Shonnah Hughes is the Global Product Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Momentive AI. She is a diversity and inclusion strategist in the CX space, focused on improving organization and community learning, relationships and reputation. Shonnah has a reputation for driving innovation and growth for future success.
Dan Gingiss: Hi Shonnah. I want to start with your title. That word “evangelist” didn’t seem to show up in business until a few years ago. It used to have other connotations and then suddenly we started finding evangelists at companies. So, tell me what a Product Growth and Innovation Evangelist does.
Shonnah Hughes: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting and so much fun. I sit at the intersection of product, marketing, sales, and customer operations. So, it’s actually a cross-functional role. I take insights from our customers and from product teams and I really help influence how we design and build our own products and services. And I’m also the expert on the Get Feedback platform when it comes to design and configuration. I’m kind of the go-to person to [explain] the new features that we’re coming out with. This is what we’re thinking, what are your thoughts? And especially when it comes to anything Salesforce.
So Shonnah, you and I have had some great conversations offline, and I had an a-ha moment a couple of months ago. Maybe it was due to everything that was going on in our country. You had told me that you were starting to talk more about customer experience; after all, Momentive is a customer experience company, and that you were trying to get your voice out there as a thought leader.
I had this a-ha moment. The thought leaders that I know in the customer experience space tend to be of a very similar type and background. What was weird to me, specifically because I always look at things through a CX lens, is that customer experience in and of itself should be diverse and inclusive. The whole point is that we’re building experiences for all of our customers. So, I know this is a loaded question, but can you tell me why you think that there aren’t more diverse voices when it comes to the thought leadership aspect of customer experience?
Shonnah Hughes: Dan, we don’t have all day for us to dive into that! A couple of key components, though, as to why you’re not seeing a lot more diverse voices, is that CX and thought leadership in this space is something that’s newer. It’s a newer kind of avenue that people can take or consider taking as a career path. It’s a new kind of vertical for people.
And then you also have the fact that being in a customer experience [role] or being thought of as a thought leader, there are inherent biases to how people view black and brown people and what their level of knowledge is or can be. So, they don’t feel like they hold the same amount of respect and/or information that someone who doesn’t look like them does. So, it’s actually very intersectional. I can’t say that I’ve always had great experiences, but I experienced some tremendous growth and also amazing support from people like you. However, looking at the space, I can say it is very, what we would call, vanilla.
Dan Gingiss: That’s a fair term. I accept that term. That’s really good insight and again, I think that the real a-ha for me was not so much that the thought leadership wasn’t diverse, because let’s face it, that’s true in a lot of areas. And we’ve got to work on that in a lot of different industries and topics.
The a-ha for me was if you’re going to be good at customer experience, you’ve got to know your customer. You’ve got to get feedback from your customer. You’ve got to talk to your customer. And in most businesses, that customer base is diverse. There’s lots of different types of people. And the reality is that they’re not all on the same customer journey. They may not all have the same customer experience expectations.
I’m wondering if there is something here to being a better customer experience leader. You’ve got to be able, no matter what you look like, to think about all of your customers. All of the different types of customers and what they look like. So, tell me, are you guys thinking about this at Momentive? Or is this something that you’ve thought about as a consumer and just how you interact with brands? But that to me is the eye-opening opportunity for anyone in CX.
Shonnah Hughes: Yeah, it’s interesting, right? Because throughout history, black and brown people were not considered as someone who had wealth or buying power. So, we weren’t marketed to. We weren’t seen in marketing campaigns. And you still see the issues with that today within brands and marketing. So, when you don’t have a voice, you’re not going to have a space where it’s like, ‘oh, we have customers that look like you or we need your input.’ We’re just now making that evolution, that switch, so that therein lies the problem.
A lot of organizations or a lot of individuals don’t realize that. Like, you have 50 million black people in America. They spend one trillion a year. You’re missing out on a huge market. So many organizations, so many companies miss out on that voice and market, and they miss out just on that buying power.
What’s interesting is that black and brown individuals, and I don’t know why this is, but I’m sure you can pull a report about it, they actually set a lot of the trends that you see in pop culture. And you’ll see they they’re the ones who initiate many of the marketing trends. So, if you were smart, you would be actually tapping into those individuals. It makes sense to ensure that they have a voice and they have a presence. Not only within your brand, but within your communities as well.
At Momentive, we’ve been championing and fighting this; the stigma, and the stereotypes for quite some time. Our CEO, Zander Lurie, he’s very outspoken about it. He just hired a Chief Diversity Officer, Antoine Andrews, and they’re building up his team. And we’ve created an actual Vendor Diversity Report that allows vendors to really identify how diverse is your staff, making sure that we’re able to not only hire vendors that are more diverse, but when you hire vendors that are more diverse or when you deal with someone who does business with people who are underrepresented, you are not only funneling money to them, but you’re funneling money back into their communities.
So, you’re making an impact overall. And I think that’s the mind shift that we have to get to, is that you no longer have this barrier to people of color making an impact with their dollars. Whereas before, there used to be. Now it’s about providing opportunity and space for them to be able to show you what we can do.
Dan Gingiss: So, you segued perfectly into where I want to go next. We often talk about diversity and inclusion from an employee perspective. We hire a Chief Diversity Officer and that person’s job is to make sure that everyone is represented. So how do we take that same thinking and bring it into the customer space? Because it seems to me that’s a good start. I mean, it’s a needed start. Maybe it starts to happen naturally as we have more diverse workforces and more diverse vendor relationships. But in CX, should there be a role that represents diversity and inclusion in CX or customer diversity? How do we bring it into that part of the field?
Shonnah Hughes: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting thought and something I would have to consider a little bit more. Because if we’re not being intentional about how we are really making sure that we are bringing in diverse voices, we’ve seen it time and time again: history repeats itself. You know, this big diversity and inclusion push happens and then there’s a lull. And then something else happens and then there is a lull.
So, if you’re not being intentional about the things that you’re doing in regard to diversity and bringing in diverse and inclusive voices, you’re right. You’re not going to see that reflected in your community or in your customer base. You won’t see that because they don’t see themselves represented in your organization. So, I do agree that at the top level, we recognize that we need a diverse and inclusive workforce. We need people who understand that market and they are able to market to them and be there for them.
And I’m not saying doing this superficially, which we’ve seen a ton of. I’m saying being very intentional and very authentic about how you’re engaging with these communities. And then not only will your employee base become more diverse, but your customers become more diverse. You’re getting feedback that, again, is invaluable to your organization as a whole.
Dan Gingiss: Well, I love that you said that, especially about the about the trendsetting, because one of the stories that I tell a lot, because I love the story, is about OtterBox, the phone company. They were listening on social media. They heard that people were taking their phones into the shower to listen to music. And this was not a use case that they had considered. And so they took this customer listening and they ended up creating their first waterproof case. It turned out to be a best seller.
So, if I sort of tie that together with what you’re saying, and I don’t have data to contradict. You’re saying that oftentimes it is people of color who are building on or creating some of the trends. It almost seems like there’s a product opportunity here as well that companies may be missing. Which now, we’re talking big dollars. Because if we are a company that can create products that happen to appeal more broadly, that’s why we’re in business.
Shonnah Hughes: Exactly. I agree one hundred percent. When I think about Louis Vuitton or a lot of the exclusive designers, those are things that aren’t necessarily in our marketing stream or price bracket. But because you have these urban influencers, the rappers, you know, the actors, actresses, they’re all influencing these things. And if we see ourselves in them, we’re like, ‘oh, that’s something that I can do or something that I should be doing.’ And we want to be close to that. So, it’s important.
Dan Gingiss: I love it, Well, Shonnah, I think you are an amazing voice in the customer experience realm, and I’m glad that you’re here. I’m glad that you are that you are sharing both your background, your knowledge and frankly, educating some of us who maybe haven’t thought enough about this over the years. I’ve mentioned the phrase “a-ha moment” a couple of times. You know, that’s me admitting that maybe I hadn’t thought about it previously.
And I think it’s great to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. I love your energy. I love what you’re about. And I think that you are an important and welcome voice in the customer experience area. So, for those that are looking for a fresh new voice to keynote their next event or to in some way be an influencer, Shonnah’s your person. She’s not going to disappoint because she is awesome. And that’s why Momentive grabbed her up. But I love what you’re doing, Shonnah. Keep it up. I’m a big fan.
Shonnah Hughes: Thank you. It was a pleasure as always.
You can connect with Shonnah Hughes on LinkedIn. You can also watch the full conversation here.
Featured image by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash. Shonnah image courtesy of Shonnah Hughes and Momentive AI.