5 Leadership Tips From Women Who Made it to the Top

by Taylor Short
Today, women are climbing to higher positions at major companies, becoming senior vice presidents and executives despite the tendency for them to drop off as they move up the corporate ladder.

Software Advice, a source for technology reviews and comparisons, wanted to discover more about how women are changing the business landscape, so we charted the journeys of five highly-successful women in customer service and found out that a combination of relationship building, being flexible and welcoming and implementing feedback led them to their positions today.

Molly DeMaagd

Title: Social Media Customer Service Director, AT&T

Years of Experience: 19

Biggest Takeaway: Identify and fill unmet customer needs.

A 19-year AT&T employee, Molly DeMaagd reached her position as the social media customer service director after starting in the company’s call centers, helping launch the first email customer service team, and its first online self-service customer service website.

In her current role, DeMaagd noticed more customers posting service questions to the company’s Facebook page, and knew she needed to make a new path to help these customers. CEO of AT&T Mobility Ralph de la Vega requested that a new social media customer service team be created, and DeMaagd lead the project from only four members in 2009 to the 70-person team today.

DeMaagd’s ability to spot and fill gaps in the customer experience is what helped her become a key figure in AT&T’s support services.

Sandi Hassett

Title: Director of North America Customer Service, LifeScan

Years of Experience: 11

Biggest Takeaway:Use collaboration to lead your team toward a goal.

Sandi Hassett honed her strong leadership skills on the battlefield, leading a platoon as an Army officer stationed at Fort Polk, LA. In her 11 years as the director of North American Customer Service for LifeScan, a producer of blood glucose monitoring devices owned by Johnson & Johnson, these abilities helped her build the structure necessary to establish clear roles for each department.

“We needed to identify how business needs and [the customer service department] fit in the organization,” she says. With this goal in mind, Hassett implemented skip-level meetings, a weekly informational summary sent by email, and focus groups to ensure communication from customers, employees and executives is easily communicated throughout the company.

Her efforts have improved company operations, no doubt thanks to her leadership experience.

Namrata Kripalani Felger

Title: Director of Customer Experience and Quality, Dell

Years of Experience: 11

Biggest Takeaway: Constantly ask questions to get to the root of a problem.

Namrata Kripalani Felger worked her way up to her position as director of customer experience and quality for Dell after starting as manager of the computer and technology giant’s supply chain and operations department.

She found success by harnessing her curiosity; she questions the validity of processes and breaks down problems into simpler pieces by asking “why”. “This strengthens my ability to improve processes and manage through change,” she says.

Felger monitored three data points--employee feedback, customer feedback, and internal metrics--and significantly improved the customer’s experience transitioning to the newest Dell products.

She led a team to smooth out the process and improved key sales and operational metrics by as much as 30 percent by simply asking questions.

Barbara Higgins

Title: Senior Vice President, Customer Experience and Retention, Allstate Insurance

Years of Experience: 24

Biggest Takeaway: Being proactive in learning about your industry, employees and customers.

After several years of experience as Disney’s operations director, Barbara Higgins joined Allstate Insurance as senior vice president of customer experience and retention. She immediately immersed herself in learning everything about the insurance industry by meeting with experts, agency owners, and customers.

“When I was ready to start implementing key initiatives, I knew what to measure in order to figure out if the direction was right or not,” Higgins says. “I had a better idea of what the impact might be on the individuals charged with delivering service to our customers.”

Once she began using this new knowledge, she was able to remove barriers that kept Allstate from improving the customer experience by engaging employees and moving them to positions that match their skills.

Sheri Williams

Title: Director of Customer Service, Trulia.com

Years of Experience: 14

Biggest Takeaway:Establish strong relationships with peers early to facilitate changes later.

At Trulia, a residential real estate listing website, Sheri Williams directs the customer service department. She started her career in community relations at a bank call center, and served in a leadership role at Janus Capital Group for six years.

Creating a strong relationship early on with Trulia’s vice president of product helped Williams in suggesting product changes based on feedback from the customer service representatives. She established the relationship by staying in contact with him by email and phone, and by travelling to San Francisco about once a month to meet in person.

Williams used this communication channel to address an issue with corrections to real estate listings on Trulia.com. She suggested emphasizing certain system enhancements to the VP of product and he listened. The problem had a swift solution thanks to her efforts.

Communication and Relationships are Crucial to Excellent Customer Service

The women we spoke to blazed different paths to their current positions, but effectively leading a team toward a customer service goal requires two things each one possesses: the ability to communicate and build relationships with colleagues, employees and customers.

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