TecHR Interview with Ciara O’Keeffe, VP of Customer Experience at StaffConnect

Ciara O’Keeffe, VP of Customer Experience at StaffConnect joins us today for this exclusive interview where she talks about her journey into HR and the role of employee engagement in building a future-ready workforce.

Tell us about your personal and professional journey so far, Ciara.

I grew up in Ireland, went to university in Scotland and France, spent 10 years working in London before moving to Silicon Valley. My career began in HR, I then specialized in internal communications and employee engagement before moving into customer success. I decided I wanted to help other communication and engagement professionals use technology to reach their disparate workforce. I’ve worked in customer success, specifically for employee communication companies, since January 2014. I’ve been living and working in Southern California for the last three years. I know I’m very fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when working with (promoting/selling) B2B SaaS and employee communication tools?

I spend a lot of time helping communicators position the business benefits of a tool to company leadership. There is a growing interest in using platforms like StaffConnect but I still see a disconnect between communicators who want the tool and leadership fully understanding the business need for it.  Leaders are often times removed from the day-to-day communication challenges that face line managers, especially those with disparate teams. When communicators can confidently explain the challenges and how email and traditional intranets don’t meet the needs, leadership are very receptive to learning more. When communicators can further link the use of a platform like StaffConnect to tangible business benefits, the active support of leadership is guaranteed.

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How important is it for companies to have a proper employee engagement strategy in place? In what ways would you advise them to use HR Technology to drive these efforts?

A clear employee engagement strategy, which is grounded in the organization’s strategy, will go a long way in helping everyone in the organization understand what is important and how to collectively deliver it. Before you begin looking for any new engagement tool, you first have to understand why and how you want to engage your employees. Everyone in the organization needs to understand what employee engagement is and why it’s important. It’s the foundation for everything else, including your customer experience. HR technology provides tools for organizations to execute on parts of their employee engagement strategy. There is no single tool that will do everything. I advocate a matrix approach to channels and tools.

Can you share some interesting ways in which teams can enhance internal communication among departments using the right tools and technology?

I’m a believer in the power of employee voice, meaning giving all employees an opportunity to contribute to the narrative inside a company. This can be subject matter experts sharing the latest best practices from their department, it can be peer to peer recognition or the crowd-sourcing of new innovations from new groups of employees. The role of HR and communication is shifting to curators of content instead of creators. Not only does this shift remove the pressure on HR and communication but it also enhances the diversity of voices and messages. Trusting employees can be a barrier as organizations are reluctant to provide an open forum due to concerns about the tone of what will be posted. The reality is that if an outlet isn’t provided internally then those opinions will be posted externally on Facebook, Glassdoor, Twitter, etc. If you provide forums internally, it gives you an opportunity to gather and respond to criticism before it goes external.

What according to you will the HR Technology landscape look like in the future? What kind of features/capabilities will become the need of the hour?

Employees are expecting access to the same level of systems in work that they have access to at home. Systems giving a personalized experience, easy to access, consumer-grade and with the option to access on mobile or web, both in and away from the workplace. The ever-growing gig economy is also forcing both employers and tech providers to find innovative ways to manage users, who aren’t necessarily classed as employees. Easy on and offboarding, strict legal controls and segmentation of information depending on ‘employment’ type. In terms of administration, any system that can remove the need for duplication of effort, when it comes to publishing content will have an advantage over competitors. 

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When it comes to building out a Customer Success team in the tech/B2B marketplace, what are some of the tips you’ll advise people to keep in mind?

If you can find people who have a deep understanding of the clients they will be serving, that is ideal. In my team, I only hire people who worked in HR or internal communications, with a particular focus on technology, into customer-facing roles. This means they are subject matter experts, they can speak the same language as our customers and understand their wants, needs, and frustrations before they verbalize them. This is a significant benefit to our customers. It also benefits our product team since we have internal experts who can represent client interests at every stage of the product roadmap.

What’s your smartest productivity hack?

It’s simple but it works; Blocking out time in my calendar for key deliverables. If it’s not in the calendar then I won’t find time for it. It also allows me to regularly review my calendar and see what I’m spending my time on and compare that to my desired outcomes. If I’m not achieving those outcomes then I review what I’m spending my time on and cut out anything that’s not producing the right results.

Tag (or mention/write about) one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Christina Crawford Kosmowski, VP, Global Head of Customer Success & Services at Slack. The growth of Slack as an enterprise communication tool for information workers, which means it is disrupting email, is super impressive. Following its IPO last June, I’d like to know how that will impact the tool, organization and customer success team.

Any parting thoughts here you’d like to share…it could be on anything, work-life balance, etc.

Last year, my company very generously supported me in doing a nine-month Advanced Management Program. The first module I did was on emotional intelligence and the importance of that skill in leadership. Having worked for and with many large organizations, I found myself wondering how different life at these companies could have been if leaders had been given this training. Researchers have shown that our success at work or in life depends mostly on Emotional Intelligence (80%) and only 20% on intellect. While you cannot improve intellect, you can improve emotional intelligence. Why are we not teaching these skills in all new-manager training? According to Gallup, 75 percent of the reasons people quit come down to their managers. Maybe 2020 can be the year for management training with a special emphasis on EQ.

Your favorite leadership/hiring/sales/customer success quote. 

“Becoming an engaged leader requires only an openness to change, a willingness to practice, and the dedication to prepare by anchoring digital strategy to goals and objectives.” – Charlene Li

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StaffConnect is a provider of mobile employee engagement solutions for the deskless workforce. The StaffConnect platform transforms the employee experience by enabling enterprises to connect, communicate and engage their entire workforce, especially remote, deskless employees. The customer-branded mobile app gives employees ‘a voice’ – with access to company and user-generated content to increase loyalty and productivity. The cloud-hosted platform empowers employers to target that content, with analytics, to deepen engagement with everyone. From offices in London and San Francisco, StaffConnect’s platform and domain expertise are supporting large businesses around the world to inspire their workforces to deliver better performance, improved customer experiences and greater shareholder value.

Ciara O’Keeffe is the VP of Customer Experience at StaffConnect. She is responsible for developing and executing the product and business strategy with a customer-centric view and ensuring everything the company does is focused on driving success for every customer. Ciara is a digital communications leader, speaker, author, and judge with experience within Internal Communication roles at L’Oréal and Diageo and launching Internal Communications apps at over 50 organizations around the world. In 2017 Ciara was ranked as one of the top 10 Internal Communications influencers in the world on Twitter. Having worked in London for 10 years, Ciara now lives in Southern California.

Christina Crawford KosmowskiCiara O’Keeffeemotional intelligenceEmployee communication toolsEmployee engagement strategyStaffConnectTecHR Interview
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