or all the brands that we love and adore. Because of their customer service. Now, we love some of the brands just because of maybe their product suite, or they're good at delivering.

But when we think about the ones that we all love, because of their customer service, we make the home you see home means and it clips about Chick-fil-A's customer service, you left something at the drive-through window and the guy is running you down trying to deliver it to you.

Well, he's being treated like that, as an employee, he's been catered to or not necessarily cater to, but he's been cared about looked after as an employee. And so, he wants to give that same level of support and then you're going to have every so often employees that don't reciprocate that same, but those are your outliers.

But for the most part, what you said, I believe is so true. Employees will never treat the customer better than they're being treated as an employee.

Cameron Farrar: That's right. Yes. And you can't break that rule, you just can't. And I have learned that from watching other leaders, Starbucks is what comes to mind, I did a case study on them and doing research about customer service years ago. And that's one of their foundational tenants.

If you think about it, they don't even advertise that you can't watch a TV commercial for Starbucks, once a while they would have one, but it was for a product. And they had to do it in order as an agreement with a store that was distributed on the shelf products, but they don't advertise on TV, they don't have to, whereas other fast-food companies advertise 1000 times a day. But if you take care of your employees, they'll do all your advertising for you in the way that they take care of the customer. And so, to me, that's magic.

Juanita Coley: That is so good. It is so good. Why do you think that is? I have so many thoughts about it. But why do you think that is?

Cameron Farrar: Well, when we're under stress, we start to lose our creativity, right? If we go back to this call center concept, and we're expecting people to use critical thinking, customers are calling in with problems. And there are two things everybody cares deeply about, and they're very emotional, that's your health and their money. And health insurance has both of those locked up.

So, here are customers calling in, and their health and their money are on the line. And we're expecting a call center agent to be creative in how they help a person if they're under stress because of what's going on at home.

But then they come to work and the leadership is adding to that stress, how can they be creative and handle the issues that are being given to them by somebody who's in crisis, which a lot of people don't call you about their health and their insurance when things are going well, they don't call to say, this is going great just wanted you to know, they call it when there's a problem.

And we need our agents to be creative. And when you're under stress, it's so hard to be creative and use critical thinking, it just bypasses or goes straight to your amygdala, you get hijacked and get into defense mode. And you just can't treat people well. As I said, a few people are strong enough internally to make their weather wherever they go.

So, it doesn't matter what's going on around them, they're going to be a certain way. But for the most part, human nature makes us react to the environment we're in. And it influences by the way we show up and unless we're very centered, and we can overcome that, then we're not going to, so just be good to your people and it just makes your chances of them doing well go up 1000-fold.

Juanita Coley: We already 30 minutes in, Cameron. That's it's so good we have to dig into that at another time. But my mind is going at like 1000 miles a minute just thinking about that in and of itself. And I think that's what some of these bigger brands are known for their customer experience, whether it's call centers or service, or product base, or whatever, they've mastered that they understand that they must treat their staff well because that's a part of the business model.

Cameron Farrar: Absolutely. Begins with onboarding. And then you've got to market to your people while you have them. The employee experience needs to be designed as well as the customer experience.

Why don't companies go through the customer journey from beginning to end and they map it out and they do all this stuff?

But have they mapped out their employee experience? What is it like to show up for work for you?

And what is the first day look like?

What does it look like 100 days in?

And what does it look like after I've mastered my particular role?

How do I get to the next role?

Is it fun to grow with you?

They got to map that out it can't happen by accident.

Juanita Coley: Cameron, you better come on through here. Okay. My God, that's good. So many people, Master companies and master or they think, they put a lot of time and effort into the customer experience, in the customer journey, not taking into consideration, the agent experience or the employee experience, which is ultimately tied to the customer experience.

If I'm so concerned about, okay, I market to my customer, I sell the product or service, then I have the customer, onboard the customer, and they get whatever.

But then as a part of their process, they have to talk to a customer service agent that's disgruntled, or they have to pick up their food from a pickup window of a fast-food restaurant of a disgruntled employee. That's a part of the customer experience.

So, you have not factored in the true customer experience without factoring in the employee experience. That's the whole message.

Okay, Cameron. Okay, let's go to this next question. Because we got to come back and talk about this some more, how does diversity in leadership impact the customer experience? What are your thoughts on that?

Cameron Farrar: So, let's level set on what we mean by diversity first and foremost. To me, diversity is about the type of people you have. And all those categories that we talk about. And the reason it's so important is, diversity gives you multiple perspectives from a cultural perspective, just from the way personal experiences are developed.

And the values that come with those things are different. Every culture has its own set of values, or it's the way it looks at those values, and then their styles. And so, our employee bases are not one-dimensional. And I may resonate with my style, my perspective, the values I espouse, they may resonate with a few people, they're not going to resonate with everybody.

And that's why having a diverse leadership team is so important, because everybody's message will eventually land somewhere, if you have a diverse enough, and I stress that word enough leadership team, you're going to make sure that your message and your culture permeates so that you don't just have that vanilla, for lack of a better term you got you to have all the flavors to get people excited. And so, diversity helps with the perspective. It just does.

Juanita Coley: Absolutely. And the thing that I love that you said about that is to let's level set on diversity. Because diversity means just that, people from all different backgrounds and walks I think a lot of times because diversity is such this conversation that we're having right now that we focus on color, ethnicity. Okay, you're African American, you're Caucasian, you're Hispanic, you're Indian, whatever the case maybe, that's where we stop.

But I think diversity comes with the background. It comes with experiences, it comes with all those different things because as you said, diversity drives perspective. And once I now have a different perspective, then I can better serve my customer.

Now yes, we do need more diversity in color, which is why I think that's such a huge, conversation when we talk about diversity, but I think it's important that we have diversity in experiences and I was talking about this on the show with Hosanna from Microsoft.