For our 8th episode, I talked with Aisling Hassell, who is the global head of CX at Airbnb. This is a particularly challenging role in the customer experience world — although in a way, they all are — because Airbnb currently offers properties in 191 countries and 34,000+ cities. Making sure the customer experience is complete across such a wide array of contexts is one of Aisling’s challenges. We explore specific CX tactics Airbnb uses to create not only great customer experiences, but also how they have established a fun and rewarding employee culture. Plus, funny stories are bound to emerge when managing 180,000 customer interactions.
Aisling Hassell is responsible for Airbnb’s customer experience operations globally. She leads a team focused on supporting every element of the guest and host experience on Airbnb. She also heads Airbnb’s Dublin office, its largest base outside of the US.
Prior to joining Airbnb, Aisling was director of global customer experience and web strategy at Sage. She has also held senior customer experience roles at both Vodafone and Symantec in Europe and the United States.
We open by talking primarily about Aisling’s career journey and the pros/cons of different CCO roles she’s had and evolved through. She notes that at Airbnb, she manages the servicing teams who help the guests understand and work with the platform. Her focus is on continuous improvement and taking a comprehensive look at the business. Oftentimes you learn more from failures than successes — I call them “career bunny hops” — in CCO work, and that’s important to understand. We also talk a bit about the paranoia gene of CCO work — always thinking you’re not doing enough.
Culture, Behavior, and Operations
For Airbnb customer experience to be successful, these elements need to be aligned — thankfully for Aisling’s work, the elements were somewhat aligned before she got into her different roles. She also talks about helping her teams grow personally and professionally as a cornerstone of her work.
How Do You Make A Place Great To Work?
Many events — including a happy hour every Thursday at the Airbnb office pub (yes, there is one) in Dublin — and more formal events, including “Air Shares.” At “Air Shares,” employees share one of their major skill sets with the rest of the staff — i.e. making a great dessert, etc. It helps the teams to grow and understand each other. Airbnb also spends a good deal of time on career progression, calling them “Flight Plans.” Within any specific area of customer experience, your “Flight Plan” helps you determine what elements you need to be successful — and/or how you can switch tracks and focus somewhere else. Aisling’s team were the pioneers of “Flight Plans” due to being one of the first areas of Airbnb to scale.
Crazy Airbnb Stories And Stats
When you’re in 34,000 cities, your customer experience stories can get a little crazy. Around 23:22, Aisling tells a good one about an overweight corgi dog and inappropriate Airbnb listings. Listen. You’ll laugh.
New Year’s Eve 2015 was one of their biggest days ever, with 1 million hosted guests on their platform. In a given week, Airbnb can deal with over 180,000 customer interactions. In the summer travel months — and moreso in Europe — those numbers can double.
“What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then”
We end each podcast by asking a seasoned CCO executive this “pay it forward” question. Aisling responded with a few ideas:
- Top-down support is crucial, but no matter how talented you are, you need ‘fertile soil’ to be successful. The same techniques and talent won’t work in one place and will work in another. This ties to culture and personal development, and why organizations need to focus there.
- Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not always all about you.
- Sometimes it’s important to cut your losses — both on jobs, initiatives within jobs, and more.
- Don’t take it personally. Being on a customer-led mission is a rich experience, and it comes with many pitfalls.
Be back next Tuesday with another new episode!