Improving the Customer Experience With the Right Processes

A great customer experience builds trust and loyalty for long-term engagement.

As the chief operating officer at Zenefits, a workflow software, Isaac Vaughn implemented processes to continuously improve the customer experience for maximum satisfaction.

Isaac Vaughn is the guest in this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast. He speaks with host Chad Franzen about how businesses can succeed by prioritizing the customer experience.

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Show Notes 

[0:26] Intro     

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show including David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth.  
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.     
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card.   

[1:22] Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Isaac Vaughn. 

[1:53] What was Isaac’s role as COO at Zenefits?

  • Isaac was responsible for about 300 employees, and he had direct reports across the customer experience.
  • Due to his previous background as a partner in a law firm, all the organization’s legal functions reported directly to him.
  • He also led Zenefit’s corporate and business development efforts.

[2:50] Isaac gives an overview of Zenefits.

  • Zenefits is a human capital management, payroll, and benefits administration single code and cloud-based workflow software. It serves small- and medium-sized businesses, especially in the United States.
  • The organization provides a similar onboarding experience for U.S.-based companies with employees located outside the U.S., principally in Europe, as it relates to Zenefits.

[4:06] Isaac sheds more light on his day-to-day activities as COO at Zenefits.

  • Isaac supervised the various operations of the company including routing inbound service requests and right-sizing relationships with business partners.

[5:44] How valuable is the customer experience?

  • One way to stand out in your industry is to offer a unique and satisfying customer experience.
  • If you can’t create a customer experience that breeds loyalty and drives long-term relationships, it’s a deal-breaker.

[7:30] Isaac describes the ideal customer experience at Zenefits.

  • The ideal customer experience is to offer an optimized product that makes it easy and almost seamless for customers to use.
  • It’s important to create systems that allow you to anticipate customer needs as opposed to reacting to questions and concerns.
  • You need to leverage data to enhance the customer experience by understanding the customers’ needs.

[11:40] What’s the impact of data in improving the customer experience?

  • Data and feedback are only as good as your commitment as an organization to act upon them to provide a solution.
  • The biggest mistake an organization can make is to collect feedback from customers and not do anything with it.
  • The team receives a lot of calls from customers and asks the toughest questions to truly understand their pain points and proffer effective solutions.

[14:50] Isaac explains how the team at Zenefits used data to enhance the customer experience.

  • The team had regular operating success reviews at the C-suite level to assess the customer response functions to understand what was working and what was not.
  • At the IC level and the mid-management level, the team analyzed the collected data, and then deliberate on what was working and where they needed to improve.
  • Isaac also used the three Ps—the people, product, and processes to enhance the customer experience.

[18:38] How can people find out more about Isaac and what he’s up to?

  • You can reach out to Isaac on LinkedIn to get more information about him and what he’s doing.

[20:51] Isaac shares some actionable steps you can take to enhance the customer experience.

  • It’s key to always re-examine your customer experience processes to seek opportunities for improvement.

[22:44] Outro

About Isaac Vaughn

Isaac Vaughn was most recently the chief operating officer at Zenefits. With more than 20 years of experience working with high-growth technology companies, Isaac has served in various leadership roles including head of corporate development, managing director, CEO, and COO.

Passionate about giving back to society, Isaac serves on several nonprofit and for-profit boards, including Silicon Valley Community Foundation, All Stars Helping Kids, and RocketLawyer.

Transcript of the interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks, and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their jobs. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done, and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth, and many more. This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess. Have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again and this is the 10th time you spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train and onboard new staff and save time with existing staff.

Chad Franzen: Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. Use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Sign up for a free 14 day trial, no credit card required go to sweetprocess.com. That’s Sweet like candy S-W-E-E-Tprocess.com.

Chad Franzen: Isaac Vaughn is a seasoned operator and proven leader with more than 20 years of experience working for advising and investing in high growth technology companies. He serves on several nonprofit and for-profit boards, including Silicon Valley’s Community Foundation, All Stars Helping Kids and Rocket Lawyer. Most recently he was COO at Zenefits. Isaac, thanks so much for joining me today, how are you?

Isaac Vaughn: I’m good, Chad. Thanks for having me here today.

Chad Franzen: Hey, so tell me a little bit more about your role as COO at Zenefits.

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. So at Zenefits, I was basically responsible for about 60% of the company by headcount that rolled up to me. So that was about 300 people give or take during the relevant period of time. And then I had direct reports across customer experience, go to market in terms of our benefit solutions group. And then also owing to my previous background as a partner in a law firm, I had all of the legal function report directly to me, and then I led our corporate and business development efforts.

Chad Franzen: Okay. Just for context, give me a little bit more information about Zenefits, who it serves and its primary purpose?

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. So Zenefits provides human capital management, payroll, and benefit administration software all on a single code based, cloud based platform, serving small and median size businesses, principally in the U.S. And so our customers had anywhere from a handful of employees, five to 10, all the way up to 500 and beyond, but our real focus was the segments that had 25 to 250 plus employees. One of the larger segments in an already very large addressable market in the United States alone. And then providing at least similar onboarding experiences for U.S. based companies with employees located ex-U.S., principally Europe, for us, as it relates to Zenefits.

Chad Franzen: You told me some of your responsibilities, what was involved in your day to day role?

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. So good question. For starters, just given the breadth and depth of my responsibilities, it was a lot of context shifting. So I could go from a very detailed discussion about how we were going to route inbound, service requests to how are we going to right size a relationship with a portfolio of partners, be it on the benefit side or whether it was complimentary to our platform to thorny at times issues that may have legal connotations. And then just all the other things that as the COO I was involved with. So even though I didn’t have direct responsibility for sales and marketing, I was every bit a co-owner, if you will, of how we were doing in that area as I was in the areas that directly reported up to me. So at the end of the day, it was varied, which honestly, at times I would admit, could be challenging to go deep in any one of the verticals. But it’s also what I enjoyed doing, which is rolling the sleeves up and plowing through and working through some days longer than others, but in the end, all very, very rewarding work.

Chad Franzen: I’m guessing for a company like Zenefits, a primary objective is an enjoyable or quality customer experience. Would you agree with that?

Isaac Vaughn: I would, in fact, I would violently agree with you because the reality is in our market, no single company, this even included ADP and Paychex that have been around a long time commands greater than a single digit market share, yet the total addressable market in the U.S. alone is well North of 50 billion, and each year companies would churn out significant numbers of customers, particularly the legacy providers like ADP. So we would say pretty regularly at Zenefits, the only way you can differentiate is in around the customer experience. There are different versions of how you onboard someone, how you pay someone, how you administer benefits. And yes, our code is pretty special, I will admit, but that’s not enough.

Isaac Vaughn: So in the end, if you can’t create the kind of customer experience that breeds loyalty, that drives long term relationships so that you can get to a great place from an LTV to CAC perspective, all bets are off. So we spent a lot of time and I’m not saying we had it all nailed, but we weren’t confused about our continued success being highly correlated to how well we served and supported the customer.

Chad Franzen: So tell me if you could, or describe for me, if you could, what the ideal customer experience looks like from your standpoint when dealing with Zenefits.

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. Great question. So one of the advantages I felt we had was whether you were a small customer or a large customer, you all sat on the same platform. And our objective was to make it easy for customers of any size to get up and going on our software. Because time to value we realized was a key metric to downstream economics that correlated very positively to the right churn that you want low and increased long term value. So not only you keeping your customers, they’re buying more, but it all starts with how quickly we can get you up and going. So we measured our implementation timelines, and of course the goal was to get it down to days, and for the smallest customers, we could get you up and going literally in minutes. And so the interrelationship, as we talked about between people, the product, and the processes, optimizing across all those things.

Isaac Vaughn: So the ideal experience is where we can lean heavily on the product to do lots of things, to make it easy and almost seamless, and then freeing our people up to step in and help customers in an anticipatory way as opposed to a reactionary. Great vision, sounds good, the devil as you know is in the details, and so we spend a lot of time looking at that. And I think the other layer that I would add on to that, Chad, is that we also really emphasize the importance of data. So when I had my CX hat on, whether it was support or implementation or success, I would tell the team all the time, we should never be surprised by what it customer is asking us for. And I said, the reason why is we have all the data, the data tells us what works, what does it and what to do about it.

Isaac Vaughn: So part of my challenge was to instill in the organization, a sense of urgency around getting to the customer and getting smarter. I was to say, it’s like having answers to the quiz. Shame on you, if you don’t spend enough time studying the historical tests to get a sense of what’s coming your way. And if we got better and better about knowing what was coming then in the customers eyes, we seemingly show up when they least expect us or they go, "God, it’s amazing how you guys always seem to know what I want." Again, I’m making it sound easy, it’s not, but that was the vision, and that was the guiding strategy. And I get the last thing I’d say, is it we finally got to a place where I said, if we can make the hard, easy, the hard workflows, if we can get to a place where we’re really proficient, we’re going to have a decided advantage because the hard stuff is hard.

Isaac Vaughn: When you provide payroll, payroll’s hard. When you provide payroll related services and tax filings, that stuff is hard. So you got to be bolted down in terms of your process, you got to have the right people, you got to know what your product can do and what it can’t. And then you’ve got to create the right level of expectation on the front end, all the way through to the back end, that only comes about with a lot of rigor and a lot of focus and a lot of self-awareness about what we do well, where we struggle. But again, if we could nail that, man, then we setting ourselves up to really win.

Chad Franzen: When you talk about this data that you found so valuable, can you give me some examples or an example of the data you would refer to, was it statistical or was it feedback or both?

Isaac Vaughn: Both. We’d look at the volume of calls that we would get. We would look at the volume of calls during a certain time of the year. For example, in payroll tax Q4 is a heavy period. You knew you were going to get a surge. Then we would unpack further and we would look at the nature of the calls that were coming in and were there common themes? And was it product related? Was it service related? And then we put a lot energy and effort in our NPS program. And we used to say the NPS, the score is a moment in time. The most valuable part of running an NPS program in my humble opinion is the feedback and the data that you get from the customers. Our CEO used to always say, internally, at the executive level, we don’t have to sit around and speculate.

Isaac Vaughn: If we ask our people what to do, they will tell us, they know. Similarly, if you ask your customers, they will tell you what works, what doesn’t. But the one thing I will say about that is that data and the feed back is only as good as your commitment as an organization to act upon it. Because as you know, the worst thing you can do is ask a customer to give you a lot of feedback, and then you don’t do anything with it. Because then they go, "You just are basically going through the motions." So it was combination of quantity, how much, and then we would start to see a reduction in a certain number of cases and why that was happening and then could we repeat that in other areas? And we also found it hugely valuable to get that feedback.

Isaac Vaughn: We graded our tough from an NPS standpoint. Some companies set it up so that they’re manufacturing the score. So there’s so many ways to do it and measure it. We literally did it the hard way, we didn’t survey customers until well after they’d been on the platform. So they had enough time, not right when they bought, when they’re still in the honeymoon phase. We asked for the straight talk and then we came back and said, "We heard you, and here’s what we’re doing about it." I did a lot of customer calls, I would tell my people, by the time they get to me, they’re pretty pissed. And I go, "I take those calls because I want to hear where the pain is and I want to assure them that we’re listening and then we’re going to do something about it." And that’s how we’re going to become a better company that we don’t have all the answers. But if we don’t ask even the tough questions, and if we can’t take the tough feedback, then we don’t deserve your business.

Chad Franzen: So you’ve got all this data, you’ve got tough feedback, you’ve got all this information. Take me through your process of then ensuring quality customer experience moving forward given that information.

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. So we would regularly convene the team. Well, a couple things, one, we did regular ops review across the enterprise at the C-suite level to look deep into each of the functions and to assess what working, what’s not and it was great way to see parts of the business that were humming and weren’t. And then at the IC level and the mid management level, we would then look at this data, the results, and then take it back to the team and talk about what’s working, where we need to be better. The other thing, and it’s never easy, but you got to be really rigorous in your assessment of your people. I go back to the three Ps, the people, the product, and the processes. And on the people piece, you got to have the right people in the right jobs and you got to make sure that people are set up for success.

Isaac Vaughn: So sometimes that may mean changing the profile of what you’re hiring for, or it also may mean we’ve got the right profile, but we got to make sure that people are developing in a way that is going to set them up to be more successful in the position. And then we also have to accept that in certain roles, it’s an entry level role. They’re looking to get to another part of the business, but create a path that’s positive, which is to point to, I used to say this all the time, a customer support rep can do more harm or add more value to a customer relationship than a CSM. Yet they sit at two different price points in terms of what you’re paying those folks. Right. But if you get that customer support rep to understand, yeah, this may be an entry level position, but you are at the tip of the spear, you impact this business in ways that a lot of roles don’t.

Isaac Vaughn: So mastery of this sets you up to move into other parts of the business, because if you give that customer a good experience and that relates to a positive CSAT score, which then relates to a referral, which relates to a customer genuinely saying, "Even when things break, they help me." That’s going to keep us in the boat more than a bad experience that my CSM then has to swim upstream to try to calm the nerves as a result of something going bad. And so it’s just that people part, I don’t think we always spend as much time as I think it’s required increasingly in today’s world and what customers expect. And in our particular case too in the SMB space, customers always expect more than what they actually pay. They think they’re paying you a lot and relatively they are, but what they want relative to what they actually, and so helping them understand that in a way that is not off putting is also part of the challenge.

Isaac Vaughn: But I loved it. It was like problem solving. It’s like, you’re solving for all these things, you have these different variables. But the old saying, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s see if we’re good enough to meet the challenge.

Chad Franzen: I have one final question for you, but first I mentioned you were previously with Zenefits, is there a way that people can connect with you or find out what you’re up to moving forward?

Isaac Vaughn: Yeah. People feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’m visible there, I’m only about month removed from being an ex-Zenefits employee. We were acquired by TriNet and I, along with the CEO were the only two not continuing on, not atypical for certain senior leaders to say goodbye at the closing. So right now, I’m on the board, as you mentioned of couple nonprofits, a for-profit company, Rocket Lawyer. And I recently joined the board of a publicly traded consumer finance company, CURO C-U-R-O, I’m really excited about that. I promised my wife and myself that I wouldn’t jump right back into something. We’ll see how long that lasts, I’m finding that there is a fair bit of interest, which is flattering in my possible services as a CEO. So to the extent that I jump back in next time around, it will be as a CEO, but time will tell if and when that comes about. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy doing things like this.

Isaac Vaughn: I’m going to play a lot more golf than I have been playing in the past, travel and just enjoy life. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be in the position that I’m in, having now basically a career in law and then a career in business and two companies and two exits. I don’t take that for granted or lightly, that’s not how it often works. So just taking it all in.

Chad Franzen: Sure. Yeah. Wow. Very nice. Yeah. Enjoy your transition while you can. So you’ve given us some great insights on ensuring good customer experience. What would you say are some action steps that people should start doing right now based on that advice?

Isaac Vaughn: I think that it’s always good to reexamine what you do and how you do it. Right. When I think about process, process is the what, and the procedures are the how, right. So really looking at, even when you’re doing things really well, this notion of good to great, I think it’s all about looking closely how we do things and where can we improve, sometimes it’s only at the margin. So don’t take for granted that all is well, that’s not to say, to create problems where they don’t exist. But I think the confidence comes in knowing that what you’re doing works. I used to say all the time, and we used to say as a leadership team at Zenefits, we never struggled to figure out what we needed to do.

Isaac Vaughn: We always knew what we needed to do. The hard part, which is no surprise is the execution. It’s like, okay, we know what to do. Then the question becomes, and I used to say this all the time to my team. Are we good enough? We don’t suffer from not knowing. Some companies don’t know, it’s like the blind leading the blind, they can’t get out of their own way, whatever you want to say, however you want to describe it. But when you know what to do, then it comes down to how well are you doing it? And you got to be willing to have that [inaudible 00:22:23] exam. It might be painful, but it’s worthwhile on the other side, because then you’re not fooling yourself, you’re not kidding yourself. Your eyes are wide open. This is what we do well, this is what we can do better and then aligning around that and going it and getting it done.

Chad Franzen: Hey, Isaac, it’s been great talking to you today. I really appreciate you sharing all your time and your thoughts. Thank you so much.

Isaac Vaughn: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Have a great day.

Chad Franzen: You too. So long, everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Process Breakdown Podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up, go to sweetprocess.com, Sweet like candy and Process like process.com. Go now to sweetprocess.com and sign up for your risk free 14 day trial.

Owen McGab: Hi. This is Owen, the CEO and Co-Founder yeah, SweetProcess. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast interview, actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five star review on iTunes, that way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five star review. I look forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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