Mike Jones – Senior Director – Customer Care at The Home Depot [Customer Service]

Mike talks about Contact Center, Center of Excellence, and stresses the importance of separating yourself from the competition by driving loyalty and creating a seamless experience. 

Nick Glimsdahl  0:04 

Welcome to the Press 1 for Nick podcast. My name is Nick Glimsdahl. And my guest this week is Mike Jones. Mike is the Senior Director of customer care at the Home Depot. Mike, welcome to the Press 1 For Nick podcast.

Mike Jones  0:16 

Great to be here, Nick. Thanks for having me.

Nick Glimsdahl  0:18 

But one thing I asked every guest is what’s one thing that people might not know about Mike. I think

Mike Jones  0:25 

most people who know me know I’m an avid Georgia Bulldog fan, so I can’t use that one, I would have to say that I play acoustic guitar and every now and then tap into the songwriter side of me and love to write music. And that’s really how I often relax.

Nick Glimsdahl  0:41 

If you were to play one last song, what would it be

Mike Jones  0:47 

one last song The past this year, so I would have to go with john prine. Any of the great old john prine songs would easily come off the fingers in the vocals.

Nick Glimsdahl  0:56 

That’s awesome. Very cool. So tell me a little bit more about your role as the Senior Director of customer care.

Mike Jones  1:03 

Sure. So in my role, I support several kind of different functions in the way that I think about them is what I would call core operations. So we have a contact center, both internal and we use near shore agents for a couple different providers, mainly to help with seasonal ramps to support all of our private brands business and our US retail stores. In addition to that, another part of my organization is really focused on building a center of excellence strategy to support the online context space, as well as the US store contact space. So when it comes to things like workforce management, analytics, managing and working with third party bpos, those are things that we feel should be done in a very consistent similar fashion, because you don’t want the customer to feel that variability. And nor do you want the associate to feel that variability. Those are two sides of my day to day operations.

Nick Glimsdahl  1:53 

And how big are you guys from the contact center side? internally, not the BPO? side?

Mike Jones  1:59 

Yeah. Would you ask that question pre COVID times or post COVID certainly grown a lot we’ve got we’ve got several 1000 agents internal, that we rely on doing a great job every single day taking care of our customers.

Nick Glimsdahl  2:12 

One thing that we had talked about prior to recording was how you didn’t grow up in the contact center, you didn’t have that experience in the customer service your entire life, you kind of grew up inside the home depot family. So how do you add value inside what some people think of as a cost center?

Mike Jones  2:32 

Yeah, sure, I think it is very easy to look at the contact center lens, if you are not familiar with it, if you’re viewing from the outside is just a really big, not a p&l, but a really big L. And so the criticality of leaders of their own contact center is to be able to try and add value every single day. And the way that I look at that is really through that, let’s call it three levels of value. One is bringing consistent and productive performance every single day of how you handle a customer complaint, call that table stakes, right? When a customer calls you complaint or support or question that’s baseline, you have to do that, first and foremost, the next step is driving loyalty, being able to prove and show measurable benefit of the cost has been invested in terms of how that customer responds and a post interaction. But the icing on the cake for me, where you really truly add the most value is the analytics of the customer experience using those to improve processes upstream. So whether it is the canary in the coal mine example of a potentially a manufacturing problem, or just being able to aggregate Hey, here are the stress points and the pain points that our customers are dealing with and playing a key role in developing the business case to go fix those things. And ultimately, you’re a part of that longer term benefit stream, being able to have that narrative roll off the tongues of any executive leader. I think that’s the job of all of us who are in the contact center space.

Nick Glimsdahl  4:05 

Yeah, I love those three steps. How often are you going to talk to leadership, about maybe the customer story and maybe adding a name or location or what they did around that journey?

Mike Jones  4:19 

Certainly the last six months in the UK have probably shined a brighter light on the contact center industry overall. But certainly within Home Depot, I often joke that we sell hammers and lumber and we’re not a contact center company. But there hasn’t been a week that has gone by since March, where we are not sharing data, answering questions and presenting to the upper echelons of leadership in the organization. We have gotten a lot of exposure, which is always a double edged sword but we’re we welcome it, we’re blessed and ultimately when you work for organization, like the Home Depot that puts a tremendous amount of value in the customer experience. A great place to be

Nick Glimsdahl  5:01 

half my home should be branded Home Depot and the other half should be branded Costco. It’s always fun to go. And my wife always says, Hey, what are you going there for? What are you going to come back home with? But you mentioned the center of excellence. And I love how, what that is, but what does that mean to you? And then how do you build that strategy?

Mike Jones  5:19 

I jokingly said earlier that we sell hammers and lumber. And really how that’s manifested itself beyond just the tongue in cheek statement is that over the last 40 years, the Home Depot has built different sections of its business, right? Obviously, online is a major portion of our business and certainly outsized growth. But then we also have the services business that will do installations, we also have had historically a tremendous focus on the professional customer in the trades. And each one of those within the Home Depot. If you were to look at our org chart, it could be its own silo. However, we believe that you never want to make the customer shop your org chart, we believe that customer experience should be the same, regardless of boxes on a piece of paper for an org chart. So when I talk about Center of Excellence, I oftentimes use that visual to say, hey, let’s not let’s ensure that the customer experience, and then of course, the associate experience, that’s going to give that customer their experience that is consistent. So whether you talk to somebody on the pro side of our house, whether you talk somebody on the Install side of our house, whether you talk to somebody on the online side of our house, or the brick and mortar us store side, it really should be a consistent experience and his organization, we’ve made great strides of that, over the last several years, we’re not done yet. I often refer to the Omni channel as a unicorn, but we are really getting close to it. And certainly we’re well positioned based on what happened earlier this year.

Nick Glimsdahl  6:50 

It’s good to hear from somebody who’s listening, and they’re not sure how to get started on building that center of excellence. What recommendations would you have for them?

Mike Jones  7:01 

I think start with the customer back as famous Steve Jobs quote, as we want to start answering from the customer’s perspective, and looking at that kind of going backwards. And so for me is where are their disconnects in the customer experience. And not all difference is bad. But I usually start out with a bias that says if a customer has a different experience, there should be either a business reason for that high touch customer, low touch customer, do it for me, do it yourself. But if there’s not that compelling reason, then why wouldn’t it be the same and consistent, because when you do that, you then start getting back into we talked about earlier, the business value, it becomes productive and becomes efficient. And so that’s a better way of going about managing certainly, at our scale, having that level of consistency is extremely important. So I would start with that fundamental question is Where are there dysfunctions or distributions or disconnects? And really looking at it from the customer experience? Not within our own business silo? Yep.

Nick Glimsdahl  8:04 

And what you mentioned, I think, even at the previous question was, your customers see you as Home Depot? They don’t see you as individual departments.

Mike Jones  8:13 

I think that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Nick Glimsdahl  8:16 

And we’ve all felt that as consumers the pain of being a consumer and having to deal with the online and the retail and pointing fingers at each other saying, no, it’s your fault. No, you need to return it back to online. So figuring out what’s best for them and focusing on the customer

Mike Jones  8:33 

exactly when a customer has to repeat themselves over and over. And they get transferred, and they have to repeat themselves on top of being transferred. I would start with those two things and ask yourself, where are we transferring somebody? And where are we making the customer repeat themselves? And if you can eliminate just those two things, that’s probably going to go pretty far.

Nick Glimsdahl  8:53 

Step number one, bring the context of the conversation to the next conversation or just solve it in the first channel. That’s right. That’d be nice. Right?

Mike Jones  9:00 

That’s right. That’s exactly right.

Nick Glimsdahl  9:02 

What challenges do you face from the contact center side?

Mike Jones  9:06 

Yeah, look, I try to it’s nuanced. I try not to even look at anything as a challenge. But it truly it’s an opportunity to be able to improve and separate yourself and drive loyalty. I think I would look at this from a couple of different perspectives. One is, how do you make the customer journey as effortless as you possibly can? How do you make that experience seamless and easy. The Amazon effect is often talked about, but you have a brilliant supply chain company with a brilliant app. And that’s raised the consumer expectations. What I am incredibly proud of is the progress that we have made as an organization. And you really saw it play out in March and April, in May, where we went from Not a single store had curbside delivery. Curbside wasn’t even on our roadmap, except maybe somebody had an idea. And then it went up to 2000 stores and we continue to iterate and improve on that. I mentioned in app experience, right. So if you go on our app It is light years ahead of where it was just a short time ago, six months ago, a year ago, we continue to make it a very valuable tool in the hands of our consumers. So I think being able to look at things through the eye of the customer and being able to say, hey, this may be a challenge. And certainly as consumer expectations have shifted, do you think about how many people expected delivery, same day, a couple of years ago, that wasn’t really the case. But now that’s just kind of table stakes. 90% of the US population lives within 10 miles of Home Depot. So you know, a lot of our strategy over the last couple of years, Nick has been based on increasing the speed at which our customers can have their orders fulfilled. And whether that is curbside, whether that is car van delivery, whether that is going into the store, buying online and pick it up in the store, our our bonus program, all of that has been a large part of our success. But it starts with that consumer experience. And how do you make that? How do you make that seamless? Those are, yes, their challenges to solve for but man, the reward in in offering customers those solutions, you’ve seen the separation and the marketplace, and the consumers being able to respond to that, and the fact that we’ve been in a really good sector, and in terms of home improvement,

Nick Glimsdahl  11:16 

you’re talking about COVID, and everybody and Oh, it was either cooking or building? Because that’s what they had time for. They’re like, Hey, honey, do list. That’d be great if you accomplish all of that in the next five months. Yeah, have you seen that?

Mike Jones  11:32 

It’s been fascinating to watch. So you know, we without revealing too many inner detail numbers, to see the year over year growth and things like in the early days in March, right, so outdoor playsets swimming pools in thing outdoors. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got two kids six and four. You couldn’t find water guns or water balloons anywhere when summer summertime hit. I’m sure that part of our massive rise in outdoor sprinklers was people picking up sprinklers to hoses and put them in the street for kids to run through. So we have seen growth across the board in every major category. Certainly lumber because of what’s happened in the commodities market, but interior paint exterior paint, and our installed business in home install was a bit slower to return. But we’ve seen great growth in that as people feel more comfortable about all the safety measures and the early days of the pandemic. And even ongoing, it was really important to the Home Depot to maintain a status of a central retailer. I didn’t even know that term existed 10 months ago, but we have a brilliant government affairs team that worked individually with every different municipality. And of course, every state in every county was responded a little bit differently and to be able to make sure that we were able to keep our doors open to serve our customers in need when they came in, or however they decided to shop was a big part of our success. And I look back on that time and take great pride and all of our certainly our frontline associates in the stores. They kept a lot of folks in this country saying and being able to just do home improvement projects around the house or outside, it’s been really cool and rewarding to see play out.

Nick Glimsdahl  13:11 

Even though I’m not a super technical person when it comes to I wasn’t a carpenter by trade. But it’s always fun to do small things that I know I can accomplish without having to hire somebody to do it. And a little knickknacks in throughout the house, if it’s changing a light switch or shutting off the fuse box to make sure I don’t electrocute myself by changing something else out or filling the concrete cracks with cement crack fill. It’s always been fun to do that. But you talked a lot about changing customer’s expectations, or the changing of customers expectations and how you constantly are trying to improve the process and have that process improvement mentality when it comes to the customer. What are you measuring besides COVID? How do you know when you need to improve channel automation or even the in store experience?

Mike Jones  14:05 

Yeah, look, there’s not going to be a silver bullet or one answer to that. And so I’ll give you a couple of examples that were floating through my mind as you were asking those connections. Obviously, the majority of our contacts come via phone. But if you were to chart that out over five years, and the rate of growth, the message chat, of course, social, the consumers have shifted and have changed. And so I think for me, it’s really important that when you’re thinking about process improvement, you’re meeting the consumer where they are, and then the phrase skate to where the puck is going to be is overused in business, but I’ll use it or where is the customer shifting to and making sure that you’re able to meet them in that channel. For example, we measure a smaller portion of my business. Most of my businesses is more toward private brand support and supporting kind of customer questions. But of course, when you have customer care and your name, you’re going to have some complaints and we’ve seen calls halls and contacts when people call up to complain, we’ve seen those decrease. Now, it would be easy for me as a leader to hang my hat on. Yes, we’re decreasing customer complaints. But what if they’re shifting? What if they’re just going on a social channel, or venting elsewhere. And so for us, it’s really important that when we think about process improvement and measuring the impact on the customer experience, we’re not just myopically focused on one channel, we look at it throughout a broader experience. And then most customers will never even complain, they’ll just leave you. So thinking about how you measure loyalty, and how you measure repeat, shopping, and use big data to be able to guide the decisions that you make, so that you’re making the right data back decisions and not run in either down a wormhole or off on the wrong track. I think that’s critical. When you think about process improvement, we we in the contact center space should be at the tip of the spear with process improvement, we should have a seat at the table when it comes to what’s the customer saying? What’s the experience? Is it good? Is it bad, and a lot of retailers have shifted significant policies over the last six to eight months, think about return policies and how you respond to customers and then measuring that I think it’s really critical.

Nick Glimsdahl  16:21 

Yeah, I’m surprised that someone from Atlanta threw out a Wayne Gretzky quote, it was pretty impressive. And I love what you said, though, I think you’re spot on when it comes to finding ways to meet customers expectations. And I don’t know the exact number, obviously, due to COVID. But millions and millions of customer contacts annually. What is the risk of not creating those effortless experiences, or meeting customers expectations? And you touched on it, but maybe go into more detail?

Mike Jones  16:50 

Yeah, the way that I looked at it is you may not remember every great experience you’ve had just think about, we’re all Customer Care experts. And I’ve often said that to my team now, because we’ve all had great experiences, and we’ve all had bad experiences. So take all the training manuals, take all the books off the table? How do you really just give a customer a great experience, and it’s not necessarily buying them refund them giving them gift cards? just solve my problem? and answer my question. Because the cost of not doing that is you’re going to lose a customer. And that matters that matters. Whether you’re a small one shop one restaurant business, or you’re a huge retail, it’s been around for 40 plus years with 100 billion in revenue, it really does matter. And I think the more leaders can ensure that kind of belly to belly interaction the customer feels that is well, we talk a lot about empowerment within the Home Depot, our greatest gift that our founders gave to us was a set of values, you can find them on our website, but one of my favorite ones is taking care of our people. And the other one, one of my favorite ones is excellent customer service. And always highlight those two, because when you take care of your people, they’re generally going to provide excellent customer service. But when you empower those people, and you give them the authority and support, to be able to take great care of their customers, then they’re going to they’re going to jump through, they’re going to jump through hoops for you. And I go back to we’re all customer experts, we just got to be able to have a degree of empathy, and help do whatever it takes all that customers problem but the cost of not doing it. Man, you just you may never hear from that customer again,

Nick Glimsdahl  18:27 

look back over the last 25 years, 50 years of the Fortune one hundreds, how many of them are still in business. And it was because they weren’t willing to adapt. And they said they’re always going to do business with us. We’re Toys R Us.

Mike Jones  18:39 

That is a great example. And certainly when you think about we talked earlier about the acceleration of change, being afraid of change and not getting ahead of it not pulling the Gretzky and skating to where the puck is. That’s dangerous. But I would tell you even more dangerous is losing sight of your values. And it does truly come down to people. And if you look at the landscape of retailers that did not lead with a people focus and whether that is internal, their own associates, employees, or external their customers, and it became an exercise and trying to wring value out of a balance sheet or trying to wring value out a real estate or taking on leverage debt. They just lost their what and but alternatively, there’s a lot of really great success stories out there in the retail landscape. And the customers responded to that. But we’ve seen a rationalization of retailers in the marketplace and who the consumer chooses to shop with. And we certainly want to be top of mind when it comes to the Home Improvement space. We believe that starts with a values focused organization on people.

Nick Glimsdahl  19:43 

We talked to a lot about metrics a lot about meeting expectations, but what about customer insights? What value do you have on customer insights?

Mike Jones  19:52 

I talked earlier about measuring the impact of a customer interaction pre or post a call to the context and that’s a great day. The point and I would encourage any leader to try and answer that question is we talked earlier about what the value is, did the customer continue to shop with you? Did they spend more or less? What is their level of engagement with your organization, when you talk about consumer insights, that’s a huge piece of it. The other thing is, it just goes down to knowing your customer. And whether you’re a company the size of Home Depot, or a smaller organization, to really be thoughtful about how you gather consumer insights. And it can be pick and shovel work of surveys, but you’ve got to listen to your customers. And then sometimes equally as or, if not more important than listening, is doing something about it. and not being afraid to kind of take the credit, but tell the customer that you’re listening, you’ve seen tremendous focus on the Home Depot of doing and how doers get more done and our app and it’s in our market in our tagline. It’s because we realize that we’ve done a ton of work with our app experience. But we really weren’t necessarily shouted out. We’re not a type of organization that likes to toot our own horn, we do a ton of stuff behind the scenes for our communities, but you don’t see especially going out front with it. And that’s part of our culture, it’s part of who we are. But this was a case where we realized we need to tell the consumers, hey, here’s what we’re doing about it. And they’ve responded in droves. So I think being able to use consumer insights to listen to your customer, and then take action on it, and then close that loop by telling them, hey, we’re listening, here’s what we’re doing about it. Those are some key steps in the process.

Nick Glimsdahl  21:28 

Inside your app, you can put in your specific location, and then say, based on what you’re looking for here, it’s an aisle six, halfway down, right? It’s specific where I don’t have to go and ask an associate. That’s right.

That’s right. Hey, Bill,

I already know who you are. But I don’t want to yell and chase you down for another half

Mike Jones  21:46 

block, I would rather just solve it myself. Yeah, you’ve seen a really strong focus and results from our overall strategy around Wayfinding. And whether that is the in store signage experience, on the ends of the aisles and within the store. And that came out of a lot of consumers telling us, hey, you’re a big warehouse. And so how do you get somebody off a couch when they can click a button? And how do you bring them into a store and have that in store experience match up to what they’ve come to expect in terms of ease and frictionless and effortless? in the virtual world, you’ve got to make it really easy. And that app experience, not only will you tell you what I’ll and will tell you what Bay and what shelf, that product is located on, if you think about all that happens behind the scenes to be able to make that a reality. It’s been a tremendous cross functional effort by many groups within the Home Depot, but to achieve great results.

Nick Glimsdahl  22:37 

And, and it’s enjoyable, the one and I can’t think of the lady’s name, I’d saved my life here now. But the lady spent probably 20 years at Home Depot at the specific store that I shop at. And now her job or maybe during the busy time where she has the ability, but she sits at the very front of the store. And I could say where is this specific thing, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, and she’s just Oh, go halfway down, you’ll see it about kneecap level, and it’s on your left, and it looks like this. And I challenged her every single time that I go in there. And sometimes I would just make but not make stuff up but no have a product. And she just have she just nail it. And I’m like you’re taking her knowledge and multiplying it. And that’s the same thing that we’ll do inside contact centers. So you can take that knowledge base and and saying okay, here rookie, you spent six months with us at Home Depot, but you still get the same knowledge of somebody that has 25 years experience.

Mike Jones  23:33 

And I love that and you make a great point about educating the consumer. And we have had a long history of educating the consumer, whether it be in the early days of empowering folks, because you think about and 7879. And even in the 80s, everybody hired somebody else to do it. And you come into Home Depot and get that expertise, and then our clinics. But now we’re putting that expertise in the hands of anybody with a phone to be able to help guide them selected. And if you haven’t tried it, you take a picture of a product and it will search the database and find that product and guide you to it within our store. So a lot, a lot of progress on that. But again, it goes back to starting with the customer experience starting with the people experiencing that at the other end and making it really easy

Nick Glimsdahl  24:16 

that it does Mike I asked everybody two questions at the very end of the podcast. And the first one is what book or person has influenced you the most in the past year. So I put parameters around it. And then the second one is if you could leave a note to all the customer service representatives, and it’s gonna hit everybody’s desk Monday at 8am. What would it say?

Mike Jones  24:36 

So let me start with the first question because I just got a shameless plug. By the way, Arthur blank wrote a second book. His first one was built from scratch, which I think is required reading for anybody working for the Home Depot. I’ve read it a couple of times, but his latest book, good company just came out and I’m in the process of reading that right now. And it is just an awesome story and a study on leadership. Arthur beyond just the Home Depot is a philanthropic leader, and the culture that he has created and really didn’t Home Depot, and he’s done it with amb, which is his larger conglomerate, Atlanta, Falcons and united and his ranches, it still is about people. And it really reinforces that I’m enjoying the heck out of that book right now. And then if I had to leave one note, it would be very simple. And it would probably be two words, and it would be empathetic. I think the leadership, the customer experience, the needs of the world, and what we’re going through and what we’ve gone through leaders that lead with empathy. And if you think about what that word means it’s listening. It’s responding. It’s sympathetic, it’s gratefulness, and appreciation, all of that rolled up into one. And so that would be, I think, in the craziness of crisis, the leaders that truly listen, and respond are the ones that are gonna get an incredible amount of loyalty. And whether that’s loyalty from their own internal folks or customers who are paying their paychecks be empathetic.

Nick Glimsdahl  26:01 

I love the being empathetic too, because sometimes you have to just be in the moment with that person. And if it’s the associate, or if it’s the customer, hear them out, because they want to feel known and valued. And sometimes you have to listen. And I interviewed a guy, Derek gaunt, and he talks about tactical empathy. And it’s listening for the things that are not being said.

Mike Jones  26:28 

I love that. I love that. Well, I think we’re in an environment where we’ve invited people into our homes. People are seeing people and seeing cats and dogs and kids and, and life and everyone is approached the what the head of my son’s school calls the twin pandemics, both of COVID and of racial reckoning. And we have faced challenges and facing challenges that we’ve never faced before to this degree. And so it’s really important to listen to I like that tactical empathy. Listen to what’s not being said. And getting out of your own way of kind of the normal routine. And just calling somebody up, say, hey, how’s everything going? How’s it? How’s the wife? How’s the kid? So, empathy, tactical empathy, I’m going to Nick, I appreciate you giving me that one. I’m gonna steal that one and probably use it.

Nick Glimsdahl  27:13 

I’ll send you the book after this. But, Mike, what’s the best way for people to get ahold of you and maybe connect with you?

Mike Jones  27:19 

LinkedIn is probably the easiest way to find me just because of the search engine and feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn.

Nick Glimsdahl  27:26 

Awesome. I really appreciate your time. It’s been great to hear a Gretzky analogies, talking about Bulldogs and of course, the Home Depot. So keep up the good work. And thanks again.

Mike Jones  27:37 

Thank you, Nick. Appreciate the time.


The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.

Nickโ€™s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:

  • Customer service & customer experience leaders
  • A hostage negotiator
  • Award-winning authors
  • Home Depotโ€™s Senior Director of Customer Care
  • Former VP of Disneyโ€™s Magic Kingdom
  • Lyftโ€™s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
  • Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:

  1. What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
  2. If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?

You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.

If all you want is the guests’ book recommendations, you can go here.

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