Today on Real-World Branding, we sat down with Trish Wethman from Marlette Holdings (d/b/a Best Egg – a company with roots in personal loans, recent expansion into credit, and more to come). Take a listen as Trish details the fundamental power of CX to transform businesses – internally and externally.  
 
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Bill Gullan:

Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I'm Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy. And we're grateful for your time. Thanks for joining us on our podcast. I know it's been a while. We do plan to get back on our regular cadences as we move through the summer and into the fall. Today, a treat. Trish Wethman, who's the Chief Customer Officer at Marlette Holdings, which goes to market as Best Egg. It's a business that started in personal loans and has expanded into a suite of products and services around credit with more to come in the future.

Bill Gullan:

Trish's role is fascinating. She's the Chief Customer Officer, as noted. And really, what that means is that she oversees the customer experience. And as you'll hear, she's an enthusiast for CX, and she will speak in very thoughtful and persuasive ways to all of us about why it matters, the impact that it can have internally and externally on organizations, and how putting the customer at the center earns long term loyalty from customers, even in marketplaces that may be more transactional.

Bill Gullan:

She will also relate, from across her career, how often there is a change agency role around CX within organizations. It often starts with simple questions. Everyone intends, I think, to be good to customers, but there's certain functions, processes, and mindsets that help make that truly real and help bring customer-centricity and all of its benefits to life. So enjoy hearing from Trish.

Bill Gullan:

We are so excited to be joined today by Trish Wethman, who is the Chief Customer Officer at a company called Marlette Funding that goes to market as Best Egg. And Trish, thank you for spending some time with us.

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. I'm excited to talk, Bill. Always love to talk about my role in customer experience, branding, and all those fun things.

Bill Gullan:

Excellent. Perfect. Well, we will hold you to that. So why don't we start there? I mean, you've had an incredible set of accomplishments in your career, but you're Chief Customer Officer. That's a newer title in the hierarchical world of business. How'd you fall in love with CX? What's the path for you that led you to really embrace this as being what you do and what you love to do?

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. Great question. So I think I started out early in my career in operations. I worked for TV Guide Magazine for many years and did frontline editorial work. And so I knew the side of the business around making sure that things were running on time, that processes were being followed, and that we were doing all the things that we needed to do to get the magazine out every week, make sure that the data was correct. What I always found that I loved was hearing from customers. Getting their reactions to things that we were putting out. And as I progressed through my career in other industries, I've always just really loved hearing how our products or services land in terms of what the customer's expecting. As a person, I'm very much a people person. I'm an in NIFJ, so-

Bill Gullan:

Nice.

Trish Wethman:

... I have a touchy-feely element, and CX really combines that experience that I had around building process and making sure that the trains are running on time, but also understanding the people side of it, and understanding what customers need, and what's important to them.

Bill Gullan:

Right. And it seems like as you've gone through your career and in parallel, these types of principles have become far more focal, I guess. It seems like that's worked out pretty well.

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. I mean, so far so good. I've been able to work across industries. I tend to land in highly regulated industries like financial services. I've been in insurance and pharma as well. And I think that I've been able to bring value through the customer experience teams that I've built and the insights that we've delivered across these different companies. And here at Marlette, I think we've done a good job of showing the value of listening to our customers.

Bill Gullan:

Yeah. So let's get to that. You're at Best Egg, which is, I guess, the go-to-market brand name for Marlette's lending products. Is a personal lender, at least began that way. And people who may not be on the inside may think, "All right, well, you got to have competitive rates and probably got to be good marketers and send a bunch of mail." I mean, everybody gets a lot of mail from lenders. Maybe have a good website. But so for an organization like that, what does putting the customer at the center and really focusing on CX, how does it enhance a business like Best Egg's?

Trish Wethman:

Sure. So as you said, rates are always important. Customers care about how much they're paying for the product that you're giving them. And direct marketing and things like that are also very important, because that's how you find your customers. And hopefully, you find the right people at the right moment. What we've found is, by putting that focus on customer experience, we're able to go a little bit deeper and understand the unmet needs that customers have when dealing with not just your product, but in the space more broadly.

Trish Wethman:

And that's really what unlocks your ability to create personalized services and products that are really going to resonate with customers. It unlocks the ability to innovate, and it really helps you create that experience across their journey with you that makes them want to keep coming back, to you and working with you, and working with the other products. We started in personal lending, yes. Today, we now have a credit card and we're building a platform to help consumers have financial confidence. And so being able to create that relationship with them and really understand the needs and the priorities that they have is enabling us to do a better job of providing them with the things that they're looking for from a financial services company.

Bill Gullan:

Right. And so when you look at a business like that that may be, at least the crescendo moments or transactions, these are individual, I take on a new loan or I sign up for a credit card. How do you create customer loyalty in a business like that when the real moments of use might be more episodic or intermittent?

Trish Wethman:

Sure. Yeah. The relationship that we have had with our customers over time, there's certainly a transactional element to it. And I think what we've been able to do by really honing in on understanding the different touchpoints that customers have with us when they're transacting. What's happening? Doing things like journey mapping, where we try to dig into what are the meaningful moments to the customer, allows us to start creating a relationship with them across their journey.

Trish Wethman:

We've also done things like working with Finch on building our customer community, and that has enabled us to tap into a different part of our relationship with the customer. It's not just about the thing that they're transacting with us. It's also about, "How's that experience feel to you? And how can we do better and how can we help you achieve your goals in a different way?" So doing that relationship building with the customers takes us beyond the transaction and into the emotional side of the experience, which again, then helps us unlock better opportunities to create things that are going to be meaningful to them.

Bill Gullan:

Right. And so that might be new products, as you've mentioned, or it also might be just new opportunities to support them on their financial journey, it sounds like.

Trish Wethman:

Exactly. Exactly.

Bill Gullan:

Excellent. So you mentioned actually, your LinkedIn bio, and we talked a little bit about your path. Your LinkedIn bio has the phrase "change agent" in the descriptor. We know that to be true. We're talking about the marketplace is changing and you're with an organization that's changing too. What are the, I guess, cultural mindsets or areas of evolution that are required to help a company really become customer-centric? What's it going to take culturally and in terms of mindset, beyond just the specific functional deliverables? How do you do that? How are you an agent for change?

Trish Wethman:

That's a big question. So I think we've spent a lot of time thinking about this and talking, not just to our customers, but also to our employees, about, "Hey, how do you guys think about the customer in your day-to-day?" So we try to make sure, first and foremost, as we've tried to build more and more customer-centricity into how we work and think, we really started with our employees and said, "Tell us, how connected do you feel to the customer? Do you understand what their needs are? Do how your job plays a role in impacting the customer?" And so we look for all kinds of different ways to tap into that connection between the employees and our customers. So I think that was really one of the first things that we did.

Trish Wethman:

We also, of course, have spent some time and energy focusing on customer pain points. I think sometimes, businesses tend to forget, it's not always about us and, "Here's the thing we're putting out. It's about us, it's not about you." And I think the mindset shift has been, "It's about them. It's not about us." It's about the customers. It's not always about the best thing for us, but really, understanding, "What's the best thing that we can do for the customers?"

Trish Wethman:

I think one of the things that we've really focused on here also is cross-functional collaboration. And it's a little bit of a buzzword, I guess, or a buzzphrase, but it is just so true that a lot of businesses, you get so into your silos and the thing that you're focused on. And you forget that there's inputs and outputs there. And ultimately, the customer is at the end of that. And the more that we've started to break down those silos and really work collaboratively together across the journey, not just about our product, it's not just about our process. It's about how it all comes together to create the experience that the customer perceives or experiences.

Trish Wethman:

And so every day, my insights team is working with operations, marketing, and brand. And we are really weaving in the insights that we learn about customers through those touchpoints that we talked about and research that we do, into the things that they're doing every day and ensuring that we're collectively working to ensure that the customer is the benefactor of all of that collaboration. So it's not just, "I've improved my process now," but it's like, "How did we make this better for the customer?" Or, "I've built a better product." Well, are we sure that what you've built is what the customer needs?

Trish Wethman:

So that really becomes the crux of the conversation, and that's taken time, energy, and work for all of us to start seeing that mindset shift. And I think we've done a good job at Best Egg of continually reinforcing the things that we needed to do in order to get folks thinking that way.

Bill Gullan:

Right. It sounds like, I mean, obviously, there's a ton of work that goes into it. But it sounds like there's a fairly simple mindset here, which is putting on your old work process improvement hat. "When we go to try to make something better, are we doing it for us or are we doing it for them?" Meaning the customer. I mean, who's at the center of that? And then as you say, there's so much that comes after. You mentioned also the inside-out nature of how you went about this. Customer experience may be well studied and well crafted. How do you ensure, in a business like this, where there's a bunch of people in the call center or account managers who touch the customer on the front lines, how do you make sure that the core, I guess, philosophies of customer centricity or the core elements of the CX approach are delivered consistently and felt deeply by your colleagues to your left and your right?

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. I think it goes back to cross-functional collaboration. So if you can break down those silos and really see how each of these different pieces comes together to create the whole, that really starts to create some consistency in how you're delivering CX. So my insights team is in a separate part of the organization than our operations team, and operations is where all of our agents sit. But we are working with those agents day in and day out to understand, first of all, they're an input into our customer experience just as much as a survey or a chat transcript. They're telling us the things that they've heard as well.

Trish Wethman:

And so creating some visibility there, where we do things like call listening. So people that are maybe in finance or credit, or even marketing folks that aren't necessarily hearing from the customer directly every single day or seeing the impact that we have on the customer every single day, creating windows into that customer experience in that very tangible way, by having them listen to what the agents are hearing and having the agents explain, "This is what the customer is struggling with. This is what they're having a hard time understanding," bringing that back to the organization through channels like call listening, and journey mapping and things like that. It really helps to create that connectivity, and then it ensures that we're all thinking and hearing the same things that we need to prioritize and deal with from the customer perspective.

Bill Gullan:

From the customer's perspective. I mean, what are the... And this is never how we would maybe phrase it in an ad or a marketing approach, but what are the benefits to the customer of us putting them at the center and really making CX fundamental to the organization? How does that play out in terms of making life better for them?

Trish Wethman:

Sure. We talk a lot to our customers, particularly in activities through our customer community. And we just hear, time and time again, that just the idea that they're being heard goes such a long way in building trust with our brand. And so continually going back and saying to them, "This is what we heard you say, this is what we've done to show you that we're listening. And this is the improvement that you should expect to see." Having that open dialogue with them, that back and forth, that constant asking them, "Are we doing this right? Did we, did we hit the mark for you?" That has created this really rich dialogue.

Trish Wethman:

I mean, we now have executives that are sitting and talking to customers in executive chats with our customers. We are looking at ways from an engagement perspective to create that closed-loop experience for them. So, "Hey, you told us these things through your survey, or through the focus group, or through the conversation that we had. This is what we did in order to make the experience better for you." So constantly going back and revisiting and having those conversations and letting them know that their participation in those activities helps to make the business better. And in turn, it helps us provide them with a better service, a better product.

Trish Wethman:

I think that's really been the magic that we've been able to create through CX. CX is very much metrics-driven. Obviously, we look at things like NPS and CSAT and all of the metrics that fit into the spreadsheet, but there's also this intangible perception and emotional aspect to it. And the way that we are able to tap into that through these different channels, like our customer community and conversations with the customers directly, helps us to understand that piece of the puzzle as well.

Bill Gullan:

Yeah. You mentioned metrics. An executive who may be listening to this and thinking, "Yeah, it makes a lot of sense and it's warm and fuzzy. It makes me feel good. I want my customers to be happy," et cetera. What are the ways in which a really well-crafted and delivered CX initiative can provide lift to the business?

Trish Wethman:

Sure. The most important thing is that you're creating actionable insights for the business. So it's great to go out and talk to customers, have them tell you both the wonderful things that you're doing and also the not-so-wonderful things. But if you are then not taking that and bringing it to life in your products, services, and experiences, it's really a waste of time. Customers can sniff out when companies are doing that and not doing anything with it. They tend to find themselves going back to the companies that are listening and that are reacting and doing things. So for an executive, I think that the thing that they really need to push on is, "Don't just tell me the number," and our executives are very good at this. "Don't just tell me the number. Tell me, what does the number mean and what got us to that number? What are the drivers of the things that are dissatisfying customers or making them happy? And then what does that mean to all these different parts of the business?"

Trish Wethman:

So creating action plans coming out of those metrics and really being able to drive a return for the business, we've been able to identify these things that customers want. And perhaps, it's also created some efficiency for us. That's a win-win that tells a great story to executives about the value of your customer experience program.

Bill Gullan:

Definitely, definitely. And I would imagine there are folks who are at varying levels of exposure, and honestly, belief, in the importance of this. And that sounds like those are some pretty important answers.

Trish Wethman:

Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, we do have people that are sometimes skeptical. Like, "Oh, you guys go and have your conversations with the customers and what does it actually get us?" But you do have to have some credibility with the organization and you have to be able to show the value. And I think we started out with some folks that weren't necessarily to that extreme that maybe had never really thought about it from the customer perspective. And so even just exposing them to some of the wins, I think that's been an important thing for us. Like, "Here's what happens when you do this for customers, when you listen, and when you react to what they're telling you." And I think we've been able to win some hearts and minds by demonstrating the value there.

Bill Gullan:

Excellent. You mentioned the importance of research and data to help drive processes like this. You also mentioned meeting unmet needs. Obviously, we at Finch do a lot of research across categories. One of the challenges always is, how are you able to surface insights that people may not know that they need? Or maybe haven't thought about. They may have thought about a loan, for example, experience is, "I'm going to compare rates, and then I'm going to select one, and then I'm signing the papers, and then I'm paying back." Are there particular methods or approaches that you all have taken that really enable you to go a level deeper and learn what customers want and need, whether they know it or not, or can put their finger on it or not?

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. I think we have really started to hone in on understanding the problems as opposed to starting from a place of solutions.

Bill Gullan:

Sure. Yeah.

Trish Wethman:

So a lot of companies will say, "We've created this cool thing and we're going to put it out there." And they are sometimes surprised when customers shrug or turn their nose up at it. They probably didn't start from asking the question, "Is this thing that we're creating actually solving a problem for our customer?" And so across our business, we've really started to challenge people, "Don't come to our team." I mean, people can come to our team and ask for a survey, but try coming to us and saying, "This is the problem that I have that I'm trying to understand."

Trish Wethman:

And then we are able to craft not just a survey or not just a conversation, but really, a solution for how to understand the problem. So we can go out and have really in-depth conversations with folks to understand, not just how would you use this solution, but what's the problem space that you're dealing with and how can we create some solutions that would help fill that gap for you or help fix that problem for you. So instead of going out and talking about getting them to react to things that we're putting in front of them, we really just have conversations about like, "Hey, what are the things that you're struggling with day-to-day? When you're talking about your day-to-day finances, where are the places where nobody's really meeting the needs that you have and how can we help there?"

Trish Wethman:

And ethnographic research is a big word for really just going out and looking at how customers behave and what they're actually doing. And then looking for the opportunities just by observing and listening to those customers, that is the focus on the problem space that I think is very different from focusing on the solution.

Bill Gullan:

Sure. In terms of customers, I mean, you serve personal lending, again, where it started. These are folks who have a need for this, debt, for whatever reason or another. I mean, do you find a lot of common threads across the customer base in terms of how they may be looking at a particular issue or areas where they may not be, as you mentioned, financial confidence, where they may not quite be where they want to be or aspire to be? And does that help? I would imagine that helps, right?

Trish Wethman:

Yeah, absolutely. I think you do. The more and more you talk to customers, the more you see those common threads. And we have a large segment of our customers that are folks probably with little to no savings or have maybe exhausted their cushion because of what's happened in the world over the past two to three years. And now, they're trying to find ways to make ends meet and to live from paycheck to paycheck, but not having that cushion that they can lean back on if their car dies, or they have to get a new refrigerator, or the AC goes out.

Trish Wethman:

These are disruptions that can happen in anybody's life, and some folks are able to absorb those because they have the cushion or they've been able to plan for it. But when you have a gap there and you maybe don't have that one to three months of savings piled up and you're looking for a solution, what you don't want to hear is like, "Sorry, we can't help you." So what we're trying to do is be the organization that can help them understand how they got there, how do they start getting out of there, and what are the tools and solutions that we can provide them with to help them on that journey.

Bill Gullan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Excellent. And I'd imagine that's different for a customer to experience that as opposed to, "Hey, here are the rates. Here's how much we're willing to do," et cetera. It's meaningful.

Trish Wethman:

Yeah. I mean, customers really want to feel like it's a partnership. And we hear that with our customer community over and over again, that what in the midst of COVID, for example. We didn't just come after them and say, "Where's your payments?" We stopped and said, "We want to understand how this is affecting you. We want to hear all of the different ways that your life has been impacted. And then using that information, we want to help figure out what are ways that we can help." And that really created a lot of trust. And I think our customers really appreciate that we have tried to understand, not just like, "Here's the thing that we think will solve that problem for you," but really understanding what the problem is in the first place.

Bill Gullan:

I'll bet those conversations were deep and rich and emotional, I'm sure.

Trish Wethman:

Absolutely. You watch the videos sometimes, and it can be humbling. Because you remember at the end of the day, these are people on the other side of these loans, and we're helping them through some of the hardest times in their life.

Bill Gullan:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that's a great place to leave it since that really is the thread throughout all of this, it sounds like. And Trish, we're so grateful for your time and your expertise. Thank you for sharing with us.

Trish Wethman:

Yeah, absolutely, Bill. It was great talking and thanks for having me on.

Bill Gullan:

Of course. Many, many thanks to Trish for her time and insight. She is a ray of sunshine, learn something every time I speak with her. So thoughtful and passionate about these topics. And her impact is felt broadly within Best Egg and well beyond, certainly into their customer base. So we're grateful for her. A couple ways to support us here, we're grateful for you too, our listeners. Few ways to support us here at Real-World Branding. I used to say there's three.

Bill Gullan:

Well, I'll give you a spoiler. There's going to be a fourth that we'll introduce today. But the original three are as follows. If you click subscribe in the podcast app of your choice, you will make sure you do not miss a single episode. It will float down magically from, I guess, the cloud, whenever we have something new and given that our schedule has been a bit intermittent and we've been dark for a few months. This will make sure that when we come out with new things that you'll make sure to hear them.

Bill Gullan:

So that's one. The second is to rate and review within that podcast app. That ensures that we can be found by others who may find interest in our content, as well as it helps us with feedback. I think we're really interested in input. Hopefully, five stars we've earned, but if it's four or three, we really want to know why so we can make this maximally valuable to our listeners.

Bill Gullan:

And then the third traditional way is that dialogue is noted. Let's keep it going on Twitter @BillGullan, @FinchBrands. Ideas for topics or guests, feedback on what we do well, or areas where we can focus and improve to make this, again, enjoyable and valuable to brand and business builders across our audience. And then the fourth way, a new way. We're going to try YouTube. You get to see our guests. And I guess you're stuck seeing me too, although you can maybe blot out that part of the screen. But our goal is to put episodes new episodes on YouTube so that there's a any audio-visual experience to this. And you can get a sense of people from their body language and how they make their points and their thoughts.

Bill Gullan:

And it's also our intent overtime to put more video content on YouTube from my genius colleagues, the topics they may be interested in, or other things that we think might be helpful, different appearances that senior executives here may make at shows and events, et cetera. Our aspiration is for YouTube to be an important part of the Finch Brands experience. And so maybe give it a shot with this podcast episode. And if you go on YouTube and you enter either "Finch Brands" or "Real-World Branding," we'll put on the show notes the official address, but that'll help you find us. And that's great. We're grateful to be back and for those listening and participating and we'll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

 

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