Protecting Brand Reputation with Travelzoo’s Lisa Oswald

The Power of Your Brand Representatives

Protecting Brand Reputation with Travelzoo’s Lisa Oswald

  • Date: December 13, 2019
  • Hosts: Jon Gaul

Brand Reputation Podcast Summary

The final episode of our inaugural season of the Brand InnerActions podcast will not disappoint.  We are pleased to finish Season 1 with guest Lisa P. Oswald of Travelzoo. Lisa is the Senior Vice President of Global Customer Service, in support of Travelzoo’s members and clients worldwide. She is a customer strategy and operations executive responsible for leading Travelzoo’s customer service efforts and nurturing a company-wide commitment to customer satisfaction and quality.   Lisa promotes a high-performance culture by harnessing the power of her people to push the brand forward.

Apart from being a service leader, Lisa is also a monotype artist and mentor. She has been able to bring her love and talent for art into the workplace by offering after hours arts workshops for her Travelzoo friends and colleagues.  She loves sparking creativity and unleashing the inner artist in new and innovative ways.  Lisa is committed to mentoring young women in the workplace, which led her to found Travelzoo’s first women’s network group.

Lisa Oswald Bio

Lisa P. Oswald is Senior Vice President of Global Customer Service, in support of Travelzoo’s 28 million members and clients worldwide. Well-versed in travel, previously she was vice president of operations and customer service for Priceline.com, where she lead sales and service for the dot com and its affiliate partner network, from start-up through a decade-plus of transformational change. Lisa is a Director of SOCAP International, the customer care industry’s leading professional development association, and an Advisory Board member with Execs In The Know, a global community of customer experience executives. In 2018, Travelzoo was named the People’s Choice Stevie Award Winner for Favorite Customer Service in the travel and hospitality Industry.

With more than 29 million members in North America, Europe, and Asia and 26 offices worldwide, Travelzoo is the largest publisher of travel, entertainment and leisure deals on the Internet.

Transcript

Jon Gaul:  Welcome to the Brand InnerActions podcast. I’m Jon Gaul and I’m excited to be your guide as we go behind the scenes with some of the brands you know and love. This podcast will explore the moment of truth for these brands, the customer conversation. We journey inside the minds of the brand architects to learn how companies are rethinking human to human interactions and mobilizing their employees to be brand ambassadors. I’ve had my boots on the ground with frontline employees and have seen firsthand how company communication impacts the ability of teams to deliver a strong, consistent message to their customers. Today I have the privilege of speaking with Lisa Oswald, who heads up global customer service for Travelzoo’s 28 million members and clients worldwide. Lisa is a customer strategy and operations leader responsible for leading Travelzoo’s customer service efforts and nurturing a companywide commitment to customer satisfaction and quality. Lisa promotes a high-performance culture by harnessing the power of her people to push the brand forward. Lisa, thanks so much for making time to share your perspective and insights.

Lisa Oswald:  Thanks so much for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Jon Gaul:  It’s our pleasure too. Lisa, what’s your role at Travelzoo and what are your key responsibilities?

Lisa Oswald:  So, Jon, here at Travelzoo, I’m global head of customer service and Travelzoo, as you may know, is the world’s leading publisher of travel and entertainment deals. What I like to say that I think describes us best is, we bring the best deals to the best places to our audience. So, my job is to look after our customers and our clients. We actually operate a dual sided marketplace. So, although that’s my functional responsibility, I like to think I have a higher purpose. And so, when people ask me what I do, I love to say that my main job is to protect our brand reputation. We’ve been in business for 20 years and for all that time we’ve been known for quality and trust. That’s our brand promise. That’s our hallmark. That’s what we’re famous for. It’s my first and primary job to protect that reputation and make certain that everything we do, we are standing behind our brand

Jon Gaul:  When it comes to people traveling to places that they haven’t been before; I can’t see a more appropriate or more important piece of the business.

Lisa Oswald:  My team feels a great sense of responsibility to help people have the best experiences they can. Our mission is to inspire people to jump off the couch and explore the world. That’s kind of a fun business to be in. We know no matter how great the deal is or how much money we’re helping our members save, it’s really the experience that matters most and that’s my great pleasure to be able to shape that and craft that for our company and our customers.

Jon Gaul:  You brought up the mission being to try to get people to jump off the couch. I took a look at the website and you weren’t kidding about the steals. I think there was one for eight days, Japan, including flights for under $2,000, which completely blew my mind.

Lisa Oswald:  Wherever we can inspire people to go, it really is a good feeling, a great feeling of satisfaction, to know that we’re helping people travel places they never dreamed they could afford to go. And that’s a pretty cool mission if you ask me.

Jon Gaul:  Completely agree. Something that I love to hear is what caused you to think differently or what was something that pushed your thinking? If you don’t mind, I’d actually like to start and then give you an opportunity to think about what caused you to think differently.

Lisa Oswald:  I’d love to hear yours, Jon. Go ahead.

Jon Gaul:  I think I mentioned in a previous conversation that I went to Morocco a few weeks ago and prior to my trip I was politely informed that my condo needs more color and a rug for my hardwood floors. So, I asked around and received a referral to check out a souk in Marrakesh that had great selection of vintage and new Moroccan rugs. And while in Marrakesh I spent a few days wondering the Medina and the souk owners would try to get you into their shop. They tried to find a way to generate interest and then they would negotiate to land at a price that both parties can live with. Also, I think the fact that I said landed a price that both parties can live with demonstrates that I’m not a great negotiator. The store that was recommended was completely different. It was more of a customer driven experience. The salesperson asked and listened to what you were interested in. They allowed you to stare at the rugs for as long as you wanted, and they had enough confidence in their merchandise to set the cost and stand by it. The experience of buying a rug from that store reminded me that just because everyone does something one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way to run a successful business.

Lisa Oswald:  Exactly. And did you go home with a colorful rug?

Jon Gaul:  I did! Now every time I look at my rug, I think about the way they did business and the experience I had, which was incredible.

Lisa Oswald:  Well, that’s a great story.

Jon Gaul:  All right, so what about you? I’d love to hear your perspective and what made you think differently?

Lisa Oswald:  Well, you know Jon, I mentioned a moment ago that our mission here at Travelzoo is to inspire people to explore the world. And working for a travel company, I have the great pleasure of traveling a lot and that means I get to meet a lot of Travelzoo members. And early on in my time here at the company, I met a young man in Seattle who was so excited to tell me he was a Travelzoo member when he learned where I worked. And then he immediately launched into a story about how he booked a first anniversary trip for he and his wife on one of our hotel getaways in Santa Monica. I was immediately frozen with fear thinking about what a great responsibility we bear when people like this young man trust us with such an important milestone in their life. And if you get it right, you’re a hero. And if you get it wrong, you probably will be paying for that for the rest of your life. It struck me and I do have a big responsibility for our members to do right by them. And I think about that story every day and realize that my customers are trusting me and my company to make memories. And quite simply, that’s what inspires me every day to do my very best. We always say, we’re here to make people 100% happy. If we make a mistake, we make it right, no questions asked. And in our business, a service is really a very special part of our brand promise and is one way that we can and do differentiate ourselves amongst other travel providers.

Jon Gaul:  Absolutely. And there’s no worst thing to compound a mistake or an issue by not acknowledging it or not making it right. So, the fact that there is the accountability on your side is going to keep your reputation strong.

Lisa Oswald:  Yes, that is correct.

Jon Gaul:  So, I want to switch our focus and learn more about how do you harness the skills, abilities and momentum of your employees to drive your brand forward and deliver on your brand promise?

Lisa Oswald:  Well, that’s a really good question because we are constantly experimenting and testing different initiatives and programs to try to get the right balance between efficiency and quality. And everybody who sits in a customer service seat is challenged with that every day. We don’t have unlimited budgets, we don’t have an army of people, but what we do have in my organization, is a relentless focus on continuous improvement. And I’m going to give you two examples if I may, about how we try to harness the power of people to push the brand forward. So at the risk of humble bragging, I will say that we have very, very high levels of member satisfaction with our customer service. It’s something that we’re very proud of and we work very hard at to achieve and maintain. And that becomes a challenge in some ways in figuring out how we convince frontliners to push themselves to perform even better. It’s that age-old problem. If you don’t have a crisis or a rallying cry, how do you get people to really change their behavior? So, within our voice of the customer platform, our feedback platform, we’ve used a combination of technology and machine learning to automate the curation of a daily newsletter that goes directly to our frontline. So, every day they’re getting a personalized report with all of their service metrics. All of the feedback about what customers are saying went well the day before, balanced with things that may not have been so perfect with their metrics around customer satisfaction and member satisfaction, with their personal service. And what this has done is actually changed their behavior, right? We’ve gamified performance by putting the power in the hands of the people who make a difference. And those are the people who are engaging with our customers every day. And we’ve seen a 68% increase in the number of CSRs earning their pay for performance at the end of every month. So we’re absolutely thrilled about that. We really do believe in the personal power of people.

Jon Gaul:  Continuous improvement is incredibly important, but it’s also a hard thing to demonstrate. The first thought that I had is, when you were sharing your story about the daily newsletter, I always hear from frontlines the, I don’t need to change, I’m doing great. Sometimes that’s the initial pain point, is I’m doing everything well, I’m okay. As opposed to what we hope that we hear, which is I can do something better. And I think the way that you’ve leverage voice of the customer into the daily newsletter with metrics and feedback really does bring out the accountability piece and brings it back together to continuous improvement. It’s I can do something better and hopefully having every person feel that way is incredibly empowering for our frontline employees.

Lisa Oswald:  I think the other piece that’s very important there is to make certain that there is an emotional connection between the people on the front line and the customers that they’re serving. The daily newsletter is a way to create that connection because not only are they hearing firsthand from the customers that they just talked to yesterday about their perceptions of the service that’s been delivered, but we also have this cool photo feature where our customers who are responding to our service survey can upload photos of their most recent Travelzoo experience and talk a little bit about their adventures. In this way the frontline reps can actually meet the people that they’re talking to and that emotional connection is priceless and what is really driving our service levels higher and higher and pushing the people on the front line to really want to deliver their personal best every day.

Jon Gaul:  That’s incredible. And to me, that emotional connection just furthers the belief in the quality customer experience that they provide and also makes it seem like it’s not just working with a name or a number, but we actually get to see the person, see how much fun they’re having in Finland, Norway or where else that they would go. It has to have a huge impact on your team.

Lisa Oswald:  It absolutely does. They’re thrilled and we’re thrilled for them.

Jon Gaul:  I want to switch our focus one more time to talk about your most heroic or your proudest moment.

Lisa Oswald:  Well, I’m going to flip that just a little bit. I feel immensely fortunate that the place I work and the people that I work with have given me a platform and I’ll say permission really to bring both my personal passions and professional interests to work every day. And let me tell you what that really means to me. So apart from being a service leader, I’m really an artist. I’m actually a Monotype artist and I have been able to bring my love of art and my talent for art into the workplace. I run after hours arts workshops for the team here three or four times a year. And because Travelzoo is a company full of creatives, we have travelers and copywriters and photographers and marketers. This is really a terrific way to bring everybody together to unleash their inner artist. So, it’s not only a fun thing to do, but it helps people focus and channel their creativity in new and different ways. And it gives me a tremendous sense of pride to be able to provide that experience for my friends and colleagues here at work. The other way that I feel a tremendous sense of pride in the place that I work is that over the past handful of years I’ve had the privilege of mentoring young women in our organization. I’ve learned some very important lessons in my relationships with these women and learned really how important it is for people to have a purpose and know what questions to ask and how to navigate the workplace and understand their own sense of personal power. So that led me to voluntarily start up our first employee resource group here at Travelzoo. It’s a women’s network group that launched earlier this year. So I’m most proud of the fact that I can do my job and actually impact people.

Jon Gaul:  I really like where you took that. I think it’s two-fold. One, the ability for you to include your passion as an artist and also the passion for developing people through the mentorship. And to me, that really does a good job in encompassing how important the culture is at Travelzoo. Where it’s about improvement. It’s trust in you to be able to do something like that as well and expand your team’s horizons. And similar from a mission standpoint, instead of encouraging members to jump off the couch, you’re setting a nice precedent for people to jump out of the office, which to me, it’s you’re practicing what you’re preaching. So, it’s a core value for what you communicate externally, but also what you communicate internally as well.

Lisa Oswald:  Yes, very well said. Better than I could articulate, Jon. Thank you very much.

Jon Gaul:  My pleasure. Lisa, thank you so much for your time. This was an incredibly insightful interview. Where can our listeners learn more about Travelzoo?

Lisa Oswald:  Well, Jon, I would love every listener to come online and visit us at travelzoo.com, especially if you’re looking for a great deal to a great place. We’ve got loads of them and we’re publishing new deals every single day. If you want to find your new friend in the service business, that’s me, Lisa Oswald, you can find me on LinkedIn, or you can find me on Twitter at @Lisa P. Oswald.

Jon Gaul:  It’s been such a great year and I want to thank you for listening to our inaugural season of the Brand InnerActions podcast. I have some exciting news! We’re kicking off 2020 in style and as any good marketer would do, we’re making some changes and improvements. Starting in January we’re adding our President and Co-Founder, Chris Wallace, as my co-host. We have some exciting guests to announce as we dive even deeper into the inside out of marketing and discuss what’s moving companies forward in this crazy world we live in. See you in 2020! The Brand InnerActions podcast is brought to you by InnerView Group and hosted by me, Jon Gaul. To learn more about InnerView or to obtain a transcript, please go to innerviewgroup.com. Make sure you subscribe to get the latest episodes.