Melissa Ciciola, Director Management Consulting & Service Excellence, Prométhée

Melissa Ciciola is a seasoned leader in customer relationship strategies and transformation projects, currently the Director of Management Consulting and Service Excellence at Promethee Consultants. With a rich background spanning over 25 years, she excels in inspiring teams and designing strategies that elevate customer, business, and employee experiences. Passionate about fostering meaningful change, Melissa thrives in guiding organizations through technological and human transformations, translating vision into action, and promoting engagement at all levels. She champions Female, Human, and Conscious Leadership, supporting individuals in unlocking their potential within a culture of empowerment and connection. Melissa’s work is defined by her dedication to connecting people to new possibilities and creating a more courageous and innovative world.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Magazine, Melissa shared her professional trajectory, insights on the three key components of building lasting customer relationships, the secret sauce behind her success, significant career milestones, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Melissa. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path in customer service?

From as far back as I can remember, I have harbored a deep passion for working with people and embodying a mentality of “being in service.” Whether it is to a cause, an idea, my clients, or my team, this principle has always guided my professional journey.

I began my career in sales and front-line service roles, both over the phone and in person. The challenge of building relationships through conversations was something I relished. My career took a significant turn though and truly allowed me to elevate how I build connection when I joined a collections team, where I spent four years refining my service and advisory approach. The skills I developed in this role set the tone for how I designed experiences from an empathic customer perspective. Dealing with individuals facing emotional, volatile, and difficult situations on one of the most difficult topics, their finances I learned the importance of being customer focused and what “in service” can be. My goal was to help them see possibilities where they only saw panic, stress and no way out. This experience honed my ability to provide meaningful support and develop solutions in high-pressure environments.

The fulfillment that comes from making a difference in others’ lives is immeasurable. Today, I am fortunate to do this on an even larger scale, at the organizational level, impacting more people and driving greater positive change. This journey continues to fuel my commitment to service and the continuous development of client relationships.

What do you love the most about your current role?

The constant innovation. The new challenges and diverse organizations we collaborate with, all striving to enhance their customer relationships, consistently inspire me. Within Promethee, I love being able to build a dynamic team and work on ground-breaking projects that are incredibly exciting. For instance, I’m currently developing a model that I believe will revolutionize how organizations manage customer relationships and make decisions based on client needs and desires. This model integrates concepts from various fields—AI, Lean, Customer Experience—each utilized differently across industries. Exploring how these concepts can refine and advance our practices and the industry is truly inspiring. The opportunity to incorporate cutting-edge technology and transform customer relationship strategies is a truly a source of inspiration.

In today’s fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies should leaders employ to maintain a strong connection with their customers and anticipate their changing needs?

Leaders should focus on active listening and leveraging data analytics to understand customer behaviours, needs, wants, and trends. Regular feedback loops with both customers and frontline employees can provide valuable insights into pain points, do wells and emerging needs. Designing processes to support this cycle, integrating continuous improvement practices, and ensuring that the customers voice drives change is key. By leveraging technology, we can also view the shifts in the market in real time and at scale– it is the key to being able to anticipate and adapt to changing needs.

How can companies employ strategies to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?

Increasing revenues and profitability through customer relationship is the big shift that still needs to happen. Despite it being a topic of discussion for years…the industry is struggling to actualize it. However, I am starting to see that things are changing. Thanks to the emerging capabilities of Artificial Intelligence achieving these objectives and the promise of personalization at scale, is becoming so much more attainable.

As technology continues to progress, we are faced with the challenge of fundamentally rethinking customer relationships. Companies need to transition from merely selling products and services to fulfilling brand promises in the attention economy. We must move away from a “Mass Customer Experience” approach focused on short-term transactions and offering more choices, to a “Lean Customer Experience” model. This new approach emphasizes creating value for the client by providing the right service, at the right moment, and at the right price. It is a profound shift in mindset and will pay in customer loyalty.

In your experience, what are three key components of building lasting customer relationships?

Trust is the cornerstone of building lasting customer relationships. It’s cultivated through three simple yet powerful principles:

  1. Doing things right:This means meeting client expectations without creating unnecessary effort or dissatisfaction.
  2. Doing the right things:This involves having the client’s best interest at heart—being in service—while proactively anticipating their needs.
  3. Consistency: Consistency in every interaction is essential.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge isn’t “figuring out what it takes to build a lasting customer experience”; the true challenge lies in consistently delivering it, with every customer, in every interaction.

A solid strategy for companies to elevate their game and achieve this consistency is to establish what we call “Customer Standards.” These standards translate these three principles into simple, actionable behaviors applicable to every employee within the organization, whether customer-facing or not. By embedding these practices into the daily routine, companies can ensure a reliable and trusted customer experience.

You were recently recognized as one of the Top 50 Women Leaders in Montreal 2024. Our readers would love to know the secret sauce behind your success.

Thank you! I have a lot of help but if take a step back I believe the key factors to my success are a combination of passion for what I do, approaching life as a continuous learner willing to try new things, and having a strong support network. Being adaptable and open to new ideas has allowed me to grow and excel in my field. However, it’s the little risks that I started taking that really let me step into a different playing field and elevate my impact.

Every time I set my sights on something new, I challenged myself to try it at least once. Doors began to open when I clarified my goals and took steps toward them. Sometimes I had to dig deep into my courage to take a leap most people thought too large. One such example was the first opportunity I was given to be a speaker at a conference. Another was my decision to leave a “stable” career to embark on an entirely new adventure of creating Promethee. Helping to grow a company from the ground up has been incredibly fulfilling. Each time I approached it as an opportunity to learn and it has continued to open doors, I never imagined possible.

I take time to invest in causes that are important to me and that also help me grow while I help others. Mentoring and volunteering with organizations enrich the work I do and are very rewarding.

The projects we undertake and the companies we support are robust and have strong core values.  To have an impact on them, their clients, and their communities through our initiatives is a dream come true. It’s hard work, but my passion for it makes it easy to find the energy but I am only human so being attentive to my needs helps me know when to take a break and step back to recharge. This allows me to stay in my “zone” where creativity can flow, without getting bogged down by all the details.

What is your leadership philosophy and how do you keep team engaged and motivate them?

I believe in leading through authenticity, empathy, and continuous growth. A trust-based culture is essential for our success and recognizing that everyone around the table brings their own unique strengths and talents fosters collaboration. I encourage a collaborative culture where ideas flow freely and teamwork is prioritized, driving innovative solutions and meaningful impact.

I also believe that understanding and meeting my team and clients where they are and walking with them to help them meet their goals is key to building trusting relationships. By establishing this foundation of trust and adapting to where they are (instead of where they or I would like them to be) we can better understand them and tailor our solutions to meet their unique needs.

One thing I am a big fan of is the work of Carole Dweck and the idea of promoting a growth mindset within the team, valuing both progress and results and the work of Brene Brown on authenticity and belonging.

In today’s dynamic environment, ongoing learning and adaptation are crucial. I strive to create an equitable environment where every voice is heard and valued. Upholding the highest ethical standards builds trust and forms the foundation of our firm’s reputation. By embodying these principles, I aim to inspire my team towards a shared vision, fostering individual growth while making a positive impact on our world.

What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?

The trajectory that led to my departure from my banking career was transformative. I worked for 16 years at the same large organization in our customer service teams, fully expecting to spend my entire career there. However, an experience that challenged my personal values prompted me to step back and deeply reflect on my future. I considered what I truly wanted to achieve, what I was willing to accept, and how I could make a meaningful impact on the world of work.

I decided to place my trust in our President at Promethee and embraced the entrepreneurial adventure. Being part of starting a company from scratch has been the experience of a lifetime. Combining the business expertise, I developed over the years with the opportunity to advise leadership teams and their organizations is exhilarating. Even more thrilling is building a team at Promethee to do the same and scale our impact.

The skills, drive, passion, and excitement I feel are unparalleled—along with the significant impact we’re making. Today, I get to do things I never dreamed possible a decade ago. If you could see me, you would know that my eyes are sparkling from the excitement.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In the next years I see myself dedicating more time to help revolutionize the way organizations manage and develop their customer relationships. The world of work is evolving. Customer’s needs, wants and expectations are as well. Staying at the forefront of what technology can bring us and leveraging its potential will help organizations save on costs and create environments where people can be their best and truly make a difference. Writing, speaking, challenging boundaries and ways of working. Helping to inspire others to see these new ways of doing things while also developing and elevating our practices at Promethee is what I want to focus on next.

If you could give any advice to someone striving to be a CRM Leader, what would it be?

Stay customer-focused and never stop learning. The landscape is constantly changing, so being adaptable and open to new technologies and methodologies is crucial. Building strong relationships both within your team and with customers can provide the insights needed for continuous improvement.

Lastly, don’t believe those who tell you that CRM is just about technology! I have this conversation frequently. Over time, Customer Relationship Management has become synonymous with the CRM tool, and in today’s focus how to use AI to automate, simplify and streamline processes. But it is so much more than that. The arrival of AI will absolutely allow us to elevate our ways of working, save money and improve processes…but it is not sufficient to truly achieve the expected results. Like with any technology it requires a solid strategy, and the technology is the support to the realization of the project. It isn’t THE project. Falling into this trap and simply adopting the tools without developing the necessary strategies AND making the organizational changes allows people to remain within their own “silos”—whether it’s marketing, sales, or customer service and not achieve their objectives. A truly customer focused organization is one where the culture also changes. The time you invest will come back to you so avoid the trap of what technology promises.

Real achievements in customer relationships come through organizational alignment towards the customers. Keep that simple truth in mind and focus on fostering an integrated approach that unites all facets of your organization in service of the customer.

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