Paula Kennedy 0:00
People will buy into change and buy into innovation faster when they see their role in that outcome and they have a voice and they contribute to it.
Anne Bibb 0:08
Welcome to unexpected journey, the show where each week top professionals share work wisdom and life lessons about their careers and what they have learned about human experience in the workplace.
Anne Bibb 0:20
I’m your host, Anne Bibb. Today we’re joined by Paula Kennedy, an industry leader with a 25 year career in customer experience. She’s currently serving as the executive vice president of innovation and product strategy. At in touch CX. Paula has been recognized for her transformative contributions to the field, including the 2022 Innovator of the Year golden bridge winner, and the 2022 Stevie’s innovation Woman of the Year for industry awards, behind her professional achievements. Paula is a passionate advocate for women in leadership, mentorship, and diversity programs, as showcased by her involvement as a founding member of the UK is Chief network for executive women in business.
Anne Bibb 1:11
Before we begin, don’t forget to subscribe and leave your comments below. Now, let’s get started. Welcome, Paula.
Paula Kennedy 1:21
Thank you for having me. Delighted to be here.
Anne Bibb 1:24
I am so excited that we get to spend this time together because you have all of this CX background, and you are not just a well respected CX evangelist, but you are a respected evangelist for women in leadership in the business at the international level, not just you know, in Ireland or in the media, but all around the world. And that is such a great thing to hear and to see. So I am excited to talk to you about that. But I would love to hear about how you ended up where you are today. Because this is you know, unexpected journey we’re all about how did you get to where you are today. And I know that you didn’t, you know, wake up in, in the kindergarten and preschool and say, I want to be an EVP at an outsourcing organization. How did you get here?
Paula Kennedy 2:24
You know, I don’t think we even ever say I want to be in a contact center, let’s face it, right? Call a spade a spade, right? It is an industry that we navigate into. But you know, I think I am like so many that just happen to be starting out in my career at the time that this industry was taking off. I’m here for that, that’s not a bad thing to happen. You know, I had a degree in languages, I was trying to figure out what to do next. And I fell into contact centers, just trying to make some money as I decided where I wanted to travel to next and what I was going to do with this big degree. And so it was very serendipitous to be in an industry that was just starting to absolutely reshape what customer experience would be, nevermind what it would become. So and with that it meant that you had many, many doors open, huge doors to kind of take your career in a direction that you probably even haven’t thought about. And I reflect a lot on that now. Because I think we’re in a similar position for lots of new people coming through the ranks into this industry and how it’s changing with technology. There is a future we have yet to define. Right. And so these new doors are constantly opening for the next generation of leaders. And that happened for me, I worked in the operational sphere of contact centers for so long. But I’m, I am ridiculously curious. So I was interested in Well hang on a second, how does that work? What makes this happen? How can it be better, and that that allowed me to move around the industry into account management, professional services and little bit technology sales. And so I have actually very intentionally over the years, built up that generalist portfolio, which in sometimes was looked down a little bit negatively, don’t be a generalist, be very specific, have a skill set. And I argue against that. I think without having intentionally done that on my career, I would not have the ability to sit in an innovation role today and connect the dots and ask the questions. Right. So to me that served me well.
Anne Bibb 4:28
It’s interesting that you say that because you’re right. Being a generalist in the past was like a dirty word. You needed a specialist you needed a very direct skill and you need it honed and you needed to stay in your lane. But now it very similarly you and I have a wide range of skills. We are generalist Yes, we are CSS experts. We I’m a remote work expert, because I’ve honed very tight skills in those areas. However, I also have worked in operations and workforce and other areas very similar to you. So generally can pull in skills from those areas and can get it to a certain point before having to pull in certain others to help.
Paula Kennedy 5:18
That’s it. I mean, and the further you go in leadership, you, you effectively surround yourselves with teams who have lots of experts, there will always be specialists and experts there. And they will be really brilliant at what they do in their swimlane. What I think I can bring to the table is to have those awkward moments and questions will be good enough. Let’s not accept mediocrity, how can we be great not just good? And how can we, I guess my job is to look around corners as well and start to think what else is happening out there and how we make it relevant to the CX industry. And that’s a really privileged and exciting position to be in. So here I am never had an intention of getting into this industry. And I love it right. And I can attest to all of those other women who are right there, that there is such a great future that you can carve for yourself. And, you know, I always always say your Northstar will find you the thing that you love most will get you through this journey. And I think this industry opens up more doors, and I think maybe other specific industries might do.
Anne Bibb 6:20
You know, let’s talk about moving up into leadership in the CX space. Yes, you’ve kind of called out, you know, looking around corners, finding those gaps, and then also having a team around you that knows more than you do. Yeah, how important is that? I mean, you don’t know everything? No, are you expected as a leader to know everything?
Paula Kennedy 6:46
I think you’re expected as a leader to absolutely give the direction where things are going, but also to recognize of it isn’t going to plan to pivot and go in that different direction. That’s knowing everything in a slightly different way. Right, what I want to do with my team is surround myself with an even every tiny project, I work on an innovation, or a larger project, it’ll start with some size of a tiger team, which is fairly diverse in its skill sets. Experience will come right. But that expertise is slightly different. And so I want to be surrounded by people who can action on the vision that we have. But I want us to be diverse enough that we challenge each other. And we ask the questions, because that’s the only way we can kind of go from a standard to a new status quo and really challenge what there is there. So I think it’s really important. I don’t think I need to have all of the answers. But I do need to have a collective of people who together we know all of the answers, but who will also challenge each other. And it’s the very premise of what I’ve been doing and building in touch Next with an in touch CX, this kind of innovation arm and program that we’re doing is to have that collective of innovators and technologists and researchers and new thinkers all together, that whatever business challenge we’re going to take on, I can pull dine and draw dine on the expertise that’s needed to make that the best version that is going to be
Anne Bibb 8:09
can you give an example of when you did just that, right, you pulled in your collective, you didn’t necessarily know everything, but you were able to pull the team together from that, whether it was an innovation or what have you some sort of example to explain to our listeners how that actually worked and came to fruition?
Paula Kennedy 8:30
Yeah, I mean, gosh, I’m gonna say,
Anne Bibb 8:33
millions. And now I’m sitting here.
Paula Kennedy 8:36
There’s, there’s one right now that I’m working on, which I think is fantastic. You know, we’re looking at where is where is this industry headed with this big term move of AI and generative AI and things that are happening? And
Anne Bibb 8:47
oh, that’s an excellent one. Yeah.
Paula Kennedy 8:49
You know, there’s on one side, there’s there’s lots of noise and hype around very exciting products that are happening. On another side, there’s concern about are we going to cannibalize the industry that we work in. And in the middle, I think I’m here thinking, actually, we are at a really great opportunity, we’re at the bleeding edge of AI augmented customer support, we can rebuild CX for the better, we can embrace this change, because it’s gonna happen with us or without us, right? And we can embrace this change. And we can start to think about how we design process differently product differently. What will the role of our agents look like in the future? How do we upskill and level the entire business up this level? So we’re right in Not at the moment where I’m, I’m working with, you know, some of the In Touch Next collective of technology partners that I have some of the incredible brains and visionaries within our business. And we’re all building out what this new future looks like. That’s super, super exciting to be right on the edge of shaping what will come next. And and I think, as I look over past years and things that I’ve done, it’s always been, what is that innovative new solution? Well, the thing is, it’s emerging that tomorrow might be mainstream, but we’re at the start of the adoption Like, no, this industry is at a super exciting time.
Anne Bibb 10:03
How do you feel like AI? You know, speaking of AI, you brought up ADA AI, which is like one of my big passions right now is how AI is going to impact not just, you know, outsourcing and call centers, but a lot of the repetitive work that is going in to businesses right now, there’s, some people are scared, they’re falling into kind of one of two categories right now, right? They’re either super excited, or they’re very scared, I fall into the excited category, because I’ve like, it’s going to take off the repeatable easy processes, from a lot of the work in order to allow the humans to come in and put in the thought that is needed, right, like, let AI and the computers take that easy repeatable stuff off, so that we can use our brains to put in the human piece in. Yeah, you feel like this is going to come in? Yes, exactly. Where do you feel like this is going to come into play in outsourcing or even contact centers in general,
Paula Kennedy 11:08
you know, the absolute premise behind what I’m leading and in touch Next, we talk about we’re leading from the future to revolutionize experiences, this is going to revolutionize experiences, for sure. But I think there’s always three big questions that I ask as we look at these, these big waves that are coming through, because we’ve got to consider the needs of our clients or employees, the business so that we can all thrive in this changing industry that we have moving forward. So the first thing that I will ask is, what’s influencing the future, the big bucket items that cause the noise? So you know, here we go with what’s radically, already made massive changes since what just November with Chuck GPT. And often that means polarized opinion, which you’ve just talked about, often that means fear. But we want to look at those trends and really determine will they have relevance for our space? No, or is it longer term, and we pull down on the ones that we feel will have that and then we’ve got to think about more? So well? What’s the future? What’s actually going on in the world? And how does that we have impact with everything else? socio economic changes, you know, what’s happening geographically, what else is going on in the industry that clients are asking for, and that has to have a lens of the next 12 to 24 months, we can start to prioritize these things that aren’t allows us to think about the here and know what’s our future ours in the CX space. And we can get a little bit more strategic around how we create products, and solutions that will serve us all of those needs. So if you think of that kind of funnel downwards with VR with generative AI, we’re already rapidly at the stage where we’re thinking, how will the product work within our world? What impact has it and CX what impact does it have on our employee experiences, is the technology and hype possibly moving faster than the what clients are prepared for change because change takes time, and you don’t embed those things in. So I think in the short term, we have this wonderful human machine relationship, it’s a big theme that we have is blue sky within, in touch Next, which is and it goes beyond just CX, what Hi, does that relationship between human machine change as we start to evolve our own industry. And we see very much at the minute, this whole AI piece for CX critically needing that human in the loop at this stage, for those reasons you’ve just talked about, then hand holding the white glove treatment with our clients to help them get ready for it, the human in the loop, being able to navigate and make changes and teach the AI to be specialist to every brand so that you’re not losing that brand tone and voice as you start to roll these technologies, you know, into the stream that we will see very, very soon.
Anne Bibb 13:43
I think that is very well said. Now, one of the things that you mentioned earlier was that you actually originally went to school and for languages I did. And that ties in to me to communication. And how does in touch CX approach, language equity? Good question and ensure effective communication.
Paula Kennedy 14:11
Well, you know, language, language was the thing where for many years, we assumed that we all just needed to converse in English and the Internet was an English and everything happens in English. And I’m not saying that that isn’t still the majority the case but I think as we are more and more accessible 24/7 With this digital lifestyle that we all lead in is very remissive Any brand, not to consider the importance of what language really means
Anne Bibb 14:39
and provide translation services as well. Right
Paula Kennedy 14:42
Patient Services, which is part of it because I mean, I think I mean, unlike if you study languages, language accessibility and language equity is just really close to your heart. You understand the importance what it means to culture, right? So I’ve had that close to my heart for a number of years. It’s so so important. So had this I guess this calling to make sure language is always front and center. And translation is a component of that I’ve worked with translation partners for a number of years are are in touch Next collective includes some of those and allies, it means that we can, we can help brands truly deliver globalization, right. So if you are going to reach out and have countries around the world, do not switch your language off at 5pm. Because you’ve no one available, you know, do not only make it available, you know, not at weekends when people may be wanting to get in contact with you don’t only put it into one channel and not the other. So it means you have to start getting very creative and innovative with the solutions that you do for language. And and that’s because I mean, at the end of the day, it is costly to run a multilingual operation for every language in the world. And it’s costly to do that 24/7. And you’ve got different socio economic impacts, which make it even just operationally difficult, which is a longer lead time to hire, which is a higher premium to pay for those services. So I also get the business side of it. But technology means we don’t have to focus only on that any longer. So things that we have in play are translation, of course, video transcription service, speech to text. So there’s so much more that’s happening in the language space that enables and unlocks that ability to make language much more equitable and accessible for everybody. And it is a million times more than it was even six years ago. And it started to come out into the surface. So
Anne Bibb 16:30
even a year ago. Yeah, moving so quickly, technology. It’s so interesting to watch since the pandemic started, it’s like it was moving, right, but the pandemic just kind of almost put, like gasoline on the speed of technology, and it hasn’t slowed down since then.
Paula Kennedy 16:53
But I also think it, I think organizations in general become much more open to where technology could help. And once you like that torch paper, you can’t blow it out and ignore it, you can’t go back to the previous ways, right?
Anne Bibb 17:10
You can’t you can’t put out torch paper.
Paula Kennedy 17:14
You know, you wouldn’t, there’s things that cannot be unseen. But also, you know, the the mix, the rising buyers, the consumer market is changing demographically. And we have much more digital native decision makers in the mix. And they want things done in a different way. And they demand that as part of brand. So I think these things become the very quickly have become the status quo and mainstream. And now it’s about keeping up with it. So it’s no longer just about a translation capability. It is about having transcription, live voice interactions. And there’s such very exciting tools coming through very quickly. That will be even raising the bar further on that.
Anne Bibb 17:51
So we did mention about culture. And I wanted to kind of touch on that a little bit, mainly, because there’s two aspects of this that I want to want to ask you about. One is, you know, how do you you know, when you are you lead the product and innovation team? How do you really foster culture with innovation together?
Paula Kennedy 18:20
Got I think I’m really lucky that I have a very captive audience at in touch CX when it comes to innovation, but I don’t think, you know, can any organization in this space exist and thrive today without a culture of innovation? I would say not. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it exists everywhere. I say I’m very blessed. We have this entrepreneurial DNA, add in touch. Cx and and I think as I met Greg and the team, when they were speaking to me for joining the organization, I could just see how we had this those synergies, right. So for me, I was in the business because bear in mind, I joined in touch CX last June, right? So she
Anne Bibb 19:08
thought you had been there longer, it just feels like you’ve
Paula Kennedy 19:11
been there for years. And that’s my point. I mean, within weeks it felt I was in there months already. It was and this was me, you know, working in Ireland and a lot of the team being distributed around the world. So it was a really nice natural slot in for me. And, and they embraced this really insane curiosity that I have. So the energy and passion I have is great, but don’t get me wrong. I know my flaws. I know when that can be too fast. I know when to pull it back. So the crazy Irish lady coming into the business with great ideas and let’s do this, you know you also to be successful with innovation on how to create a culture of innovation. You have to do it in a very purposeful way. You have to bring people along on the journey with you. Change is a scary thing right now. And a lot of what happens in my world, particularly if you think about it with all of the blue sky innovation, it’s taking concepts that don’t necessarily have a solution. And they maybe don’t have a case study and all the things because we love to measure, we measure everything in our business. And we like to touch things and feel it. And I have to start at that very top kind of those three questions, or those kind of three questions and statements I mentioned to you earlier, and drill down and distill what the big ideas are into something which is meaningful and tangible for the business. So but you have to also get people excited about those big concepts and see where it’s headed. So it’s really important that you have a vision about Blue Sky side, and you can let the organization and teams have multiple levels in the business, understand the role they play in all of it. Right. So the principles become really clear about clarity and creating, you know, goals and communicating. We’ve talked about that a few times, on this discussion today, communication is so so key. But but then the business, that piece only works part of the way. The other side of my job is, is solving problems bringing new solutions to old problems. And when you’re doing that, then that means that you actually are, I’m a member of the rest of the team, a lead with blue sky, but they come to me when they need something to fix problems and a different ways that we can constantly innovate. And I’m really, really blessed. And in touch CX because it means that I become a component of what is the grassroots innovation that’s happening from our operational teams. And we do that beautifully. With business hackathons, our teams are constantly looking at what’s going on, whether it’s client facing or customer facing, or just within their own teams and processes. And so when they get together and say, We think these areas have good opportunity, then we can get a riff that together. And we can just create this incredible energy, where we think about, again, these kinds of new ideas to to older problems and bring in new technology and introduce them to to exciting new things that they’ve not had access to before. And so all of a sudden, we have all sides of the business working together. But you need to do that in a timely way. You create teams, that that have that diverse input, and you have, then you make them part of the solution. So they all feel part of the same goal, and create those very clear objectives as you go along that way. It’s super exciting.
Anne Bibb 22:20
So with this team, and what y’all are doing, you have to collaborate a lot.
Paula Kennedy 22:25
A huge Yeah, it can’t be an army of one, you know, I think you only really, you, when you fuse that into your culture, you can only Buck reap rewards, but no one person can deliver it on their own. And I think if you look back at, like the most successful and fastest growing organizations over the last 2025 years, they all share that common tree at this product culture. They’ve reimagined how we live, how we work, how we play, right, how we engage. And I think when you can, can, you can build that and kind of start creating that new new normal, and people see something new and how they can work. It lets us think differently about all of that within our own environment as well. So it requires that collaboration. And and that’s really good. We’re working on the super exciting project at the minute called super punch care. And we have this great agent kind of desktop go to single solution for all of the things that an agent needs to do for their job, and they’ve got a difficult job. And what we’ve done is we’ve said we need to bring some empathy and emotion and care and pastorship into this as well. Um, super punch care is digitizing agent wellbeing, and thinking about that kind of Gen Z population that we have. And we have my put AI enabled recommendations for people’s well being which are hyper personalized to them. So if I’m typing with my team leader, and others, maybe I’m saying oh, you know what on today, that was just a really tough meeting that we had, and I was to do a presentation and it wasn’t done correctly. And I don’t feel like I delivered my best self. The technology that we’ve designed is reading those little triggers or indicators of stress. And so it’s pinging on Hey, Paula doesn’t look at data great, deadly, how are you feeling. And so now I have an AI assistant that I can talk with, and I can say, I’m going to be overwhelmed or I feel okay. And it takes me during this beautiful pathway to navigate of lifestyle resources EAP support. We have insight time or meditation with lots of different solutions in there that allows me for my needs, which will be different to yours or different to Bob’s or different appalls my needs take me down to a pathway of a resource that I can use to help me to feel better in that day. So that all comes through part of collaboration and our MVP of that again, had week over week, all of our MVP users tell me what you think, what did you use? What were the resources like, and so grind up, we get all of that collaboration. And we created this amazing tool, which has got our people and AI right at the core of it and that comes back to everything that we have as the heart of a company.
Anne Bibb 24:53
Now, none of your none of these people that are collaborating are in the same location or Are they?
Paula Kennedy 25:01
No, but they don’t need to be. Again, when you have. I mean, it’s lovely when you’re in a room, I’m not going to dismiss that it is great. There’s no one who loves being in a room with a marker on a whiteboard, more than me try taken off me a girl take you down for it. It’s like the rugby. There’s no one
Anne Bibb 25:18
person that jumps and says I’ll do,
Paula Kennedy 25:24
I’ll do the notes. I love a pen. But you know, I have worked 10 or 12 years remotely. And I have, you know, the power of this collective voice of expertise being distributed in different places. There’s tons of collaboration tools online that help you do that. And so we’re incredibly successful with innovation, building this entire new movement within the company. And the team is distributed. The team is not just distributed around the world, but my collective of technologists and disruptors are also distributed around the world. So you use technology. God forbid, if I’m an innovator who can’t use technology to innovate, there’s something wrong, but there’s all of those tools for us to do. And yes, it doesn’t take away from the ability to have people in the room. But you can also have it in a hybrid way, have your champion who gets other people in the room to do the hackathon thinking and the changes are new, be a collaborator from the outside. So you work around it. And and you can get really, really great results. But you get those results because you involve people and you give people a voice. And that’s really important. People will buy into change, and buy into innovation faster, when they see their role in that outcome. And they have a voice and the contributor,
Anne Bibb 26:32
surfer that listener that is watching right now. And they have not been able to influence the right people in the organization, they’re struggling, they have a great idea. They believe that it’s data driven, but they haven’t been able to get the right executive sponsors on board. What is your advice? Talk to that person directly right now? What is your advice as to how to influence their executive stakeholders to get them on board for their project?
Paula Kennedy 27:11
I think Simon say first of all, that don’t think that the guiding principles of getting people on board are any different if you’re doing big blue sky thinking like how do we build AI into the future of call centers to how do I improve handle time for a client, right, the grassroots and the blue sky still work on the same guiding principles. And it is important to put the legwork in upfront to really frame what your thinking is don’t go in with a concept that’s solely that people can’t follow it’s important document, there’s a couple of three things that I would say are probably really key. Look at yourself hard in the mirror, first of all, and make sure that what you’re wanting to do in your project is meaningful, make it meaningful, to make it matter, when everybody in the business understands the problems that your change or your new innovation or your project are going to solve. And the people that it will help. It’s much easier to visualize it and align other people on that journey and on those goals. So it has to have a purpose and it has to be meaningful. And to make that message really clear and then bring it to life. You know, I talk a lot about having these great ideas that are inside maybe my head, the head of one person, and letting it be in the hearts and minds of everybody else. It’s that peace of mind building up the excitement and the curiosity. So if you can get understanding with the teams here are responsible for taking your idea and execution because you’re just the first person to think someone else has to deliver and then someone has to skill which needs buy in. You can use that with storyboards, and slides and workflows and building the simple prototype, so that people can really visualize that, that end product, because when they could feel like they can touch and feel something, it tends to be a lot easier to truly understand. And then, at this thing, simplify the language, we use a lot of terminology and jargon in our industry, right? But turn the language of your product into value, what’s the value? What does it mean to me, so what the impact that the innovation will result in again, a lot of the time because we measure so much in this industry, we’d like to know that it’s going to have a positive outcome and make sure that value links back to the North Star of the business. Because if you can connect the dots there, then there’s a much clearer understanding of the impact that it’s going to have. And if you set then some clear objectives which will change at various stages of that journey of the of the innovation happening, then you can provide success very early and adjust your your objectives and your KPIs perhaps and provide a different level of success. But the one big thing that I would say you can’t do without us feedback. I always talk about feedback is our superpower when we’re innovating. So that you do get that 360 and input from ALM isn’t hitting your objectives. Are you happy with what we’re doing? And as the end user, be that a customer or be that, say, an agent on the frontline, have they been included in that feedback loop? Because if it doesn’t work for them, it’s not ready yet. Right? So that’s why we do MVP. That’s why we do prototyping.
Anne Bibb 30:16
Paula, if somebody wanted to get in touch with you, one, why would they get in touch with you? And two, how would they get in touch with you?
Paula Kennedy 30:24
I thought you were gonna say, why would they want to get in touch with you? Exactly. Listen, the easiest route to get in touch with me is LinkedIn. I’m a big LinkedIn user. And I have a wonderful network that I’m very privileged with. So I would say
Anne Bibb 30:43
is right there like,
Paula Kennedy 30:44
right and for sure, here. And I’m available, like just, you know, pop me a message. And I’m always reachable for a
Anne Bibb 30:55
response from fast just so y’all all know like scarily think she never turns it off.
Paula Kennedy 31:02
That’s timezone timezone to your advantage. I’m in the UK site, don’t forget.
Anne Bibb 31:06
There you go. There you go. And, and for what reasons? Would they would you encourage people to reach out to you?
Paula Kennedy 31:13
Do you know, I think we should not ever, ever, ever underestimate the power of networks network is just fantastic networks are great because you can you build your network and knowledge through the tribe that you have around you. And in today’s world where we are distributed around the world, why should I be limited to what there is within Belfast or Northern Ireland? My Network is global, and has helped me grow my career. And it’s helped me be smarter and better at my job and a better leader. So for that reason, and I would say, get in touch with me because you can teach me something. Connections are two way things you may have a question for me, but I can guarantee you 20 minute conversation half on our conversation, I will walk away with as much as someone who has come to me. So I think networks are fantastic. And we absolutely should not underestimate the power that they have to build our personal brand, to extend our knowledge and just who knows where you’re going to be in the world where you can reach out for a coffee or someone you’ve met randomly through a social media channel. Embrace it.
Anne Bibb 32:14
I love that. Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us this week. Paula truly enjoyed our conversation.
Paula Kennedy 32:21
I’ve had a great time speaking with you and really, really quickly. And yeah, thank you so much being delighted to join with you.
Anne Bibb 32:29
And thank you, everybody for joining us this week on unexpected journey. We will see you again next week. As we wrap the episode up, we would like to take this time to thank you for joining us this week on unexpected journey. Our guest information will be linked in the episode description along with a link to our company website, remote evolution.com and our hosts website and bibb.com. Please don’t forget to like subscribe and share on your favorite podcast app and on our YouTube channel so that you never miss an episode and we can continue to bring them to you.
Anne Bibb 33:03
Let us know your thoughts on what we discussed in the comment section. And once again, thank you for joining us. We hope to see you again next week for another episode of unexpected journey.