Sean Hawkins Show Notes Page
Sean Hawkins worked for a company that had been acquired twice in a short period of time. Sean had to navigate the delicate balance of being transparent where he could while upholding his responsibly to the organization. Sean learned that one investment he made really paid off in the end.
Sean Hawkins was born in Rochester, NY, but spent his teenage years in Laurel, MS. He is the younger of two children.
These vastly different environments and cultures helped define, in part, who he is, and has allowed him to take a non-biased approach to how he views the world.
Growing up, Sean loved to cook, and had an aspiration to be a chef. However, that was short lived when he fell in love with sports. Realizing professional sports weren’t in his future he joined the US Navy.
After spending 6 years as a Navy aviation electrician in Guam Sean transitioned into the civilian world and started raising a family. He started his career in IT and eventually made his way into tech support.,
Currently, he is currently the Contact Center Director at Framework Homeownership and a former Technical support leader with LeadPages and iContact. He is passionate about customer service and enjoys the dynamic, challenging environment of the contact center.
Currently, Sean resides in Minneapolis MN but has also loved in NC and CA. He has been married for 25 years, having met his wife Yvette while they served together in the US Navy. Together, they have four children Keenan, Jalen, Olivia, Candace.
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
Listen to @SeanBHawkins to get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet
“Creativity comes by being true to your brand, customers, and employees.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Every customer that you have is uniquely yours.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Embrace your culture as a brand.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“People at the end of the day, they want to connect.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“There’s always opportunity to expand what you’re doing and be creative.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“If you’re simply chasing metrics, it’s at the expense of your people.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Customers are going to push back and set the expectation for the service they want you to offer.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“If you start with a metrics focused contact center you’re going to have high turnover.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“There’s a fine art between having a micro and macro level conversation.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Executives want to know what is the impact to the customer and what is the impact to our brand.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Are we performing well enough that our customers appreciate it?” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Are we performing well enough that it brings value to our brand?” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Are your customers fans of your brand?” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Based on where you’re at, you have to be able to speak to what’s important.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“We can often get trapped into thinking everyone is doing it the same way.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Nothing is more important than the people I work with.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“The well-being of the people has to be your priority.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
“Prepare yourself and wait for time and opportunity to sync.” -Sean Hawkins Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Sean Hawkins worked for a company that had been acquired twice in a short period of time. Sean had to navigate the delicate balance of being transparent where he could while upholding his responsibly to the organization. Sean learned that one investment he made really paid off in the end.
Advice for others
Prepare yourself and wait for time and opportunity to sync.
Holding him back from being an even better leader
Making the effort. Putting the time in to improve in the areas that you’re weak in and in the areas you perform in well.
Best Leadership Advice
The well-being of the people has to be your priority and don’t be afraid to fail.
Secret to Success
Best tools that helps in Business or Life
My experience and the fact that I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know everything and I will reach out for help.
The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Contacting Sean Hawkins
Email: sean [at] gmail.com
Resources and Show Mentions
Developing a Better Place to Work
Increase Employee Engagement and Workplace Culture
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.
Show Transcript:Click to access edited transcript
150: Sean Hawkins I was in a tough position
Intro Welcome to the Fast Leader podcast where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
The number one thing that contributes to customer loyalty is emotions. So move onward and upward faster by gaining significantly deeper insight and understanding of your customer journey and personas with emotional intelligence. With your empathy mapping workshop you’ll learn how to evoke and influence the right customer emotions that generate improve customer loyalty and reduce your cost to operate. Get over your emotional hump now by going to empathymapping.com to learn more.
Jim Rembach Okay, Fast Leader legion today I’m excited because I have the opportunity to interview somebody who quite frankly I’ve been chasing since the early days of the Fast Leader show because of his wealth and experience in the contact center space.
Sean Hawkins was born in Rochester, New York but spent his teenage years in Laurel, Mississippi. He was the younger of two children and these vastly different environments and cultures helped define in part who he is and has allowed him to take a non-biased approach to how he views the world. Growing up Sean loved to cook and had an aspiration to be a chef. However, that was short-lived when he fell in love with sports. Realizing professional sports weren’t in his future he joined the US Navy. After spending six years as a Navy aviation electrician in Guam, Sean transitioned into the civilian world and started raising a family.
He started his career in IT and eventually made his way into tech support. Currently, he is the Contact Center Director at Framework Homeownership and a former technical support leader with LeadPages and iContact. He is passionate about customer service and enjoys the dynamic, challenging environment of the contact center. Currently, Sean resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota but also loves North Carolina and California. He’s been married for 25 years having met his wife Yvette while they served together in the US Navy. Together they have four children Kenan, Jalen, Olivia and Candace. Sean Hawkins, are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Sean Hawkins: I am ready to help us get over the hump, Jim, thanks for having me.
Jim Rembach: Hey, I’m glad you’re finally here. Now, I’ve given our Legion a little bit about youth but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better?
Sean Hawkins: Wow! My current passion I think well—in my personal life, I am passionate about food and travel as you briefly mentioned I wanted to be a chef that desire for the culinary arts has not left me. In the perfect world I’d have a job similar to perhaps Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern where I can travel the world sample great food and learn about new cultures. Ironically, I actually have a show that I’m trying to pitch to either Travel Channel or Food Network, so yeah, that’s very much a passion for me. Professionally, my passion is really in the contact center. I want to create a world contact center where we really merge technology and the people’s skills and really provide a wonderful opportunity to really grow everyone in their leadership and in their career and as individuals.
Jim Rembach: Now, it’s really interesting to me because when you talk about some of those passions and then I don’t know for me if a travel is a huge thing but one of the things I do like about travel is being able to see all the different cultures and I think that absolutely has affected my skills and ability and understanding in regards to being able to provide a better service. I don’t know if your pitch to the Food Network is on the customer service and food side maybe that’s a good angle there because you’d be great for that. But when you start talking about in a contact center and we start thinking about food for example there’s a whole lot of creativity that’s associated with that. However, when you start thinking about a contact center we really don’t talk about creativity it’s process and procedures it’s KPIs it’s speed and—okay, maybe some accuracy piece—but where is the creativity come in Sean?
Sean Hawkins: Actually the creativity comes by being true to your brand, your customers, and your employees. I think we fall into the habit of trying to be the next Amazon or as Apple’s or whoever is the industry leader. It’s great to look outward and see what others are doing and see if you can apply that to what you’re doing internally but every customer that you have is uniquely yours in that they get their product or their service from you. And so you have to look at that voice of customer look at those interactions look at what you offer the technology you have to deliver what you offer and then the people that you have. Take the people that you have, utilize their skills, utilize their talents, embrace your culture as a brand, and then deliver. So, that’s where you can get away from that mundane chasing of metrics and making sure that it has to be done this way or this way or this way.
I believe that people at the end of the day they want to connect. Your customers want to connect as quickly as possible in the channels that they would like to connect and they want some authenticity. Those are things that you can measure but you really can’t be robotic in your approach you have to have that personality you have to specialize in your use of technology but more than anything with your soft skills, with your high EQ. People want to feel appreciated they want to feel valued and it’s all about relationship building and we build relationships with one another in various ways and that’s the same approach we need to take with our customer. There’s always opportunity to really grow, to expand on what you’re doing and be creative at the same way at the same time.
Jim Rembach: Thanks for sharing. I was trying to think about the different types of contact center environments that I’ve been in and the cultures. Some I was able to mold and influence and others unfortunately I was just had to be part of. I started thinking about really where we focused and the things that we talked about both in the halls and in the conference rooms and in our one-on-one. I would dare to say that there was a vast difference in the discussion when it was an environment where the metrics ruled where it was all about the speed and the abandonment rates and average handle times and the after call works, that was a very different environment and it felt very heavy, if that makes sense where the other environments definitely seemed more light. For me I think we were focusing more so in on what you were talking about, the relationship building piece and those environments that didn’t seem as weighted and is difficult to come to work for me. What do you guys focus on to make sure that you don’t bring in that anchor?
Sean Hawkins: I focus on people. I’ve been called Papa Bear throughout the years because I think the people will make the difference. Let’s face it. if you’ve been in a contact center long enough you know all the tips and tricks the shortcuts to meet the metrics that you need but if you’re simply chasing those metrics it comes at the expense of your people it may come at the expense of your customers, your processes so you really have to be focused on the people, how can you better engage them? How can you better equip them? How can you utilize their skills, their personalities, their aspirations to help you meet those needs? Now obviously you’re going to have to meet certain KPI, certain metrics but the good thing is you as an organization get to decide what those are. I’m often asked, what is the industry standard for this KPI? Or what particular metric do you follow? And I tell them it varies from one organization to the other there were certain metrics that were important to me at a previous employer that I don’t necessarily feel are as weighted in the overall context of metrics in my current employer so it’s really about being true to yourself, being true to your customers and finding out what works.
That goes back to that engagement piece, you can set the expectations for the service you’re going to deliver then your customers will push back and set the expectation for the service that they want you to offer. So you look at that relationship and the same thing with your staff look at how engaged they are in their work. Are they showing up to work? Are they performing well? And when you start looking at those things and having those discussions it’s easier for you to then figure out what approach you should take, what metric is important? What engagement piece is important? But it has to start with the people first. If you start with a metric focused contact center you’re going to have high turnover you will consistently have lower quality and satisfaction simply because you’re going to be putting processes and procedures in the way of that engagement and relationship piece that both your employees and your customers are looking for.
Jim Rembach: That’s a really good point. I would dare to say also to contact center leaders can fall into a big trap and what I mean by that is they may focus or want to focus on all the things that you’re talking about but then when they do have that conversation with those senior level leaders they revert back to all the production based metrics. And so when you start thinking about how you address and how you present to senior level executives, how do you do that to prevent falling into that trap?
Sean Hawkins: Well, I think you—first, there is a fine art between having the micro and macro level conversations. When you’re talking to your executives they don’t want you to get so granular into what metrics mean and how you’re defining them. They really want to know, what is the impact to the customer? What is the impact to our brand? Are we performing well enough that our customers appreciate it? Are we performing well enough that it brings value to our brand? And so you have to speak to those metrics that highlight how you’re performing overall, are your customers satisfied? Are they fans of your brand? Will they promote you? But also leverage what you’re doing and in a way that you can say, this is something that marketing in sales can speak to these are the services that we offer this is the method in which we offer it that will be a differentiator between what we’re doing and what our competitor is doing. So, you have to be able to really sell what’s important to a brand and what’s important to a brand is their reputation and their customer base their ability to maintain customers their ability to acquire new customers. But then it also has to match your culture.
There are many organizations where the bottom line is the very most important part of what you’re doing. We’re starting to see in the world of startups that it’s really more focused on the experience of the employees. Are we giving them the things they need to be well equipped to do the job? Are we engaging them? Are we training them so that we can have them for the long term? And so based on where you’re at you have to be able to speak to what’s important to your executives but you also have to know how to tell that story at that executive level. One of the things that I like to do is show how customer satisfaction is important to the organization. What better way to do that than look at the dissatisfaction of customers. One way I do that is I let them know what is driving customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Well, if we know based on voice of customer why they’re satisfied or dissatisfied we can now look within each department and see what impact we’re playing towards that satisfaction or dissatisfaction. You can put a real value on the number on the number of customers that are leaving your organization because of their dissatisfaction the same thing can be said with your employees. It takes money to recruit and train before they even get in front of the customer or support those customer facing teams, what is the dollar value to that? So, you have to be able to really explain what your metrics are in a way that they understand the impact that it has to your business not just from a financial standpoint but from a brand awareness and brand reputation perspective as well.
Jim Rembach: Okay, so for me as I started thinking about—ultimately what you’re referring to here is business acumen.
Sean Hawkins: Absolutely.
Jim Rembach: You definitely need to improve your ability and skills associated with business acumen so that you can understand how it impacts and effects and connects the rest of the business together. You had the opportunity, and I think you’d actually just started with your new organization not too long ago, so when you start thinking about you being able to get the things that you need from a knowledge attainment perspective to be able to speak the business that you’re currently in right now, how did you go about that?
Sean Hawkins: Well, I was fortunate that I had leadership throughout my career that taught that to me. It wasn’t just enough to report up how we were performing but they felt strongly about explaining what those numbers meant from an executive perspective and how those numbers are being used to drive business decisions to impact what your sales or marketing team is doing what your HR team is focusing on. A lot of that was simply being with some outstanding leaders who took the time to mentor me and train me in in those areas but also I like to have conversations like we’re having right now I reach out to people that I respect that I consider thought leaders in the industry. I don’t mind asking them, how are you having these conversations? What works for you? Those are ways that really will position you to at least have an idea how to have those discussions.
It then comes back to your current employer, what are those relationships like with your executive team? Do you have the ability to influence or to advice or to make suggestions and recommendations—books. If I can find articles that speak to the business of the contact center whether it’s a white paper or an industry event where they’re speaking about making those connections then I’m certainly going to pay attention to that. I think you’re starting to see quite often conversations that is really geared towards how to have executive level discussions related to the contact center. How to get the buy-in necessary? What data points should you be presenting? What conversations should you be having? Who should you allied with so that you can get those results that you’re looking for?
Jim Rembach: One of the things that you said in there to me stands out a lot. I see a lot of people not taking advantage of that and that is the whole community aspects of this industry. For me that’s one of the reasons why I started the Fast Leader show to help try to build that community within contact center and customer experience and be able to raise that level of business acumen and understanding impact community. Going to an event, that’s great, sitting there in a session and absorbing whatever is being presented to you but ultimately where I have found the most impact has been made in my life and in my career is because of the people. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on the show because I think your great connector of people. What advice would you give to somebody who hasn’t been connecting with others in the contact center industry about how to go about doing that?
Sean Hawkins: Take the approach I took. When I first got into the industry I started, really within my organization, I soaked up as much knowledge and information from my contact center leaders. I then reached out to other people. People that I respected people that were being garnered as thought leaders in the industry but also just colleagues of mine. You didn’t have to be a thought leader if you worked in a contact center at another organization I was curious to know how you were doing things. Part of that was to gauge if I was doing things correctly but also to give me some understanding of what others were doing and to see how I could learn from what they’re doing. I think we can often get trapped into thinking that everyone is doing it the same way, number one.
Or that you don’t want to change how you’re doing it because you don’t want to be like everyone else and I’ve been in both of those situations. I was the metric chaser who was going to make sure that I was doing it like the industry told me it should be done to the point where I was driving my staff crazy. I think really it’s just reaching out to people being honest being transparent looking for solutions to problems you may have or just coming together so that you can have a meeting of the minds. One of my favorite sayings is, Iron sharpens Iron and what better way for you to become better versed at what you’re doing and be more proficient and efficient than by reaching out to not just thought leaders but colleagues on every level within the contact center.
Jim Rembach: So on the show we ask about a favorite quote and I think you just shared that which I appreciate. For me also too along with the career both personally and professionally I found certain humps that I’ve had to get over who have taught me a lot. Is there a time where you’ve had to get over the hump and it made a difference for you at that you can share?
Sean Hawkins: Oh, wow! There’s quite a few times where that happened. I think probably the best example and the really the one that is really focused towards leadership would be when my company had gone through two acquisitions in a relatively short period of time. It was extremely challenging times because first of all we had no idea if we would be laid off we had no idea who would remain there was just so many uncertainties. From a leadership standpoint you have to navigate that delicate balance of being transparent where you can but at the same time you’re being fed information from senior leadership that you just can’t divulge. That was a very challenging time for me as a leader because these weren’t just people that reported directly to me these have become my friends over seven eight years. On the one hand I want to make sure that I take care of them but at the same time I have a responsibility to my leadership to uphold the trust that they have instilled in me.
I think one of the things that really got me through that time is that I’ve had years of experience really investing in the people. They trusted me they trusted that I had their best interests at heart they knew that I was a straight shooter I didn’t like to lead people on I say what should be said and I think that that bought me some equity with our relationship. I could honestly tell them there are some things that I’m not at liberty to speak about the things that I can speak about I will speak to you. Then you face the challenge that people are starting to look for jobs. Are we going to maintain our jobs? We don’t know. If we do will we be fully staffed as we were before? Because people are not panicking, very stressful time. Obviously not being at that executive level I wasn’t fully aware of all of those business decisions that were being made certainly information that was passed to me was not at the level being discussed behind closed doors. So, really I was in a tough position where I’m trying to continue to press forward and be the amazing contact center we were but at the same time I’m creating secondary plans for, if we lose this team or if we lose this key position how do we continue to move forward? But then at the same time if we’re not here how do I help my staff transition into finding another offer somewhere else within the organization or outside of the organization? So that was a very difficult hump, I would probably call that a mountain rather than a hump. How did we get over that? Well first of all, the quality of work that we did was exceptional and that’s one of the reasons I want to work in a contact center that is extremely superb at what they’re doing you cannot place a value on that.
During two acquisitions our contact center was never impacted. We lost some minor positions but we were fortunate that we can keep the staff and reallocate their skill set in another role. But it was all of the work that we had done prior to that that really got us through those tough times. It was training staff, it was the employee development it was building those personal authentic connections where people trusted you where they knew that you were investing yourself in them they felt as if you were a friend versus a boss. Those and so those were really things over time and in our prior years got us through that because that’s all we had to lean on. I think what I got out of that is what I have taken forward even to this day nothing is more important than the people that I work with. Some of the best advice I received during that time frame came from my Vice- President, Sarah Steely, my Senior Vice-President and she said, “Decisions have to be made on what’s best for our customers, our employees and our business. And every situation you’re trying to find that balance where everyone can be satisfied where no one will be lacking that’s something I’ve taken forward even to this day.
Jim Rembach: Thanks for sharing that. For me that whole piece about creating a relationships and it’ll help you whether any storm. Really the thing that we need to take away from all of that is do that upfront investment. And also if you haven’t had the environment and crisis hits before you’ve built those relationships you’d have to find a way to make a connection really fast.
Sean Hawkins: Absolutely.
Jim Rembach: Okay, so when you start looking at pitching the TV show, what you’re doing at work, family –gosh, you got a lot of things going on. If you were to look at one thing, what would be one of your goals?
Sean Hawkins: Oh, I would say professionally my goal is really to put my contact center in a position where we can leverage our expertise, we can leverage our manpower, we can leverage the technology that we have to be in a position where we can influence the business and influence business decisions and business strategy in a way that is customer centric. We’re looking out for our customer and we’re trying to be that corporate citizen that really the public is looking for as they’re doing business. That’s where I would want to establish a goal, that’s my goal that I want to establish professionally. Personally, I just want to establish some sort of legacy for my children to grow and build upon. Whether that’s financial or a social awareness in the world that is yet to be determined but I just want them to be in a position where they can look back and say our parents really put us in a wonderful position where we can launch our personal and professional lives to become very well informed, respectable citizens, world citizens. Those are really my two goals and what I try to focus on a daily basis.
Jim Rembach: The Fast Leader legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Jim Rembach: Alright here we go Fast Leader legion it’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Sean the Hump day Hoedown is a part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust get rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Sean Hawkins, are you ready to hoedown?
Sean Hawkins: I’m ready to hoedown.
Jim Rembach: What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
I think what is holding me back is probably what’s holding everyone back, it’s just making the effort putting the time to improve in the areas that you weaken to reinforce and strengthen those areas that you perform very well. I think the best way to become a better leader is to practice leadership and then to invest in leadership training whether it’s formal or reaching out to a mentor and getting some one-on-one coaching.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Sean Hawkins: Actually there’s two. The first one was the well-being of the people has to be your priority. And the second one is don’t be afraid to fail.
Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Sean Hawkins: Relationship building.
Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Sean Hawkins: My experience and the fact that I am not afraid to admit I don’t know everything therefore I will reach out to people and ask for help.
Jim Rembach: What would be one book that you’d recommend to our listeners, and it could be from any genre?
Sean Hawkins: Well, professionally, I’m actually reading the Service Culture handbook by Jeff Toyster. From a leadership position I would say the Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must-read if you’re in leadership.
Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader legion, you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going to fastleader.net/Sean Hawkins. Okay Sean, this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything back you can only choose one. What skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Sean Hawkins: I would give 25-year old Sean patience. I would say patience because I can look back and see how my eagerness and my zealous behavior put me in some detrimental situations. It caused me to make the wrong decisions, it set me back further than I had anticipated, and the 47-year old Sean knows that you prepare yourself and you wait for time and opportunity to come and sync. So I would tell 25-year old Sean to be patient.
Jim Rembach: Sean, it was an honor to spend time with you today can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you?
Sean Hawkins: Yes, you can connect with me on Twitter @seanbhawkins. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, Sean Hawkins, you can reach me by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Rembach: Sean Hawkins, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom the Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
END OF AUDIO