Patty Soltis, Senior Customer Experience Manager, Upwork

Patty Soltis is a senior customer experience manager at Upwork. She works with her partners, adding financial value and driving to the organization’s north-star metrics. With over 30 years of experience igniting businesses, Patty was a principal analyst-CX, growth and patient consultant for many organizations. She was a VP/GM for Neiman’s, Marshall Fields, and Lord & Taylor. She is a CCXP, CX-PRO and a CX Influencer – 2024 CX Network and 2023 CX Scoop. She is an active CXPA member and Horizon CX Board of Advisors. Her B.S. is from Indiana University Kelley School of Business and MBA from Oakland University.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Magazine, Patty shared her professional trajectory, insights on the evolution of CX over the years, personal hobbies and interests, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Patty. Tell us the story of how you got involved in customer experience. How did your career lead you here?

My job is as a business leader first who uses information and knowledge about the customer to profitably improve revenue, increase efficiencies and decrease expenses. As a retailer, it was my responsibility to run the P&L and found customer centricity consistently led to the best results. From the time I first started, I realized that someone was coming in the store to buy this merchandise and I didn’t know anything about them. My sales associates generously educated me on this and taught me all about the customer. And our business thrived. For almost three decades in retail, this customer knowledge drove positive results higher in good times and lessened risk in tougher business climates.

What do you love the most about your current role?

In my current role, I’m building CX influence in the Marketplace business unit. This involves connecting satisfaction & insights to behavior to analytics to financials. It is educating our product teams and partners on the customer and how we can improve financial results and become proactive. This is strategic and influencing without authority, but with confidence that customer centricity works. It is hard and requires patience and perseverance.

According to you, what’s changed in CX compared to 5 years ago?

There is so much that can be changed in CX, and it is up to each CX professional to make those changes happen. The biggest change comes from the customers and their expectations. There is far too much disappointment from the consumer perspective and organizations make avoidable mistakes. CX professionals who focus on financial impacts and align with the organization’s north star are best positioned to guide their organizations and avoid these errors.

Too many CX leaders get stuck trying to prove ROI and totally miss how much more important it is to provide value. It is all about strategy, perseverance, and representing the customer in language that partners understand. It is servant leadership and empathy for the customer, partners, and the organization.

Why do you think CX expectations have increased so much in this digital-first world? Any thoughts as to competition, technology, our culture?

Embracing technology is no longer questionable – or optional. Those that figured out how it makes lives better are winning. They understood their customer journey, pain points, behavior and have been able to use it to enhance. Those that adopted tech because it was a buzz or the “it” thing have failed. They failed in adopting tech that genuinely improved experience for the customer and the team.

In your experience, how can organizations effectively bridge the gap between customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), and user experience (UX) to create a holistic approach that benefits all stakeholders?

It takes a team. This is not a one-person job nor a one-person leader. There needs to be someone who specializes in each one, then pulls together under a common vision with an aligned mission. The overall leader needs to be a generalist, talented at pulling this together, motivating each component, and with a vision to galvanize all the components.

As a customer experience expert, what key performance indicators (KPIs) or metrics do you recommend organizations should track to gauge the effectiveness of their CX, EX, and UX initiatives?

This is an easy question – follow the metrics of the organization. Revenue is always important, particularly profitable revenue. Find the focus for the organization, what are the key metrics? Align with those metrics. It can be challenging, but the data is there to bring together satisfaction with revenue, retention, wallet share, and market share. Look at what segments are driving business for the organization, whether they are product, market or customer segments. That data should be pulled, analyzed and put into actionable information. Create time segments to report out data in conjunction with the strategic planning cycle of the organization. Intermittently, partner on next steps, communicate when to pivot and become proactive.

Looking back now, what is one thing you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?

Start small. It’s so easy to want to boil the ocean and be theoretical. The difference comes from being strategic and actionable. Be patient. This is something I work on to this day. Sometimes it works in my favor and other times not so much. Keep learning. In my younger years and naivety, I thought I would hit a wall of knowing things. Instead, my thirst for knowledge and curiosity has only increased with age.

What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?

Leadership is simple. It is leading to helping others be better. There is no better way to reach goals. It is not about you – it is about everyone and everything else. My value is derived from true servant leadership.

What are your passions outside of work?

My two dogs are my best therapists. They hang out with me all day long since I work from home. They are great listeners and co-workers. One of them likes to play so we have play breaks in the day. My life partner is an accomplished triathlete and I enjoy supporting him as he races globally in Ironman competitions. And I love to travel and have many more places to see and experience.

I coach female entrepreneurs and help them get started. This is rewarding, helping others reach their dreams and begin to understand their potential.

Doing volunteer work for the MSU CXM program and CXPA. The CXM program at MSU is the only master’s program for CX in the U.S. and it is an incredible program that I participate in as a guest speaker and learner. It is fascinating to see how we are all learning from each other. I’ve had several volunteer roles with the CXPA including launching & leading the FL network, leading the writing and editing of the Book of Knowledge and on the Regional Counsel. The relationships that have been made through both are invaluable.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In nine years, I see blissful retirement. In the interim, my focus is helping CX leaders understand strategy, financial metrics and how to be better businesspeople. My goal is to help them reach their goals and they need to fully comprehend the business to do this. There is not a CXO or CCO that is not a businessperson first. It opens many doors.  My secondary goal is to serve my organization to better understand the customer and how this understanding drives profit. Both centers around education and teaching others while still learning myself.

What’s the one thing, if anything, you would wish everyone who is dealing with customers of today would be thinking about?

Prioritize thinking about the customer’s interpretation of what the organization is doing. Stop prioritizing the product, the marketing, the tech, anything else. Be your own customer as your own customer, not as a leader or a member of the organization. Use your product or service throughout the customer’s journey. These learnings are invaluable to see the pain points in action. Then you can evaluate the stickiness of the journey and where sentiment drives behavior.

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