LFG with JJ Podcast - E3: Monika Aufdermauer

Juan Jaysingh interviews Monika Aufdermauer, VP of User Success at KOHO, with 15+ years of CX experience. Monika shares her journey, from accidental entry into CX to thought leadership, discussing CX roles, AI advancements, and ChatGPT's potential in customer support. They explore commitment to organizations, benefits of early-stage startups, data protection, team structure, and tech stacks.

10 min read
Back to Blog

Episode transcription

Disclaimer: Our podcast transcriptions are generated automatically and may contain errors. They are provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for listening to the podcast itself. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any transcription and accept no liability for any loss or damage resulting from its use. We recommend listening to the podcast to ensure its accuracy.

Welcome to LFG with JJ, the podcast that helps you level up your CX game by navigating CX and AI technologies. I'm Juan Jaysingh, the CEO of Zingtree, the AI-powered Customer Experience platform, providing solutions that turn every human into an expert. 700 plus companies across 54 countries trust our solutions to boost their contact center proficiency, enable their customers to self-help, improve their internal processes, and more with Zingtree. Monika, great to have you here. I'm excited for this podcast. Thanks for joining us. Love to start about hearing about your background right off the bat. You've had a phenomenal customer experience career till today. You have a unique background, so would love to hear about how you got to where you are as a CX leader.

Monika: 0:49

Sure. So I started in the CX industry quite some time ago, quite by accident actually. I was working for a startup called Support Space which was like the Uber for tech support before Uber. So we used a 1099 contract workforce, provide services online. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at that point, so I was working as an office manager. Our CEO had signed a deal with a Fortune 500 company, and one of the things that we had to have was a 24-hour a day call center, which we didn't have. He came over and was like, "Hey, do you think you can do this?" And I was like, "I've never done it, but sure, that sounds like fun. I'll figure it out." And had to set up, I think we started with about eight employees, 24/7. Couple people at a time in our office in South San Francisco. But it was a really interesting way to get started and turned out to be something I really enjoyed and have made a career out of it.

Juan: 2:03

That's amazing. So you took, you said yes for more responsibility. You took a chance even though you didn't have any experience, you learned quickly on the job. And here you are now, you're a CX thought leader. That's amazing. I was there, doing that time, I'm sure. And when was this? How many years ago was this? 15 plus. Yeah. So how were like, I'm just curious, like you've seen a lot has happened in the last 15 years, right? And so as you progressed in your career over the last 15 years, how has your role evolved and how has technology evolved and how has the space evolved? Sure.

Monika: 2:49

So I think back then I went with things that were familiar. So we used Salesforce as our ticket management software and other big name things that were easy and something that you knew existed. Over time, I realized that's not always the best way to go. And I started plugging myself in with what's happening in kind of newer companies. And really trying to figure out, what are companies that look like they're building something that's gonna be the next best thing and started going more with those types of companies. So as I progressed, I moved from Salesforce to Kustomer with a K and you J and tools like that, that were a little bit more cutting edge and much earlier in their sales cycle. Actually, when I went with Uget, their CEO was my salesperson. We were such an early customer.

Juan: 3:48

That's amazing. So you've, you've gotten phenomenal opportunities to take this role, but in some way, you're also giving opportunities to early-stage startups that are just getting into the space and trying to do something cutting-edge and innovative, and you're taking a chance on them.

Monika: 4:05

Yeah, I think, with when we went with u, J, I was at August Home, which was a few years after that acquired by ASSA ABLOY. And so we were a pretty big-name customer for them. At that stage, considering their CEO was our, did come to our office and do the presentation and all of that stuff. So they weren't, they hadn't built out a sales team or anything like that. They were just like, "Hey, we're building this. Do you wanna try it?" And we're like, "Sounds like fun."

Juan: 4:34

Yeah. And that's awesome. And looking at your career, you've stayed pretty loyal. You've worked at, support space for six years. You've worked at August Home, by plus, you know, ASSA ABLOY for almost, almost over 10 years. And now you're at KOHO. And you and I know you do other things as well. So talk to us about your long-term commitment to these organizations, which is unheard of a lot of times, especially in the customer experience space. People are always rotating in and out.

Monika: 5:07

I feel like to really make an impact, you have to stay someplace for quite some time and really be able to evolve with what's happening in the world and what's happening in the space. And it's not really something you can do in two years. I feel like at. At KOHO where I'm at today, I've made a pretty big impact in the almost one year that I've been there, but I feel like there's so much more that we can do when we've got big plans on the roadmap for the next couple of years.

Juan: 5:38

That's amazing. That's great. It's great. Great to see people who are committed and saying, "Hey, two years is not enough." Especially this day and age. A lot of people leave in a year or two years. So having, I really do believe in the same way you do. I think it takes about three to four years to make a real impact, the changes you wanna make, the learnings you've had, and then what kind of results can you get? It is amazing that you've gotten great results in year one, but normally it takes three to four years for things to pan out and to make it real. I, not just an investment, but a tremendous contribution to the work you're doing. So that's awesome. That's great to hear. So let's talk about your background has. Allowed you to continue, progress and be successful. You've been in the space for 15 plus years now. You're seen as an expert and a thought leader. What are you seeing in the industry now? There's a lot going on in our customer experience industry, in our customer support space with everything that's going on with the technology, innovation that's happening, whether it's with Open AI, ChatGPT, what do you see happening in our CX space, in a customer support space? It's a hot space now. What do you see happening now? Where do you see it going down the line? I think

Monika: 6:52

The biggest things that are happening right now is the advancements in AI. It's been something that companies have been toying around with for a long time. Starting back to basic pre-built chatbots and stuff, that took a lot of work for customer support teams to set up. Some of the changes that are happening now are gonna enable. Chat and self-service, self-service to become a little bit more front and Okay for customers. Traditionally you get put into a chatbot and you're like, oh my God, I can't believe I'm talking to this robot. This is dumb. As things like ChatGPT and stuff like that become more mainstream. People are gonna get a little bit more used to doing things like that and become a little bit more accepting of it. And I think that'll be a great way for customer support teams to focus on the bigger picture. So you can look at things that require a little bit more handholding or need more white glove service, and you can free up a little bit more time by offloading those low hanging fruit things to AI.

Juan: 7:56

Nice. Yeah, I, that's well said. We're seeing that as well. We've had a lot of customers that come and found Zingtree, including yourself when you were at August Home. I, and a lot of the customers already had access to the latest and greatest technology when they came to Zingtree. They've explored and implemented AI solutions or chatbot and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't work. Sometimes it worked for some, less complex thing, low hanging fruit, like you said. But it didn't work for some other use cases. And Zingtree benefited from it cuz we had a really different view on how to build a customer experience platform. Starting with mapping out all the, knowledge and, building it into a sophisticated decision tree engines through our process mapping solutions that we had. So it was a different route that we took that helped us grow. But now we're also seeing that, hey, based on having that strong Zingtree foundation, you can then build to the next level of customer experience with AI, with ChatGPT. So we're very much down that path here at Zingtree. So I am, it's great that right now we're not alone and leaders like you are also thinking the same way.

Monika: 9:04

Yeah. And as, as I tried that at August where we moved away from from Zingtree to do a more homegrown in-house AI tool for our agents and and came back because the Zingtree solution was definitely a lot more elegant and useful for our agents than what we were trying to do on the other side.

Juan: 9:29

Yeah, I will never forget that cuz you fired Zingtree. I'm a competitive guy, so I was very upset that you fired Zingtree, but my whole team was against me because we lost an amazing customer in August Home. But appreciate you giving us a second chance and coming back to Zingtree. So it made made, it was bittersweet when he left, but it was awesome when he came back. Thanks for reminding me about that. This is an interesting question for you. There's a lot of companies out there that are big companies that are getting into AI and, ChatGPT kind of, solutions. You've heard that from Google, from Microsoft, and all these different companies are investing a ton of money into it. On the other extreme, there are two person, 5% companies. That have been popping up in the last few months and we'll probably pop up a lot this year as well. Who are, a lot of them are focused on customer support, customer experience space. So are you've always taken the chance in early stage startups, how do you feel about working with a two person company who's, looking to grab your data and do more AI kind of solutions for you? At this stage with these kinds of newer technologies?

Monika: 10:46

Being in the FinTech space a little bit there's a little bit more logistics involved in going with the newer stage company cause we do have to make sure that our consumer data is protected. But that being said, we are looking at how some of our companies that we're working with today that are. Some newer companies are integrating with ChatGPT and how can we leverage some of those things and and really bring in that automation with with some of our existing companies. That's

Juan: 11:18

great. That's great to hear. That's good. You're, you've got an open mind and you're working through understanding what's the latest and greatest in tech technology advancements. In your space, so about your job, you've got a, important job here. I know you're very busy, you're always, also making your vendors like Zingtree work on weekends and you're always, working and you have terrible. No, it's good. It's good. You keep us honest. You push us to do better. And that's what I'm sure, I'm sure you know KOHO's extremely lucky to have you, right? You're you're fully plugged in in your work, you're hands-on involved you understand the tech stacks that you use. So tell us a little bit more about your day-to-day job. Your, what kind of tech stacks you use, your team your company would like to learn more about, how you go about executing every day.

Monika: 12:15

Sure. At KOHO we've got both an internal and an external team. So our internal team consists of what I call three pillars. So I have my production front lines. I have what we consider our lab, which is really our thought team that take stuff that's changing and digest it and spits out, here's what you know, you can share with the production team to help understand as training processes. They're my main consumers of Zingtree. They're building all of the trees and all of that stuff. And then I have my QA team that just checks and make sure that things are going the way that that we want them to. We also use an external BPO to provide most of our frontline support. Right now we're using Intercom as our ticket management software, which has been great. They're they have so many things as far as how we can outreach and kind of message users when something goes on, goes wrong or that we wanna alert people to something. So I love their, the proactivity that they're able to provide us. And we're using a company called Forethought for our AI chatbot. And then, as our internal process management tool is

Juan: 13:28

Zingtree. Great. What's your, you're obviously very familiar with Zingtree. You've used it at various different roles in your, career. How has Zingtree impacted you, and more importantly, what is your message to Zingtree nation? What more do you want from Zingtree? We we can get this message to them directly.

Monika: 13:51

So I think, the biggest thing that we've seen is our productivity. We were able to take people from sub two tickets per hour closed to eight to nine closes per hour, which has been a huge efficiency gain and makes our users a lot happier and brings our cost down. So it was really great to, to see how we were able to take our really complex processes. And put them into digestible pieces using Zingtree. And then this won't surprise you, but my biggest thing is always reports. The more data I can get outta Zingtree the better. And then anything that you guys start working with as far as AI and making our job of building trees easier, that's one of the things I'm seeing companies start to do is to make the part of where you have to do the heavy lifting to build something a little bit more seamless.

Juan: 14:45

Perfect. That's great. That's exactly the path we're going down, so I look forward to discussing that with you more in the near future. In terms of, staying relevant in your job, what are the kinds of, communities or, types of people you engage with and, do you mentor people? Do you have a mentor that you look up to? How do stay relevant in your job the way you do? Sure.

Monika: 15:13

I think the biggest thing that, that I do is try and consume as much information as I can that's out there. Also late last year, I joined a community called Chief which is a women's executive network. So it's great to get plugged in with a lot of influential women. And, it's been great. I've leveraged a lot of people in there looking at things like automated QA and yeah. Other kind of up and coming technologies to understand, how are people using these, what tools are other folks using, what processes do people have? And love setting up, just some coffee chats with people I may not have interacted with and understanding what they're doing and things that are working really well. If I can network enough and take the best of all of these worlds, then I can come up with. What's a great package for KOHO and our users?

Juan: 16:02

And are these coffee chats live or is this on Zoom? Or, how you typically on Zoom? Yeah. So everyone's in the Zoom world now. Yeah. At KOHO, you guys have, a phenomenal company right? From hearing from you. And what I've read in the news you made a conscious decision to bring more women executives into KOHO. And that served KOHO very well. Yeah, we now have four women on our leadership team that that's amazing. I think we had two when I first started.

Juan: 16:33

That's great. It's, it's always a good sign of a healthy company.

Monika: 16:39

We're, we've got lots of plans to celebrate Women's Month.

Juan: 16:43

And yeah, it's coming up March tomorrow. Tomorrow, yeah. That's right. Good timing. So I, as we're getting ready to wrap this Podcast op and I, I looked at your resume and your background, you didn't get into this in your background, but you have a very unique Background. In terms of your education, I saw you were in school for a long time. Did school online and in, in school, and you progressed. I don't think you finished school but love to learn more about what went, during that what happened there educational phase of your journey.

Monika: 17:24

Sure. Like I mentioned earlier didn't quite know what I wanted to do. Found it really hard to focus on school when I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. Found it really hard to focus on school when I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. When I was offered the role at Support Space, I opted to focus a little bit more on things that were really career-related to what I was doing. So I did tons of certificate programs at American Management Association and other places like that were things that I could really use tomorrow. I could go in, I could learn this, and I could put practical things, practical application tomorrow that seemed to hold my focus a little bit more and get me really excited. Then just and you got paid doing it too. Yes, that makes it even better.

Juan: 18:02

That's great. Do you think, you not having like a traditional, a lot of people go to four-year college, some of them go, two-year Masters. I, that's the norm. I do appreciate people who go outside that box and you fit that check that box there. I, but has that it is benefited you, you've progressed. I, but. I'd love to hear stories of, has that affected you negatively because you didn't have a college degree? Have you run up against that or are those days over now?

Monika: 18:32

I think early in my career I, it definitely impacted me. I think that I took the hard road. And I will caution people that, the path I went is not always the easiest. Early on I definitely had jobs I had applied for where that was a blocker. At this point with 15, 17 years of experience in a proven track record. I don't necessarily think it's something that holds me back today. But I think that early on in my career, it definitely did, which is why I'm so thankful to the CEO of Support Space that gave me an opportunity that I probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Juan: 19:11

That's amazing. Are you still in touch with the CEO of Support Space? I am

Monika: 19:15

actually just exchanged emails with him the other day.

Juan: 19:18

That's great. You're staying connected. Who wants it easy. No one wants it easy these days. It's

Monika: 19:26

worth, I don't

Juan: 19:27


Monika: 19:27

I probably would've liked to have it be a little bit easier.

Juan: 19:31

I have a saying that, and if it's too easy, it's not worth it. It, when you go through some hardship, I think it it's satisfaction is much higher. So congrats on the success. On that note, what advice would you give someone who is just getting their career started, to the listeners out there who are just getting their career started in the professional world, or even getting into the customer experience world, what advice would you give, them or a younger Monika just getting started now.

Monika: 20:02

Stay connected. Join as many groups in, places like LinkedIn that offers lots of communities that are relevant in the space and read. I will read any book that is relevant. I read leadership books. I read stuff about the CX space. Anything that you can consume and just, continue to grow and broaden your horizons will give you much more opportunities.

Juan: 20:25

That's awesome. Any book recommendation on the CX space?

Monika: 20:30

My favorite CX book is always going to be Delivering Happiness, which is the book about Zappos.

Juan: 20:37

Yep. Yeah, that's a great story. Yes. That's awesome. And they got acquired by Amazon, which is a leader in customer experience. Yep. Yeah. That's great. And then, so you've got a pretty busy life. What do you do outside of work and outside of when you're pushing vendors like Zingtree to step up, you know what, what do you do for fun? What do you, what are your hobbies? I know I told you about me playing pickleball. We gotta get you out there, but what do you do? I do relax outside of work. Sure.

Monika: 21:11

I love baking. I pretty much bake stuff for my family pretty much weekly. And also love doing crafts. I'm actually just finishing up some. Little end of year gift baskets for my boyfriend's son's basketball team that we're gonna, we're gonna pass out this week. They look like little basketball hoops. They're really cute. Wow. And then

Juan: 21:36

love to. Wow. So every player guess one. Yes.

Monika: 21:44

That's awesome. And they're complete with little bottles with the basketball team and

Juan: 21:51

the team's logo on it and everything. Oh. Personalized, name and their number on it. Wow. That's pretty cool. And then you bake. What kind of things do you bake? Cookies, like dessert stuff. Cause I, yeah, lots of

Monika: 22:05

desserts, cookies, cupcakes, cakes. Love to. I think most of my friends ask me to do their kids' birthdays and stuff like that.

Juan: 22:15

I was at this conference in December, a customer experience conference. And I was speaking and we actually had a testimonial from you or something about you on the screen in the presentation. And there was some noise in the crowd. And I said, how many of Monika? And like a bunch of folks raised their hand and everyone was positive, but they had a little smoke on their face. Hey, Monika's always keeping us honest, pushing us to the limit. So I know you did that with us, across the board, including with pricing. But if I knew you were a baker, then I would've negotiated that, hey, we should have gone some sort of like chocolate chip cookie for the discount we gave.

Monika: 22:51

You. It definitely was a trick in my arsenal to get things through to engineering back in the in-person days. I would, if we had something that was really impacting our team, yeah. We would ask engineers like, hey, can someone do this? Like for us on the side, I'll bake you some cupcakes or when we did bug bashes and things like that, I would offer up, the winner of the bug bash could tell me what kind of cupcakes to make for the engineering organization.

Juan: 23:22

Oh, that's awesome. I love it. That's great. Gotta have some fun with that. That's great. Thank you, Monika. Thank you so much for taking your time outta your busy schedule. Congrats on an amazing career. Being a CX leader and having this unique background are excited to get this podcast out. It's gonna be awesome. So thanks again for taking the time to be with Zingtree today.

Monika: 23:43

Awesome. Of course. Thank you very much for having me.