Rhonda Basler and I discuss how Hallmark Business Connections is helping companies build bonds with their customers — by extending their own products and services. A very intriguing dimension of a company we all know so well, and you’ll be intrigued to hear how customer experience is a key part of how they help companies grow.
Rhonda Basler currently leads the Customer Engagement team at Hallmark Business Connections, Hallmark’s B2B subsidiary. Her true passion is creating innovative approaches to customer experience, employee engagement and omnichannel marketing, transforming them into both human-centered and results-oriented programs.
“From our roles as employees to the time we spend interacting with businesses as customers, we spend an extraordinary part of our lifetime functioning in the business world. I love to create ways to make those experiences as fulfilling as possible and take them from functional to life enhancing.”
An avid business trend watcher, her customer experience expertise comes from combining more than 20 years of experience in both Fortune 500s and startups with her strategic insights and knowledge of analytics and technology. When she joined Hallmark six years ago, she knew she found a job she could truly love. From day one, Hallmark has built its business around enriching lives through relationships. As she has applied Hallmark’s vision and mission to the business world, she has created customer engagement programs that connect buyers to brands and drive measurable business results. Using Hallmark greetings, an array of gift cards and UX-focused technology, Hallmark Business Connections’ unique customer experience and employee recognition programs have resulted in measurable increases in loyalty, engagement scores, net promoter scores and social media advocacy.
“There is no better feeling than creating great ROI through human connection.”
A YouTube on Hallmark Business Connections
To help you better understand how they work:
“Learn The Business First”
This was a piece of advice she got from a mentor after coming to Hallmark, following several high-level, data-driven roles at other companies (predominantly in the Kansas City area).
She used 1-on-1 relationship-building to learn the business. At the time she entered, Hallmark Business Connections (a B2B arm) was actually the result of a recent merger of two other companies. So, there were some conversations to begin having — with people from both of the two companies brought together.
If you try to set the priorities before learning the business, the priorities are likely to be out of whack. But if you learn the business and set no priorities, nothing is getting advanced. You need both elements.
Rhonda actually thought about a six-month ramp-up instead of the usual three months to show some results. She was still focusing on short-term business goals, yes, but for higher-level change discussion she was given six months or more.
Some Initial Tactical Items
She did take on pricing, employee connection back to the work, and other projects right off the bat as she also focused on longer-term strategy.
Building Out The Initial Strategy
Because the business of Hallmark is essentially relationships, to some extent customer experience is embedded within the organization — which presents one less challenge than many companies face when getting more serious than CX.
To work on strategy, she repeatedly asked the question of “How would you define the value we provide?” She asked internally, yes, but also asked lots externally. The external answers, from clients, drove the strategy forward.
She put together a plan and presented around six months.
Uniting the C-Suite was a tad easier for her because of the overall culture and having deep buy-in from her President, but “it hasn’t always been easy” and “I definitely didn’t get every executive understanding what needed to happen.”
Tips For Change Creation
- 1 on 1 conversations are the backbone of everything
- Make sure you connect strategy to execution at the employee level, so they know why their work matters
- They did begin remapping the customer journey at about the 12-18 month mark, although Rhonda herself didn’t micromanage it (her team built it out)
- She had to link the employee and customer teams, which had been very silo’ed — although admittedly that didn’t begin until about 2.5 years into her tenure at Hallmark
- The link (cross-functionality) of those teams was based around questions both had to ask for their “clients”
- The thing to remember, though, is that a cross-functional team isn’t a be-all and end-all solution; if you don’t put thought into how you’re doing it, it’s almost like automating mediocrity
Rhonda actually never asked for specific permission or told anyone she was doing it, initially. She was in Steering Committee meetings and financial reviews to get the business case set up for a prototype, and those meetings took the better part of a year.
Her goal was to build enabling technology. Think of it like this — a customer service rep is taking calls and emails all day. At some point, they hear from a customer that they recently lost their mom or loved one. How could the service reps get a Hallmark product to them as quickly as possible without messing up main workflow? That was what the cross-functional team was working on.
Hallmark Business Connections is also in three different locations, so having strong managers who can bridge literal/physical gaps is also crucial.
The Pay It Forward Question
What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?
- Never underestimate the power of meaningful work. It’s a huge gift to give to any employee. It works for any business, too.
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