Interview with Jill VanMatre, Sr. Director of Customer Care at Intellum

Dive into an engaging interview with Jill VanMatre, Sr. Director of Customer Care at Intellum, as she unveils the dynamics of her role and the impact of her team on customer success. Through Jill's lens, learn about the challenges and triumphs of delivering exceptional customer care, Intellum's commitment to relationship-building, and how empathy and innovation are at the heart of their strategy. This concise glimpse offers a look into the philosophy that drives Intellum's customer-focused approach.

Interview with Jill VanMatre, Sr. Director of Customer Care at Intellum

Can you give us a glimpse into your day-to-day life as the Director of Customer Care at Intellum? What keeps you busy and excited about your role?

As the Senior Director of Customer Care at Intellum, my daily routine is anything but boring. Unlike Barbie who wakes up refreshed, my mornings are often busy with the energy of parenting. However, as a parent, I understand the importance of balancing personal commitments with professional responsibilities.I've always thrived amongst chaos, and find joy in coordinating difficult tasks and resolving complex challenges!  My empathetic nature drives me to turn negative situations into positive and I spent a lot of time focusing on ways to increase employee and term morale. I love helping people identify their goals and motivating them to be their best selves. A significant portion of my time is dedicated to addressing escalations, both within my team and from external customers. This entails facilitating collaborative discussions to resolve issues effectively, providing team support during Support Live calls, and offering guidance on navigating difficult conversations. Additionally, I actively collaborate with internal stakeholders to create, refine, and improve operational processes.I have regular 1:1 meetings with each member of the support team which allows us to assess individual well-being, offer support, identify areas for improvement, and strategize on professional development initiatives by leveraging our Intellum Boost Budget. We review team and company updates, and then chat through tickets, looking for coaching opportunities. In between meetings, I spend my time responding to emails and finding ways to celebrate wins and successes. I love giving kudos!

Intellum is all about making customers successful. How does your team contribute to that mission? Any cool stories of how you've helped a customer achieve their goals?

I am well into my 5th year at Intellum where I started as an Account Strategist and then progressed from a Customer Success Manager to one of our first Sr. Customer Success Managers. I then accepted a position as Director of Customer Success, leading the client-facing team I was once a part of. My most recent journey includes assuming my current position as Sr. Director of Customer Care over the past 15 months, where I have been instrumental in helping develop our Customer Care team. Throughout my journey at Intellum, one principle remains consistent, my dedication and desire to form and cultivate relationships with our customers, ensuring retention and year over year growth. When Intellum established our Customer Care team, comprising both Support and Education, I excitedly continued my previous efforts. Specifically, I focused on guiding the Support team toward adopting a more relationship-oriented approach rather than merely transactional support. For instance, instead of simply answering a customer’s immediate questions, I encourage the team to explore their overarching objectives and goals by asking, “What are you trying to accomplish?” (I’m still trying to get the design team to make this a t-shirt quote) This shift in perspective allows for deeper engagement and understanding, ultimately enhancing customer success and satisfaction. Any cool stories on how we’ve helped a customer achieve their goals? Honestly, there are so many. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know our customers on a personal level, which has resulted in trusted partnerships. One particular story that comes to mind revolves around our oldest and first customer. I prioritize establishing personal rapport when working with clients, as it fosters a deeper level of trust in our professional relationship. Through the relationship I cultivated with their Primary Admin, I received insights into potential competition through rumors of an RFP involving our competitors. Leveraging this information, we devised a robust internal strategy and identified areas for improvement to better serve the client's needs. This proactive approach not only secured the renewal of our contract and solidified our longstanding relationship, but also elevated our status as a trusted advisor in their eyes.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you and your team face when it comes to taking care of Intellum's customers? Any particularly tricky situations you've had to navigate?

One of the biggest hurdles any client facing team faces is grasping the unique issues and concerns of a diverse clientele without always having an immediate solution at hand. With such a broad spectrum of clients spanning various industries, including those with 20+ year partnerships, SMB clients, and a large portion of enterprise clients, each situation presents its own complexities. When a customer faces challenges due to product changes or requires features not currently available, it's natural to empathize and strive for swift resolution. Yet, aligning these individual needs with Intellum's overarching business objectives and roadmap often requires careful consideration and balancing of priorities.

When it comes to listening to customers, how does Intellum gather feedback and turn it into action? Got any examples of a feature or change that came directly from customer suggestions?

Intellum’s vision is “To become the most used, most loved, and most effective organizational edtech company in the world.” Achieving this vision hinges on our ability to attract and retain valued customers, which can only be accomplished through continuous innovation and solicitation and openness to feedback. One of my favorite things about Intellum that I particularly admire is our ability to pivot when necessary. We embrace growth and change without fear, allowing us to adapt and evolve in response to shifting circumstances. When I was in college, I pursued a minor in Art, focusing on Drawing and Painting. I vividly recall my initial exposure to a studio classroom setting and the eye-opening experience of my first peer review session. After spending nearly 40 hours on a still life painting, I had poured my heart and soul into it. However, during the peer review critique, my art peers didn’t hold back in offering their constructive “feedback”. It was a stark contrast to the usual praise from friends and family, and initially, it hurt my tender ego. Yet looking back, I appreciate the valuable lesson it taught me about accepting criticism and growing from it. I’m also proud to say, I did not cry once in the classroom. Reflecting on this experience, I admire how Intellum similarly embraces feedback loops, actively listens to peer reviews, and implements changes when necessary. One of the most memorable examples that stands out to me involves a unique scenario with one of our eCommerce clients. They had empowered over 350 admins as SMEs to create content, but their instance was shared with multiple audiences, including internal employees, external vendors, and partners. This setup increased the risk of human error, occasionally resulting in the inadvertent sharing of proprietary internal information with external parties. In response to the client's request for a specific setting to segment their audience prior to content publishing, I collaborated closely with our Product team. Together, we delved into their business case and the challenges they were facing, ultimately implementing a bigger and better solution that not only addressed their needs but also led to broader enhancements benefiting all of our customers.

We've all got those numbers we obsess over. What are the key metrics you're watching to know if your team is knocking it out of the park with customer care?

As mentioned above, we take feedback very seriously at Intellum, so we have several key metrics. However, the primary Client Support metrics are CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), Quality First Reply Time, Average Reply Time, and Average Ticket Duration (time to close). 

How do you stay one step ahead of customer needs? Do you have any secret sauce for anticipating what they'll need before they even know it?

During my high school and college years, I gained invaluable experience working in the restaurant industry. The skills and lessons I acquired during that time continue to shape my approach today. One particular restaurant I worked for emphasized the importance of anticipating customer needs, a philosophy that greatly influenced our interactions. We made it a priority to anticipate what customers might require before they even realized it themselves. This could mean anything from refilling a customer's drink before it was even close to running out to preemptively providing extra napkins for a messy meal or ensuring a child's meal arrived promptly. These experiences instilled in me a proactive mindset that I carry forward in all aspects of my work.In Client Support, we strive for a similar proactive approach. We meticulously gather and document trends and use cases, fostering close collaboration within our department and through cross collaboration with other teams. By learning from client issues, tickets, and each other, we continuously enhance our processes and offerings.

Every superhero has their tough battles. Can you share a story of a time your team faced down a customer service dragon and came out victorious?

If you were to ask any member of my team about their day, chances are they'd have a recent customer service "dragon" encounter to share. These challenges come in various forms and are part of our daily routine. However, I've prioritized equipping the team with coping strategies to navigate these situations effectively. For instance, we often share humorous customer service memes and TikToks to lighten the mood and foster a sense of camaraderie. Creating an open environment where team members can vent and share struggles allows us to collectively take a deep breath and approach challenges with kindness and respect. On a personal note, I don't often share this, but I have a tattoo on my foot featuring part of a Bible verse that reads, "Renew a steadfast spirit." To me, this serves as a reminder to face challenges head-on, process emotions, strategize for success, and ultimately, renew my resolve with a steadfast spirit. I strive to lead by example in embodying this mindset. 

With Intellum serving such a wide range of customers, how do you keep things personal while still keeping the ship sailing smoothly? How do you keep your team fired up and ready to roll with that customer-first mindset? Any rituals or team traditions that keep morale high? 

Team morale holds significant importance for me. I take great interest in understanding people and how they prefer to receive feedback and praise. I've even gone as far as asking some team members about their love languages to ensure that praise resonates effectively. Whether it's through purposeful shout-outs, sending swag gifts, or encouraging team members to do the same, I strive to create a positive and supportive atmosphere. I firmly believe in the concept that for every negative interaction, five positive interactions are needed to counteract the negative sentiment.One of our most cherished team traditions is our monthly "Team Game Time." Many of my colleagues enjoy playing games together, and recognizing the value of fostering an open environment and building trust, I initiated this tradition upon joining the team. It's a time for us to come together without our VP (although we love him) and take turns hosting various games. From Shell Shockers to virtual Cards Against Humanity and even a virtual scavenger hunt, we've enjoyed a wide array of activities. This tradition not only provides a welcome break from our usual tasks but also promotes collaboration and strengthens team bonds.

Let's talk tech! What tools or gadgets does your team swear by for delivering top-notch customer care?

As a company, we're placing significant emphasis on integrating AI into both our product and workplace dynamics. Recently, our team successfully implemented an AI CSAT tool aimed at tracking customer sentiment. This tool not only evaluates tickets but also facilitates unbiased coaching sessions among peers and teams. Additionally, we're excited about our transition to Salesforce Service Cloud, which promises to elevate our ticketing platform to new heights. We also leverage an internal social tool appropriately named "Social," similar to Slack, which enables personal and professional interactions, including group and one-on-one chats. This tool, coupled with our newly established Intellum Community, fosters a collaborative and engaging environment for all.

Everyone loves a good success story. Can you share one where your team really went above and beyond to make a customer's day?

I'm fortunate to lead an incredible team that consistently goes above and beyond to meet our customers' needs, and there are numerous instances that come to mind. One particular story that stands out occurred about four months ago. A long-time client experienced a change in LMS Admin ownership when the previous Admin left the company. The new Admin, with little training and understanding of our platform and their specific use case, found herself struggling. I noticed her interactions with our support team were brief and full of frustration - it seemed she perceived our team as chatbots rather than empathetic individuals trying to assist her.I collaborated with their Intellum Relationship Manager to gather context on the situation before reaching out to the customer. I proposed a Support Live call with myself and one of our Tier 2 Support Managers. Initially guarded and frustrated, she joined the call. However, as she interacted with real people who showed kindness and genuine willingness to help, coupled with our reassurance of the platform's sophistication and the availability of resources, her demeanor softened. By the end of the call, she was visibly moved and expressed heartfelt gratitude. Shortly afterward, she sent an email thanking our team for the support and conveying a newfound sense of comfort in her role, thanks to the support she received from Intellum. Following that day, her attitude toward our team underwent a significant transformation. She became more receptive and open, willingly allowing us to assist her! 

Training and development are key to keeping a team sharp. How does Intellum make sure your crew is always at the top of their game?

As an education-focused company, we place a high priority on fostering continuous learning and personal development. Within our Customer Care division, our Education team plays a pivotal role in delivering product-focused educational initiatives through our education portal, Experience. This includes “providing product onboarding and self-service resources tailored for employees, customers, and prospects, supporting both the Intellum Platform and Evolve Content Authoring.” Through a collaborative team effort, the Client Support team develops ongoing educational materials, onboarding tools, and training partnerships. I consider myself incredibly fortunate, as my original training partner has since become one of our Managers of Technical Services. Not only have we developed a strong friendship over the years, but I still rely on him for training needs from time to time.Additionally, as mentioned previously, Intellum allocates each employee a yearly Boost Budget specifically for professional development purposes. Over the years, I've utilized this budget in various ways. Including obtaining professional certifications such as the PMP certification, enrolling in numerous college continuing education courses, attending professional conferences, and even learning a new language in preparation for our retreat to Mexico!

Crystal ball time! What do you think the future holds for customer care, and how is Intellum gearing up for it?

As AI continues to gain traction, it's likely that some aspects of customer care will transition towards interactions with AI tools. However, what truly distinguishes Intellum's Customer Care is our commitment to personalized service. Each ticket receives a personal response from a dedicated customer support agent, and we meticulously track the quality of these responses. We understand the value of our customers' time and strive to ensure that every interaction is meaningful and tailored to their needs. This personalized approach not only fosters trust in Intellum but also cultivates more meaningful connections with our customers. To maintain our competitive edge, it's imperative that we find innovative ways to leverage AI and automation in our support processes without compromising the personalized touch that sets us apart in customer interactions.

Teamwork makes the dream work, right? How does your team collaborate with other departments to make sure everyone's singing from the same customer-focused hymn sheet?

As a parent, I often find myself asking my teenagers, "Did you try first?" I'm always willing to drop whatever I'm doing to help them through any situation, as long as I see genuine effort from their end and not just a hand-off of responsibilities onto me.This same principle holds true for cross-functional collaboration, especially here at Intellum. We're a team of like-minded individuals driven by our core values of Curiosity, Creativity, Perseverance, and Kindness. Our culture is something we prioritize and take pride in cultivating. Therefore, it's important for us to ensure that we've exhausted all avenues before seeking help or escalating to another team. This not only builds trust but also fosters successful cross-collaboration.Additionally, Intellum organizes an annual retreat for its employees. It's not your typical work-focused retreat but rather an opportunity for us to feel valued and appreciated by our employers while fostering a sense of community across different departments. We've stayed at five-star hotels across the US, and last year, we had the pleasure of visiting Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, where we'll return this year. From enjoying open pool time to embarking on adventures in cenotes, kayaking, boat rides, and ziplining, the retreat offers us a chance to unwind and connect on a deeper level.All of these initiatives contribute to positive cross-collaboration, boost employee morale, and ultimately reflect in how we interact with our customers.

Last but not least, what pearls of wisdom would you drop for other companies looking to up their customer care game, based on your experience in the trenches at Intellum?

In my experience, most customers just want to feel heard and valued. They seek reassurance that their feedback holds significance and that they're not merely seen as a revenue figure. I firmly believe that approaching each customer interaction with empathy and a genuine desire to support their success is key to achieving positive outcomes. By prioritizing their needs and concerns, you're more likely to foster a sense of trust and ultimately find success.

No more woes, just hoorahs with Ariglad
Book Demo