Gem Pasant has over 15 years’ experience in Customer Leader roles in a range of organizations from start up to large corporate, typically in the insurance sector.

Gem’s biggest area of interest is Customer Experience as culture—specifically how this links to company purpose, employee experience and sustainable growth through the practical application of the Net Promoter System.


Mark Reed-Edwards: Welcome to this special episode of Confessions of a Marketer. I'm Mark Reed Edwards.

We're back with this mini series of shows I've dubbed the Talent Showcase. These episodes will focus on people in marketing, communications, PR, and allied fields who are looking for their next opportunity. My guests will share their stories, successes, and how they can help their next employer or client.

Today, I'm joined by Gem Passant.

Gem has over 15 years experience in customer leader roles in a range of organizations, from startup to large corporate, typically in the insurance sector. Gem's biggest area of interest is customer experience as culture, specifically how this links to company purpose, employee experience, and sustainable growth through the practical application of the Net Promoter System.

Gem, welcome.

Gem Passant: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

Mark: It's wonderful to have you on the show. So can you tell me about yourself, your background, and career path?

Gem: Yeah, sure. So I actually started out in human resources. I read archaeology at university with some anthropology and got really into human behavior and thought human resources is the way for me to go. And then got onto a graduate scheme. So that's what we call in the UK, would maybe be a postgraduate scheme in the US, basically working for an employer on a fast track scheme for a large insurance company in the UK called Aviva.

And I planned to stay in that field and not long in realized that I actually didn't understand my customers enough, which was the internal customers of the organization. And the only way to do a good job working in HR was to go and experience what they were experiencing and work in the business itself.

And so I was looking for a change, I asked for a change, and was invited to apply to be Chief of Staff to the Chief Operations Officer for the UK business, which was a great role, a super fast track learning, if anyone's ever done Chief of Staff they'll know. And that gave me an opportunity to really learn and understand the business cause I was right in the thick of it and look for what my next opportunity would be.

And there was an area that had been unloved for some while, which was the customer experience function. That was back then not called CX, which is what we tend to call it now. It was quite early days for having a customer experience function. And it had been run by somebody for a long time who'd moved into a different role and then there'd just been an absence of leadership for a while.

So I took that role and changed quite a few things within the team and propelled it into a new stage of growth, I guess you could say. But stayed there for four years, absolutely adored that role. I was then asked to do various other things, I think that's what happens when you work in a large organization and you're known to be flexible.

So I went on to do all sorts of other things, from head of internal comms, to more chief of staff roles, to running large billion pound transformation programs in the program office. But I then decided to have a break from all of that and retrained as a neuro linguistic programming coach.

So I quit that role--quit Aviva--and went and lived in Thailand, which is where I met my now husband. That's a different story for a different podcast probably. And then I came back and did some more customer experience stuff for another insurer, a slightly smaller one called Liverpool Victoria here in the UK.

And then I went back to Thailand. My husband and I decided that we were going to move back to Thailand together, because in the interim he'd gone to live in San Francisco. So we made a home together in Thailand, and that was a really interesting period of time because it included COVID. And so I did some consultancy work when I was there, but probably the most interesting thing I did was that the British Consul actually asked me to coordinate the community response for all of the Western Consulates for the, the Western communities in Chiang Mai--lots of older people, lots of retired people, lots of people who it was hard to reach out to, who they were genuinely really worried about health wise. So that was a thing that kept me really busy and active in my kind of final months in Thailand. And then my husband and I decided to move back to the UK at the request of my parents, to to live near them.

And I got my most recent permanent role, which was back again in Customer Experience as Global Customer Experience Lead for Many Pets, which was another insurance company, but this time pet insurance and a start up/ scale up. And then I left there almost a year ago now, and I've been self employed doing CX consultancy and short contracts since then.

Mark: Wow. Customer experience is just fascinating having worked in marketing pretty much my entire career, certainly the last 30 plus years, it's embedded in everything we do in marketing and we didn't even realize it. So, it's great to hear your perspective.

Gem: Yeah. Thanks.

Mark: So, what is one of your most important career accomplishments?

Gem: The things I feel strongest about are the things that often don't have the greatest data points attached. And that's all the leadership stuff. So it's building teams, not just that are high performing, but that genuinely care about each other and act like a team and support each other and deliver phenomenal outcomes.

So I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything I talk about in career outcomes is always because of a phenomenal team that has worked with me or around me. But I guess the things that have the tangibility to them --a really good example, it's a, it's a little bit of an older example now, but it was a, a huge success at the time-- which was when I worked at Aviva in the head of customer experience role.

Me and my team implemented Net Promoter Score, which most people will know about now, but back then was quite an early use of that metric, to understand how our customers were feeling about their experiences with us. And Net Promoter Score, for anybody who doesn't know, has a range of minus 100 to plus 100 as a score.

Financial services typically would hover, at that time, around the zero. The benchmark overall is a bit higher these days, but around that time. So we implemented it across the board and we discovered that in some of our contact centers, the ones that were doing the sales and the servicing, the initial scores were holding steady at minus 37 from launch and a few months in they were still there.

And so we dug into that information and tried to work out what was going on. And ultimately it was all to do with the types of calls being handled, where they were handled, by whom they were handled and with what kind of experience those people had. And what we recognized was that actually we needed to move work around and we needed to train people differently and we needed to move some of the work that was being handled offshore back onshore.

Some of the work that was being handled in the UK actually would be better handled by our Indian colleagues. And so by understanding what skill sets people had, what they preferred to do, and the types of training that they took to best, we were able to move work around so that actually everybody was playing to their strengths, and that really came across in the customer experience.

And we did all of that in less than a year, and the Net Promoter Score went to plus 12 from minus 37 in a period of just over, uh, six months. Which is a huge change and if anybody's ever tried to shift a Net Promoter Score before, you will know that typically you can move it a couple of points by tweaking around the edges. To move it so strongly, you need to do something quite radical. But we did that by listening to what our customers were telling us about the experience that we were giving them. And, not that they knew what the answer was, but we worked out what we thought an answer could be. And of course the teams went on to do more after that and continued to improve it.

But I think for me that's always been a really powerful example of how when you listen to your customers --and by the way, your employees, because everything they were telling us was very similar to what the customers were telling us-- that's how you can really shift the experience that both your customers and your employees are having.

Mark: So what do you think you can offer your next employer or client?

Gem: Interesting. I think it's sometimes a challenge when you have quite a broad brush background because you don't always know what it is because often it's things that people perceive in you rather than you know about yourself. And what I mean by that is I don't know that it's always the technical stuff.

So what I've learned about myself in this last year or so of being self employed is that actually the things that I offer that are my strengths are Looking at really complex problems and being able to see through them quite quickly and then taking customer data, employee data and other kinds of data and problem solving.

That doesn't sound like a pure customer experience type of behavior, and it's not. It comes from understanding my HR background, my operational background, my program management background. But pulling all that together to understand what is in the best interest of an organization commercially and for their customers and for their employees.

That, for me, I think I've worked out is my sweet spot, being able to look at all three of those areas together and get them to play nicely together to do something that's for the good of all.

Mark: Gem, I really appreciate you sharing your story. It was fascinating to hear. And I really hope this helps you find great gigs.

Gem: Thanks very much for asking me.

Mark: I'm Mark Reed Edwards. Join me on the next Confessions of a Marketer.

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