Our Director of Communications recently sat down with Caroline to discuss the role of technology in the National Call Center, the secret to successful long-term partnerships with clients, the best leadership advice she’s ever received, her foodie superpower, and Homer.
SD&A: What do you enjoy most about your job as Vice President of Client Services?
Caroline: Well, at the risk of sounding trite, I’d have to say the people I have the pleasure of working with, both at SD&A and within our industry. I mean, I wouldn’t have spent over 10 years building a career in client service if I didn’t feed off the energy of partnering and collaborating with other passionate people.
This year I’ll be celebrating my 8th year at SD&A. For the majority of my tenure here, I’ve worked with the same core group of people. We’ve faced our fair share of challenges together and grown as a team, and by extension, we’ve been able to grow the strength of our business, our brand and our product. I’m incredibly proud of that.
Outside of the company, I work in a relatively small industry where everyone kind of knows everyone. They are some of the most kind, genuine and fun people I’ve ever met. Some I consider to be very close friends. The relationships I’ve built, and the way they feed into my ability to continuously find ways to better partner with my clients, to innovate, to evolve, is very gratifying and fulfilling for me. Every night I get to leave the office knowing that my peers and I have made an impact in our mission to serve the world around us and make it a better place. I feel very lucky to have such a rewarding role that I get to call my “job.”
SD&A has enduring partnerships with many prominent organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the Special Olympics. In your opinion, what is it about our approach as a company that helps us foster long-term relationships with clients?
Our business is built on a client-centric model. Whenever I’m on the road meeting with clients, I always get positive feedback about our service. And that isn’t me tooting my own horn either. I have an unbelievable team that I rave about constantly. They’re very good at making the company, and me, look good.
I frequently hear that SD&A is more accommodating and flexible than many of our competitors. I believe that’s because we focus on being a partner with our clients, not a vendor. There’s a very clear distinction. We don’t see ourselves as just their telefundraiser. We start every client relationship with the intention of fostering long term partnerships. We measure their goals, their intentions, their plans and we utilize our deep pool of experience to create a path that extends beyond just a campaign.
We take the responsibility of serving our clients very seriously. Every person on our team, from the callers to the operations staff and beyond, is not just here to service a client. They usually end up at our doorstep looking to join our team because they’ve been to our website and seen all of the meaningful causes we serve. They come with a passion to make a difference and end up finding a fast-paced, demanding environment that is also very rewarding. We work hard because we want see our clients grow and we do it because we intend to be there for every step of that journey. And guess what – we actually manage to have a lot of fun doing it!
How significant a role does technology play in the success of National Call Center campaigns?
Technology plays a major role in our campaigns on so many levels. I give a lot of credit to our IT department because they capitalize on every resource we have, even if it means a lot of extra work on their part, to accommodate a client or help the call center. When it comes to data, we always ask clients to give us more rather than less. The more the better. We can then utilize that with our own database and knowledge to better strategize for their campaigns. Data modeling and segmentation analysis is a big part of what we do.
In terms of new technological features, we recently upgraded the equipment in our fulfillment mail center, which will enable us to print on demand. This will give us a greater ability to test our fulfillment mail, which was very limited when we were working with an outsourced mail house. Another benefit is that we can now send fulfillment notices by email.
We’ve also expanded our abilities in how we take payments. We can now live-charge payments to cut down on decline rates and improve overall fulfillment. Let’s be honest, in fundraising every dollar counts. All of these changes make a tremendous difference when added together. Some of these things are very rudimentary and some are more advanced, but they all make a difference. Later this year, we’ll be making even more technological upgrades.
What is the best and the worst business or leadership advice you’ve ever received?
The best leadership advice I ever received, and I think it’s actually the best life advice I’ve ever received, is to always be open to feedback. Good, bad, ugly. To know your weaknesses and to grow from them is a tremendous part of evolving as a person. When one is most challenged in life, personally or professionally, being able to hear that feedback without taking it personally and then tracing a path forward usually ends in success. Whether it’s with people on your team, the people above you, or clients, I always try to check in on how I’m doing and learn what I can do better.
And now to take off my Tony Robbins hat, I’m not sure I’ve ever received outright bad business advice. I do recall seeing leadership examples earlier in my career that stand out as counterproductive, like creating cultures that are punitive or focused on blame rather than focusing on solutions. I always try to keep that in mind with my team, ensuring that we’re all moving in the same direction toward the same goal. I think it’s critical to have the buy-in of the folks that also work hard around you. If someone is personally invested in your mission, it exponentially improves your chances of achieving it.
What do you do for enjoyment when you’re not working?
For one, I have a superpower. It’s picking the perfect restaurant. Anyone who has traveled with me can attest to this. I believe the first person to confirm this would be my boss, our company president Steve Koehler. I love trying new restaurants and new foods, whether it’s a divey taco joint or a five star meal. In addition to being a faithful foodie, I’m a huge sports nut. My favorite seasons are March Madness and football season. Then of course there’s Homer. Anyone who knows me knows that the center of my universe is my little 15-pound Pomeranian Chihuahua. I travel quite often and might work late from time to time. Sometimes there’s nothing better than just spending the day hanging out with my dog. He’s a spa goer, has a wardrobe, and eats better than I do. Needless to say, he may very well be the most spoiled dog on the planet.