Cultivating a Culture of Excellence, with Kristin Burdette
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: The following program is brought to you by the Tennessee Broadband Association. Lead Tennessee Radio, conversations with the leaders moving our state forward. We look at the issues shaping Tennessee’s future: rural development, public policy, broadband, health care and other topics impacting our communities.
Carrie Huckeby: Hello, I’m Carrie Huckeby, the executive director of the Tennessee Broadband Association. In 2022, Loretta Telecom created a brand-new mission statement, and the purpose was to help the employees and the company focus on their operational goals so that as they operated daily, they were thinking about the culture of excellence and how they would deliver innovative, dependable and affordable communications to their customers. Kristin Burdette is my guest today on Lead Tennessee Radio, and she is the customer experience supervisor at Loretto Telecom. She oversees sales, customer service, marketing and public relations, which means she’s a busy lady. But she agreed to spend a little time with me talking about her new role and the focus on a culture of excellence. So happy New Year, Kristin, and thank you for joining me.
Kristin Burdette: Happy New Year to you, and thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor.
Carrie Huckeby: Thank you. You started at Loretto in June of last year. So tell us a little bit about your background, the experiences you brought with you that are going to help you in this CX role.
Kristin Burdette: Yeah. My background is a little bit different. I studied at a leadership college, an international leadership college actually, located in Sydney, Australia, for about three years, which threw me into the creative world for a short time before returning home to Tennessee and working for local government in the County Executive’s Office. There is where I had my experience in PR and marketing for about two years, and I really loved that role. Through that I gained, I feel like, a new perspective of Lawrence County and honestly invaluable connections that I feel like will guide me into my role here at Loretto Telecom.
Carrie Huckeby: I bet that it was exciting to study in Sydney, Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there.
Kristin Burdette: Yes, ma’am, it was. It was a wonderful time.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, in the past, when we talk about customer experiences, companies have sometimes been guilty of thinking that only, you know, the customer service or the front line is responsible for customer experience. But we’ve learned that it’s every single interaction that goes into that customer experience bucket. It’s your online billing system, your website, your conversations with your GM, your installers. It could be a conversation at the ballpark or the grocery store. When your company created this new mission statement and this culture of excellence operationally, what are some of the ways that you ensured everyone in the company can stay focused on the customer experience? How did you talk about it and introduce it to the company?
Kristin Burdette: Well, you’re exactly right that the customer experience was spread all across the company. Number one, we have a very close leadership team, and we meet weekly to review our progress. We look for opportunities for growth. And then to ensure that our culture of our teams is in good health. We believe that when we have healthy teams, people are performing at a higher level and are also driven to protect the company’s mission. We’re also looking to refocus our branding this year. So we’re hoping to make sure that our marketing, the website and all features are in line with our overarching goal, which is just to ensure that each customer feels well taken care of and receives the highest quality services.
Carrie Huckeby: Fantastic. And I’m sure your leadership training in Australia has been valuable with these weekly meetings and just discussing how to lead your team there at Loretto, right?
Kristin Burdette: Yes ma’am, absolutely. I mean, I’m only 27, so I came into a team that has a large collective wealth of knowledge and, you know, me being on the backside of that, what I did feel that I could bring to the team was my leadership background and just our team building skills. Morale is everything. You can have the skills, and you can have the day-to-day, but without that extra push in the right direction and kind of centering us around the right things, I just felt like I may not know everything about telecoms just yet. I’m still learning, but there are some things that I could bring to the table with that.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes. Excellent. They contribute to the whole picture, you know, whether you have that telecom experience, that keeping morale up and keeping everyone focused on this excellent customer experience, it takes everyone. So part of the customer experience is understanding what your customer wants. What are you learning that your customers there want? What have you learned, and how are you learning that from your customers?
Kristin Burdette: Well, I feel like I’m learning something new almost every single day about our customer base. And even though this is my community, there’s still so much that I feel like I have not seen. So one thing that stands out is our customers’ desire to follow our plan for building out fiber in Lawrence County. We have so many current and potential customers that are just waiting patiently for fiber to get to their area. And some feel like there’s no end in sight. So people are really wanting to know the why behind the what to kind of close that gap, and what’s taking so long for us to build out these grant funded projects. And so my goal is to help our community understand and walk this process with us. We want to make this process as easy for our customers as possible.
Carrie Huckeby: What are some of the things that you are passing on to the customers that keeps them following that process? Is it timelines? Is it the process of how construction works with how long it takes to bury the drop, and then it takes the splicing the fiber and then it takes this? What are some of the things that you’re communicating?
Kristin Burdette: Yes ma’am, timeline is a huge one. So kind of, the CSRs know that it’s really difficult to kind of say, “Hey, guess what? You’re in this grant round, but we don’t know exactly when we’ll get to you.” So we try to be very upfront with the areas that we are working to build in that year. But we don’t try to give close timelines for those because it’s really hard to meet those sometimes. Weather can change that. We might have to stop this process with a contractor and move to another area for a short time and then come back, finish that build. So we try to give open ended timelines, but that’s where we start. We want people to know that, yes, you’re in this timeframe, but we’re not 100% sure how long it’s going to take to build out each individual area that we have. So that’s what we’re trying to, I guess, focus on and kind of clean up so that our expectations that we’re placing out there for the customers to have are not unrealistic, if that makes sense.
Carrie Huckeby: It does. And I can remember when I worked in marketing and was involved with the fiber build, some of our territories were five years out. We, you know, we weren’t going to build that area for five years. And although it was disappointing to them, I found that as long as they knew what the expectation was, you know, and you just kept sending them that information, they were okay with that as long as they knew when it was, that it was five years. So good. Well, I come from a sales customer service and marketing background, as I mentioned, a little bit. So I’m curious, as you oversee all these disciplines, how do you communicate this in your marketing and PR messaging? In other words, if you’ve worked with a business, and you’ve given them a great customer interaction, how do you communicate that? Are you doing testimonials, or how do you convey that in your marketing messaging?
Kristin Burdette: Testimonials is a huge one that we do. We actually send out surveys and within that, we have opportunity for our customers to leave comments or opportunities for growth for us. And in turn, we ask for their permission to actually share those. And so that is where I feel like we have seen a lot of our feedback that has been really positive and really encouraging, not just to our CSRs, but to the field techs and to our inside techs and even to the accounting. People really have said to Loretto Telecom as a whole that we are moving in the right direction, and we’re really appreciated. So that has been super encouraging to see. But as I mentioned above, we’re taking time to refocus our marketing content to be more customer centered this year. And so I’m just hoping that the more testimonials we have, that we can continue to weave that in a bit more than we have. I would love to see more individual interviews that we can do with businesses or individual people that come up that might have a place in the community that could be a really great voice for us moving into Lawrenceburg and other areas as we build this out.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes. We can say as member companies how good our service is and that we are focused on a culture of excellence, but no one says that better than your own customers. So that works the best.
Kristin Burdette: Yes, ma’am.
Carrie Huckeby: In the recently announced Tennessee ECD broadband funding, Loretto was awarded almost seven and a half million dollars to build there in Lawrence County. So congratulations to all of you. As we know, as you talked about, it takes time to expand these areas and to build and in service. And you mentioned that it’s very important to set those expectations and communicate with the customers, and when they’re so excited to get broadband. How do you ensure that everyone in the company, the installers, the engineering, customer service sales, how do you ensure that all of them stay on the same page? Is that where those weekly meetings come in to play, or have you found other ways to to keep everybody singing from the same songbook there at Loretto?
Kristin Burdette: Well, getting everyone on the same page is never easy, as we all know. But yes, our weekly meetings play a huge part in that. So as a leadership team we meet on Fridays, and that is an awesome time for us just to kind of regroup, figure out where we’re at, look at the things that we want to do and implement and change, and also bring new information to the forefront. So after that, on a Wednesday following, we meet with our individual teams. That’s when we’re able to input that top down information. And our goal is that everything at the top is the same thing at the bottom. So it’s widespread. There’s nothing being hidden there. Or, you know, everyone is aware of what’s taking place and what we’re working towards, you know. And so communication is just our absolute number one priority here at Loretto Telecom.
Carrie Huckeby: Kristin, how many employees do you have there at Loretto, and how many are in your management team?
Kristin Burdette: So we have a total of 23 total employees, and there are six of us.
Carrie Huckeby: Good. Do you think that makes it easier with a smaller company, or do you think those same weekly meetings, and then Wednesday meetings would work no matter how large your company is?
Kristin Burdette: I really do feel that we have a slight advantage because there’s not as many months that we have to capture and kind of get our message into and make sure that information is going out. But I really do believe that when you have these data practices like we have of meeting each week, coming together and hashing out these conversations and getting out the new information, I feel like it would work just as well in a larger company. And I hope as we grow, we’re going to see that actually takes place.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, you’re definitely setting a good foundation for, as you grow, to continue that good work. And I love that mind’s to capture. That’s so true. So beyond the day to day interaction with customers, you’re doing some really great work providing an experience to senior citizens with your digital literacy educational program. And as part of the funding for the state and federal digital literacy, which includes adoption, equity and affordability, is key of ensuring all Tennesseans are connected. Tell us how the program got started, and what does it mean to Loretto and more importantly, to those seniors, that show up for the class?
Kristin Burdette: Well, this class is birthed out of a need that the Lawrence County Public Library discovered. We were asked to partner with them and provide a bit of insight and instruction to the questions that seniors might have about technology. And honestly, we very quickly realized that this was a large need in our community, that there were lots of seniors that were basically being left behind in this world of technology. They had the devices. They had some knowledge, but they were basic functions on their cell phones and on their laptops or tablets that they would use that they weren’t quite sure about. And so coming in and creating a space was very important for us, for not just for us as a team or as the company, but for us to see that need and respond to it. We’re hoping that this is going to be something that’s going to continue to grow, continue to evolve, and hopefully be something that will continue on and have a huge impact in our community.
Carrie Huckeby: Do you see being able to offer it to other age groups besides senior citizens? Do you do you feel like as we in the state of Tennessee study digital literacy and see who’s getting left behind, that you’ll be able to adapt that class to other age groups?
Kristin Burdette: Yes, ma’am. Absolutely. This specific class is very beginner based. I feel like we might could even offer different levels for people to choose and different age groups or even, it wouldn’t necessarily be age group based, but need based. What are you looking for in that class and kind of cater to that information? The one that we’ll be actually hosting in January is kind of question based. So we’ve asked people that will be attending to submit their questions, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring content and information to help them with that.
Carrie Huckeby: Good. Well, it’s certainly a fantastic program, and I always enjoy reading what’s happening with that. So I commend you guys for starting it and doing it. And I know it’s helping your community because you did mention, I think, we did mention in our newsletter article that it’s not just your customers that’s coming to that; it’s the people in the community, and you are answering a need for consumers outside of Loretto Telecom.
Kristin Burdette: We actually don’t have very many customers that are attending our class because it’s in Lawrenceburg. And Lawrenceburg is not currently one of our ILEC serving areas. So that will actually be a CLEC for us. So, it is very fascinating to see people want our service so bad in those areas, and we’re definitely working to serve them. But it’s just neat to see that a lot of them are not our own customers.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, you’ve been doing this about seven months, and we’ve just kicked off a new year. Are there customer experience initiatives that you plan to put in place this year or things you want to try?
Kristin Burdette: Yes, ma’am, There are. I have to say right off that I stepped into a really great team. As I mentioned before, there is a wealth of knowledge between these ladies. They’ve been here for quite some time, and they’re awesome at what they do, but my focus for 2023 is to challenge them to lean more into more of a sales initiative without compromising our customer service, obviously. I would love to see us focus on some of our lower penetration areas that have had some for some time, but our hope is with the extra focus and concentration that we’ll begin to see higher take rates and growth. And I think it will just be great to challenge these ladies into something that is outside of their comfort zone. I’m all about let’s do something that feels uncomfortable, and let’s do something that gets us out of the norm, that might create or generate new opportunities and ideas. So I’m very excited to see all the will happen in 2023.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, I’ll ask you to expand on that a little bit, because you know that switching from customer service, answering, being reactive instead of proactive in customer service, that’s something we’ve been talking about for years. What do you think some of the challenges are? Is it sales, the word “sales” that kind of scares everyone, or just not being comfortable being proactive in that conversation? How are you going to tackle that?
Kristin Burdette: I think it is definitely the case that when I say sales, or I’m encouraging the ladies to maybe lean more into that area of this role, they tend to lean back. And I think it is because it comes with this used car salesman mentality where they just feel uncomfortable because the people that they’re talking to are their aunts, their uncles or their cousin or they have some relationship because we are in such a small area. And so something that I’m really trying to refocus our minds on are we’re helping people by also having a sales mentality. We’re giving them the opportunity to make the decision on their own without making it for them. And with customer service and wanting to, I guess, bring the best offering to someone, that’s also, I guess, our perspective of them and what they might want. Rather than laying out the suppliers, laying out all the options and saying, this is what we have. This is what I recommend based off of my professional experience, but I would like you to know top down what we offer and what we have accessible to you. So that that’s switching that mindset from a used car salesman to customer service and sales really go hand-in-hand because we are creating a service that is going to be the foundation for Lawerance County. Broadband is the way of the future. So us moving in this direction and allowing people to take part in it, isn’t doing something that should go bad. It should actually feel wonderful. So I’m just trying to switch that mentality a little bit.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes. And I completely understand that. And we used to talk about in training, too, that if you don’t know what your customer needs, and we talked about this earlier in the podcast, finding out what your customer wants, finding out what they need, you are their solution provider.
Kristin Burdette: Absolutely.
Carrie Huckeby: Yeah. And you have to start that conversation somewhere. Well, I look forward to talking to you again this time next year and see how that goes and the progress you’ve made and some of the things that you’ve done to make that happen. So I’m excited for you, and I look forward to talking to you again next year. So anything that you want to add before we wrap up?
Kristin Burdette: I just want to say thank you so much and thank you for all that you’ve done to make this possible. And what the Tennessee Broadband Association is actually doing for Lawrence County. It’s a wonderful thing. So thank you so much.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, I appreciate that. So thank you, Kristin, for your time. I hope this year is fantastic for you, your team and Loretto Telecom. My guest has been Kristin Burdette, customer experience supervisor at Loretto Telecom. You’ve been listening to Lead Tennessee Radio, produced by the Tennessee Broadband Association, cooperative and independent companies connecting our state’s rural communities and beyond with world class broadband.