Handling Quick Company Growth with Evan Hopkins

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In this episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Gabe Larsen is joined by Evan Hopkins from Outdoorsy to learn about how he kept his company stable during massive, unexpected growth. Listen to the full podcast below to learn more about Evan and his CX expertise.

Unifying Your Departments

Having years of experience in CX, Evan finds that the best way to handle large-scale company growth is to make sure that all departments are aligned on the brand mission. Leaders who try to solve problems on their own sometimes end up failing because they approach these problems with a one-sided perspective. “What you don’t want to do is try to solve it on an island. You have limited resources, you need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.” To do this, Evan suggests meeting with members of different departments on a frequent enough basis that leaders are all aware of what’s going on in the CX-scape. This could be as simple as a weekly update, or a quick huddle to make sure that everyone’s in tune with their customer’s needs. For instance, bringing in leaders from legal, finance, sales, or marketing can give a valuable, fresh perspective to how the customer interacts with the company on different levels, “Otherwise you just have the same people, the same ideas, and you don’t progress.”

How to Gain Executive Backing

Getting executives and members of the C-Suite onboard with CX is no easy task. Many leaders who approach these members struggle to get their approval because they don’t use data to their advantage. Data’s such a huge player in the customer game because it’s the key to understanding their needs from an unbiased perspective. Once you can add palpable value to your data, it’s ready to face the C-Suite because let’s face it – money talks.

Building relationships with other departments and executives can be a game-changer for CX leaders. Start with introducing yourself and finding ways that you can integrate a customer mindset into the different aspects of the business. Once these relationships start developing, it’s much easier to ask for help and to get executives excited about what you’re doing with your team.

Hiring the Right People for the Job

Of course, every manager wants to have a team of dedicated people working with them to increase revenue and overall customer satisfaction, but how exactly do leaders spot the right talent in a pool of hopeful candidates, especially when your company’s booming? Dealing with a huge uptick in applicants, Evan’s team found great success by implementing an automated chatbot that answered any questions they might have. Another strategy used by Evan’s team is a predictive index that understands how applicants communicate and pinpoints their communication styles. These two things then streamline good candidates to the hiring manager, making their job much easier and saving the company time and money.

Once hired, the next step is to train people in a way that prioritizes all of the important aspects first, leaving smaller, minute details for later. Evan explains how important it is to have good documentation during the hiring and training process while business is growing because it helps leaders to stay on the same page and agents to stay efficient – keeping customers happy in the long run.

“Do you want a team member to have to search through all their notes from training to be able to answer a question or do you want them to have it integrated into their CRM where answers pop up as they type questions in chat?”

To learn more about how to manage company growth like a pro and Evan’s work at Outdoorsy, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Tomorrow’s Customer Experience Starts Here with Brad Birnbaum

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody to today’s show. We have a special guest, Evan Hopkins, who’s currently the VP of Global Sales and Customer Operations at Outdoorsy. Hey man, I appreciate you joining. How are you?

Evan Hopkins: (00:25)
Doing very good. Thanks for having me.

Gabe Larsen: (00:27)
Yeah, I stumbled on the Outdoorsy for some reason there. I apologize. So before we jump in, I often like to just get to know the guests just a little bit. So I’d love to ask one outside of work question, anything you’re passionate about, hobbies, passionate pastimes, that you’d like to share with the audience today?

Evan Hopkins: (00:50)
I think, first one that comes to mind is I like to tinker on things. I think that came from my dad. So I got a motorcycle that I’m always adding and removing things from all the way to remote control cars. I built one from scratch this year during COVID. I needed things to do to.

Gabe Larsen: (01:07)
To keep yourself busy.

Evan Hopkins: (01:09)
Totally. Yeah. So anything I can kind of tinker with. Electronics, things along those lines, are always interesting to me.

Gabe Larsen: (01:15)
I love it. And then tell us a little bit about what you do over at Outdoorsy. What’s kind of going on over there and your role?

Evan Hopkins: (01:21)
Yeah, Outdoorsy. So it’s been really fun to be part of this marketplace for a number of years, but of course the last two years it’s been incredibly busy with people wanting to get outside and our views are really safe way to do it and travel over the last couple of years. So my role there at Outdoorsy is to help us to make sure that we look after the customers and bring new customers on board to list their vehicles so that we have lots and lots of hosts on there so that when people want to come and go on a trip, there are lots of choices. I have team members and we’re operating in Europe and Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US. So I have team members around the world, which is for me, one of the funniest parts of the role, just understanding different cultures and seeing how we can apply similar things, but how you got to tweak it in different places. So that’s my day-to-day, is how do we do a great job for our customers and how do we bring more onboard?

Gabe Larsen: (02:14)
Well, that is quite spread out. I didn’t realize actually you were kind of dabbling in all those different countries. I am amazed. I have not done it myself, but my sister and brother-in-law, are currently doing kind of this like RV, I don’t know what they’re calling it, but RV life. They do. They just have this cool RV and they go to these, I think what used to be maybe like, not as ready RV parks. The RV parks I used to visit maybe 20 years ago, were like, WiFi-enabled and all ready for people to work remotely, but he sent me some pictures and he’s like, man, there are some of these RV parks that you can legitimately, it’s not designed for remote working. But I mean, basically, it works really well. He’s got his two screens in the RV. I’m like this works. I think people are obviously pulling it off. And hopefully, you guys are the beneficiary of that.

Evan Hopkins: (03:10)
We are definitely seeing that over the last few years. My family and I, we’ve been on a few trips. We always get the RV delivered to make it a little bit easier. We’ve got dogs and kids and all that. So we have them deliver like a 40 foot, big trailer for us, and the last one we did, we had them put it right beside a river at like you said, one of those RV parks, and they had great WiFi. So I worked a few hours a day and watched my kids have fun on the river and then I joined in as soon as I was out of all these Zoom meetings.

Gabe Larsen: (03:41)
Yeah, that is one of the cool things about, I mean, you guys, you can actually deliver the stuff. You can deliver it to a specific place and that is game-changing for those of us who don’t have an RV or you make it so easy. So we’ll talk about that more at the end. So let’s get back to the topic and I wanted to talk a little bit about how you guys have kind of transformed and figured out this scaling around customer operations, et cetera. So wanted to start big picture. How have you thought about handling this growth, this sudden sustained increase in volume? How has that kind of work for you guys and what are some of the ways you’ve operated around it?

Evan Hopkins: (04:20)
Well, I think probably like most people, the first part is very painful because if you knew that it was going to happen, you would have started hiring way in advance and you would have done many things differently. But every once in a while, you’re in a position where things change rapidly and you have to scale. So I’ve had some experience where things in my past have really bad system implementations by other parts of the organization, caused tons of phone calls coming into a telco, at an airline. I was a similar sort of things with system changes. So I’ve kind of gone through it a few times and a few basic learnings for me. The first thing is we really want to make sure that you share what’s going on across the organization, right? You want to make sure that everyone understands here’s what’s happening. We think this is why it’s happening. Sometimes you know exactly why it’s happening. Sometimes you might not. But you actually want to get everyone involved. And I say that of course your own organization, probably the customer service group or whatever part you’re in, but also the leadership team, you want to make sure that your peers in marketing, technology, et cetera, everyone’s aware because what you don’t want to do is try to solve it on an island. You have limited resources, you need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. So you start to think about having the daily huddles, making sure that there’s good information going out and on a regular basis. So that was my first learning is don’t try to do it on your own, make sure everyone’s aware of what’s going on and keep information flowing.

Gabe Larsen: (05:46)
Well, one quick follow-up on that, because I’ve definitely heard that often, but people struggle to get some of the, you mentioned some other functional areas like marketing, for example. Is there ways you’ve failed to just get those like kind of last all in? Is it just be open, good communication, or any secrets you’ve failed to make sure that you get those partners in and part of your team rather than kind of fighting against them?

Evan Hopkins: (06:09)
Yeah. I think like many things, you want to go to relationships long before these things happen. So hopefully you have some of those things in place that you have communicated how your department works, how you plan, and that something like this might happen one day. One company I joined, on Friday, before I joined, everything was peaceful and over the weekend they did a system change. So everything went chaos. We had three to four-hour wait times on my very first day. So I had no relationships, but I still, I just went to people and said, “Hey, I’m Evan. And I understand this is your role in the company. And we got to become fast friends and we got to start working together.” So I think people respond well to the friendliness and being direct. And you’re all at the same company you want to pull in the same direction.

Evan Hopkins: (06:54)
I think though, with marketing as a good example, is they’re working hard to drive business. And if they’re driving business into a channel that can’t handle it, they’re wasting money. So we think about all of the money going into Google every single day, driving clicks. Well, what’s the point in doing that if you can’t handle it? So I think you want to communicate those things and put it into also their business objectives and say, “Hey, let’s save some dollars this month until we get this solved. And then when we got things solved, let’s pour the money back in when it’s going to add value to the business.”

Gabe Larsen: (07:26)
I mean, yeah, it’s always, if you can help people do their job better, it’s not just about you, but it’s like, “Hey, I can help you do your job a little better.” I think people are always willing to hear that more than just complaints or arguments, et cetera. As you think about COVID and you guys, it must have been a roller coaster. Can you touch on that and how you kind of played around there?

Evan Hopkins: (07:45)
Yeah. So, sorry. Our scenario there last year was having a good start to 2020. COVID starts to hit and within call it a week, 90% of our bookings for the upcoming sort of month, month, and a half disappear off of our schedules. So I think very similar to what airlines experienced, probably even more extreme than, yeah, the whole travel industry got hammered. But we went from things are great to there’s nothing. So we stopped and we didn’t know what was going to happen. So I think everyone had to make tough decisions. We stopped hiring. So think about, we have about, a small group. We’re right in our hiring cycle through April and May and we expect to be adding maybe 80 or so people to our staff, but we hired nobody because we have no volume coming and no one’s booking, but then all of a sudden near the sort of end of May, everything goes crazy and everyone’s like, “I’m going outside again.” I don’t care, various reasons it happened and RVing’s the way to go.

Gabe Larsen: (08:51)
That’s totally me. It’s like March and April, I’m like, I don’t do anything, man. June. I’m like, I’m hitting every mountain in this whole country.

Evan Hopkins: (08:59)
We’re going everywhere. So again, a great problem to have, but, so it came back gangbusters. So basically, we should have hired all of those people but we didn’t. So we had to very quickly go out, make sure that we took advantage because we did an okay job. I think we could have done better, but we did an okay job of continuing to get applications. We didn’t get to have a funnel of people. So we start to hire a couple of classes that we told them that we were going to pause and then we’d get back to them. We were able to bring those people on quickly and then run through our training programs. And I think that’s a big, important thing too, is you need to assess your training and what is required versus the ideal state to train.

Evan Hopkins: (09:41)
And we had to make some tough decisions. We made some right ones. We made some wrong ones last year, but and we tried some things along the way. Could we train people just on ABC and not DEF? We learned that they actually needed D but E and F weren’t required. So I think you learn along the way and get people out on the floor. And then what you really got to do is support the leaders that you have because now they got people who aren’t trained maybe to the same extent and you’re throwing them into long wait times, customers who are a bit upset, obviously, for having to wait. So you really, I find if you support your leaders would probably be my number two-point, is make sure that they have what they need. Make sure you have enough leaders. We brought in some sort of extra coaching levels last year as we’ve started to scale up, just to make sure that no one was burning out. That was our big one. And I think still we push people pretty hard, but that was a really big focus through that period of time with the leaders.

Gabe Larsen: (10:37)
Wow. Wow. Yeah. So you really went from 90% cancellation to three months later to fully booked and you didn’t have the right staff. You didn’t have the staff because you basically stopped. Wow. You obviously made it through though. You survived. That must have been a roller coaster.

Evan Hopkins: (10:58)
We survived. We went from 20 sorts of active team members to, I think we hit 175 team members, within two and a half months.

Gabe Larsen: (11:08)
Wow. Can you talk about the hiring program? I mean, did you use an external group? How did you hire? How do you scale that fast on the people’s side? Was it, you feel like you’ve got a pretty good hiring program?

Evan Hopkins: (11:23)
We’re really proud of the team that did the hiring. And I got to call out Johnny Ramirez on my team who leads our CS organization and he really owned the hiring. He implemented a few things into the hiring process. Automation. So we use a tool called Workable, and it really helps to automate a lot of the connection with a person asking questions, getting the information. We use also a predictive index to understand the person’s sort of communication styles. But that also could happen right in Workable. So what that meant was Johnny didn’t have to spend a whole bunch of time back and forth and communicating. He was getting people at the end and then can make decisions on whether to interview or not. So that was really effective for us when we got that in place. So we’re going through the hiring process, obviously getting people in the training, but at the same time, again, learnings from the past, immediately, we went out to the market and started talking to vendors and we brought on one. They helped us for a little bit. We had a partner last year who’s in the RV space as well who they stepped up, they loaned us some people because they were incredibly quiet still, kind of had an, we were a little bit ahead of them before they started to get busy again.

Evan Hopkins: (12:35)
So they loaned us people and we trained them up. And then we also went out and we did get a vendor with them. We added a second vendor and they had about 60 or 70 people I think that another industry was still hit hard in the travel space. So we were able to grab a [inaudible] and then just train them up in ours. So yeah, it was quite rapid. And again, you have things that you would definitely do differently and all of that, but we were able to sort of turn around. So August, but when we got into August, we were sort of operating at where we would expect to be. You’d call, someone would answer right away to help you and get you going.

Gabe Larsen: (13:17)
I love it. Wow. That is just so many 20 to like 170. So you hit on the hiring, but just training for a minute. You must’ve kind of broken your core principles there. Did you feel like you were able to quickly kind of solve that or were people running through automation or how did you, I understand how you brought them all, but how’d you get them up to speed so fast?

Evan Hopkins: (13:39)
We, man, I’m always trying to push the team to go faster and more efficiently. So I think it was just really good discussions with the training team, the managers, myself, and we just sort of picked through the training program to try to decide what we could and couldn’t do. And at one point I really pushed the team too, as an example, just focus on helping owners. Can we train them just on that part of our program and the sort of things they need to understand and not the renter’s side? And that didn’t work. We tried it, but it didn’t work because so many of, when you’re trying to help an owner, you need to understand the renter side too. But we tried that with one class and then we had to go back and retrain them. But other things that we did try to do and say, Hey, as this does, things that only happen once in a while, let’s just not train them on those. Let them know that they might happen, but let’s make sure we improve our documentation. And that was one thing, we didn’t have great documentation kind of coming into 2020. Now, you could come in and start working on my team today. We could show you the systems and we could just give you access to our knowledge base and you could have a successful day. So really proud of the team. Everyone has worked hard on that. But I think that is really important and something I wish we had better going in. We were relying too much on the training before, but now our knowledge base is really solid.

Gabe Larsen: (14:58)
Is that something that was done though, when you say your team, did you have like a dedicated group of technical writers or was it like a training and enablement team that just kicked kind of button got that done? Like, how did you go from, it sounds like, fairly low on that automation training side to very robust managers? Did it How’d you get there?

Evan Hopkins: (15:20)
Yeah, well, so we had training, like many call centers, a great agent became a trainer. And so we were investing in that person last year. And then other people were helping out a little bit. But we’ve quickly got to, and where we are today, I have two technical writers on our team. We have a really world-class L&D manager who, we’re just very lucky to have her and she has trainers on her team as well.

Gabe Larsen: (15:44)
As well as that group? Oh, interesting.

Evan Hopkins: (15:46)
Yeah, I think you really need all those and we were using one tool. We’re moving to more of a dedicated LMS going forward as well. So again, all these things I wish I had in 2020, but you can’t do everything all at once. Sometimes you have to prioritize. So after we kind of got through last summer and I like to do this in every business I’m at, we kind of pick a part of the year where we do an assessment on our technologies, our processes, and our gaps. So we do that after sort of August. And when we did that last year, we have now, we’re just a whole different business this year and really proud of what we’ve created. And we were really able to implement almost everything going into this season. So if you’ve called Outdoorsy this year, you’ve got someone who’s better trained. You pretty much got answered right away. Like there are very few people out there who can say they’ve even waited five minutes this year. And yeah, I feel really good about what the team’s been able to accomplish.

Gabe Larsen: (16:43)
Yeah. I think sometimes that is like, we don’t invest enough in that training and enablement side of the house. That sometimes is understaffed, but I love that. So you’re saying once a year, you kind of do like this little audit of almost people, process, technology. And certainly, it sounds like you’ve been able to make leaps and bounds, but that’s kind of an annual thing you do is that, did I hear that right?

Evan Hopkins: (17:05)
Annual thing, yeah. Taught early in my career to sort of taking that approach. Whether it’s a sales team, support teams, a favorite name I ever heard for it was a full monty. Like we’re just going to look at everything. Nothing is sacred. And I think it’s always really helpful that time of year to bring in people that are not in it day to day because you need some new eyes and if you can involve other parts of the organization all the way to like your legal counsel like they got different perspectives. Bringing in someone from finance to give some perspective, not just on the financial side, but like how they feel about how a customer interacts, I think that’s really important. Otherwise, you just have the same people, the same ideas and you don’t progress.

Gabe Larsen: (17:46)
Well, I’ll have to take note of that. I like that. I mean, I’m forgetting what book that was. It’s the E-Myth if you remember that. You get so used to working in the business that you forget to work on the business. And I don’t know how many people actually are able to take a step back and be like, okay, how are we doing this? How should we do it differently? I liked that a lot. Hit technology for a minute. You obviously looked at that as part of the kind of this full monty that you talked about. How have you thought about taking technology to the next level through this and other scaling opportunities?

Evan Hopkins: (18:17)
Yeah, I think that technology should not be where you start. You should focus on what are you trying to achieve? What’s the experience that you want customers and anyone who’s going to be interacting with you to have? And when you sort of map that out and you can figure those things out again, you want to work with your marketing team, you want to work with your founders or anyone in the business that is a stakeholder. Once you have those, then it’s a lot easier to go out and say, “Here’s what we need.” And then you can look for technologies that meet those needs. I think there are also people out there who you can work with. My wife did this for a little while. We’re, she understands all the technologies and she was working as a broker and someone who could help companies go look for things and then bring partners to the table.

Evan Hopkins: (19:04)
Most of them, you don’t even pay. It’s the vendors that’ll pay them at the end. So I think there are some ways to do that, but yeah, I think you really need to start with, what are you trying to solve? How are you trying to look after your customer? And then part of your, one of your customers is your team members. So you need to think about them as well. What do you want their day to be like? Do you want a team member to have to search through all their notes from training to be able to answer a question or do you want them to have it integrated into their CRM where answers pop up as they type questions in chat? So those are decisions you make. And I think the math on those, especially when you start to get a little bit bigger, pays dividends very quickly on the efficiencies you get from information being at people’s fingertips.

Gabe Larsen: (19:46)
I liked that. I liked that. Mostly I think just the intentionality of it oftentimes, we get desperate and we just reach for technology to save us, but if you can actually be more intentional about it, diagnose a problem and then go find maybe a technology to solve it. It’s hard sometimes I think with all that’s going on, but I think that’s way smarter. I really liked the broker idea. There are so many people who know that. I’m going to have to follow up after that. And then lastly, we talked a little bit about this idea of being able to successfully work with founders and how that’s become such an important part of your guys’ success. Can you touch on that point before we kind of wrap here?

Evan Hopkins: (20:24)
Yeah. I think that founders haven’t for me been too different than some of the early, like really strong executives I worked for. But the big difference is like this is their baby. This is something that they’ve created, they’ve invested in, they live every single moment of their lives. And I think it’s really important to understand that, to try to make sure, not just you understand the business goals, but what’s their vision? Where are they trying to go? Why did they do this? That makes it easier to then bring that to the customer. Because you want that to come all the way through your onboarding and your training, who you’ve hired, how you coach, the QA program, all those sorts of things. But if you have that vision in that light, that’s really helpful. I think it’s also important to try to involve them to whatever extent they want to.

Evan Hopkins: (21:14)
Some founders, want to help you write the opening of a phone call and the end. Whereas others, just want you to understand the direction and sort of the general feeling. So you have to meet your founders, just like anyone, where they are, make sure that they stay informed, keep them updated. Haven’t always done that great in my career. And I think when you miss doing that, that’s when you are at risk of someone diving in, whether it’s a founder or an executive or someone, and they just come with ideas and tell you what to do. But if you keep them informed and engaged, they might still come with ideas, but they might be more of suggestions versus telling you what to do. And when you have to, when you get something that’s coming at you and you’re being told what to do, and you really believe it’s the wrong thing, that’s a lot harder place to try to work from.

Evan Hopkins: (22:01)
Now you’re trying to convince them but that’s probably because you haven’t been telling them what you’re working on or your vision or how more importantly, how you’re executing on their vision and build that trust with them. So I think all of those things are really important. But I think long before that, make sure you’re working for a founder that you agree with their vision. Make sure you agree with their values. And that makes things a lot easier day today because you’re going to make similar decisions that they would.

Gabe Larsen: (22:28)
Yeah. I like that. I mean, it’s so important to the culture. I think if you can get that vision and you can execute on it, it helps everybody, both the founder and your team, you just fill that alignment. Have you felt like there are some certain cadences that work? I guess it just depends on the person. Sometimes it’s a weekly meeting. Sometimes it’s an email. Sometimes it’s literally like getting into the trenches and writing scripts or opening lines or closing lines. Any coaching you’d give to people who are struggling with that to find it? Maybe it just kind of depends on the leader, I guess.

Evan Hopkins: (23:02)
I think like most things, it depends on the leader, but you are better to err on the side of more often than less often. So I think even if you’re, I like to get regular reporting from my team members. We have a very consistent cadence of that from each one of my teams. So feel free to share that over with a leader. You’re already getting it, make sure you share it over and give a little bit of context. I think also make sure that it’s really clear. Are you looking for feedback from them? Are you looking for insight? Is this just an FYI? Because when someone sends me something and it’s unclear, I’m like, “Okay, I’m just going to give you feedback.” Like that’s my natural state. You send me something, you don’t give me direction and I don’t give feedback.

Evan Hopkins: (23:42)
But if you say, “Hey, Evan. Just FYI on what’s going on,” now I know what you want me to do with it. So I think just be really clear there. But then ask. Like most people just ask them, is this enough? Do you want more? Where do you want more detail? All of those things are really helpful. So for me, who I’m working with right now, our founders, they really care what the customer’s thinking, their experience. So I focus on data around that and making sure that they have that as well as the rest of the organization, that that’s very frequent.

Gabe Larsen: (24:08)
Yeah, that data becomes so important. I like that. Okay. Evan, great episode. Great, great talk track. Kudos. I mean, it sounds like you guys felt the, you were standing at the door of the lion’s den and somehow you were able to survive and thrive. I don’t know. The lion’s den just came to my mind. That’s probably not like that. So congratulations. Fascinating story. Really appreciate you joining us today. If someone wanted to kind of continue that dialogue or learn a little bit more about Outdoorsy, any connection, LinkedIn, anyway they could do that?

Evan Hopkins: (24:43)
Absolutely. Yeah. Find me on LinkedIn, Evan Hopkins. I’m the bald guy working for Outdoorsy when you see the picture. But yeah, check out outdoorsy.com as well. And I really encourage people to get out to work on the road. Most of my best work in the last few years has been when I’ve been at a campsite. You’re just inspired in a different way, the fresh air. I really encourage everyone to take an opportunity to do that.

Gabe Larsen: (25:07)
What a cool world that we’re getting to that. I just, I feel like as much as COVID has had its problems, doing some of that, finding more quiet times, being able to get outdoors, I’m with you. I think there’s definitely something there. So I hope we can find the balance as things hopefully kind of calm down when it comes to COVID and all these barriers. So anyway, all right. Well, hey Evan, really appreciate the time and for the audience, have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (25:36)
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