FedEx's Ginna Sauerwein on Getting It Right the First Time

By Emily Cowan posted 06-21-2019 12:00 AM


Over her nearly 35 years at FedEx, community member Ginna Sauerwein worked her way up from Package Handler and Ramp Agent to Managing Director of Customer Experience - and her last day on the job was May 31. Now ready to tackle new challenges, Ginna has been reflecting on her tenure at FedEx and what’s next for the CX industry. We asked Ginna about the company culture, its commitment to customer service, and the significance of the “golden package.”

Execs In The Know: You worked for FedEx for almost 35 years, but only half of that was spent in customer experience. How did you transition to a CX role and what had you been doing before?

Ginna Sauerwein: I started with FedEx in AGFS (Air, Ground and Freight Systems). As a Ramp Agent at the Dallas-Fort Worth Ramp I was responsible for weight and balance on our airplanes, sorting and loading operations, and point to point tractor trailer operations. I then moved as a manager to DGO (Domestic Ground Operations) where I was responsible for station operations, inbound and outbound sorts and Express Couriers. Later as Managing Director I was responsible for operations in the River District and then the Alamo District. I then returned to ramp operations, Lone Star District, managing all the ramps in Texas and Oklahoma, then moved to International Operations in Guadalajara, Mexico, North District.  

This was my first exposure to managing a call center operation. In Mexico I had responsibility for everything including couriers, station and ramp operations, customs clearance, brokerage operations and customer service. When I returned to the United States from Mexico I moved into call center operations.

Since 2002 I’ve had responsibilities for almost everything FedEx does in the CX space, from social media, chat, video chat, numerous networks including Premier Programs, Customer Advocate team, Heart team, freight, international, domestic, sourcing vendor partners, etc.  I’ve pretty much done it all.

EITK: So your introduction to call center operations really hinged on multilingual service delivery. How did that impact your approach when you returned to U.S.?

Ginna: When I returned to the U.S. we needed to dramatically ramp up our Spanish language offering for U.S. customers.  FedEx is a global company that operates in 220 countries, so my perspective has always been global, however the U.S. market was changing. Having lived and worked outside the U.S. my perspective is understanding culture is as important as understanding and speaking the language.  Living outside the U.S. dramatically matured my perspective and made me more tolerant to assume positive intent. 

Native language is a necessity, or FedEx couldn’t operate in 220 countries. Even though English is the common business language, customers want to be able to conduct business in their language of choice. 

In 2005 I traveled to El Salvador to work on a project to support the growing Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. We learned that it’s not enough to speak the language; you have to understand the culture, too. If you don’t understand the culture you’re asking for failure. El Salvador understands the U.S. culture because over half its residents have lived in the U.S. or Canada at one point in their lives. That was a very successful venture and to this day FedEx supports its Spanish-speaking U.S. customers from a contact center in El Salvador.

EITK: CX is essentially multidisciplinary. What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most? 

Ginna: At FedEx, we never know which package is the “golden package”. We don’t know what’s inside the package, or how important it could be to the person who is receiving it. We do so much right, however in CX we’re dealing with those rare instances when something went wrong. It’s how we handle it, how we recover, and how we make it right that creates a loyal customer based on an experience that didn’t start out well. Those are the things I enjoy the most. When we can save the outcome of a less than ideal situation, not only is it memorable for the customer but it’s also rewarding for the employee who was able to make a difference. 

Here’s a perfect example: It was during the holidays and a manager in Kansas City had a distraught customer on the line. She was having her family visit for the first time in a long time, and the lobsters she ordered for Christmas dinner was delayed in a snow storm and they would not arrive in-time. The manager heard this customer’s disappointment and took it upon himself to source lobsters locally, purchased them, and drive the treacherous roads to deliver the purple promise.  She cried – when she opened the door and this burden was lifted off her shoulders.  It’s great to hear all the wonderful stories of how employees become engaged and make a difference. 

EITK: How do you incentivize your employees to focus on the bigger picture - keeping customers top of mind? It’s pretty easy to get bogged down in one’s own small “slice of the pie,” as you put it.

Ginna: Well, that can be a very long answer! It really doesn’t matter if you’re in the department called “customer experience.” Every employee should think of what they do as having an effect on the customer. Every incentive should have a customer componet connected to it. 

FedEx has an incredible culture. Several books have touched on different aspects of the FedEx culture. The Purple Promise, which is…"I will make every FedEx Experience Outstanding," says it all. Our Chairman, Mr. Smith was instrumental in writing The Managers Guide, which drives home our culture and responsibility to live and breathe the culture. In CX we do have incentives built in, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a customer service rep, a manager, a director, etc. - there are incentives based on hitting certain metrics. Financial and quality incentives, all hinge on doing the right thing.

EITK: You mention that you started off as a ramp agent. Were you thinking about these kinds of situations when you were on the job?

Ginna: Even though the first half of my career at FedEx wasn’t in “customer experience,” everything I did on a daily basis had an effect on the customer. That’s just part of the culture. 

Most people think of marketing as being external, however FedEx has many internal marketing programs designed to build a strong service culture. There is a program called “I Am FedEx,” which profiles employees who have had a positive impact on their community or a unique hobby. We become connected to each other in this way. We publish spotlight articles on employees.  We have our own studio where we produce videos and print full size posters highlighting employees. We have reward programs like Bravo Zulu, in which any manager can recognize a high-performing employee with a financial award.

It would be easy to lose sight of the importance of each package, however our culture and programs help keep the idea of the golden package front and center. Handling packages properly, making sure they are routed correctly, making sure they arrive at the destination on time – are all part of the job as you never know what impact a mistake could have on a customer. At the end of the day, FedEx doesn’t “sell” anything. We provide a service. It has to be right. 

EITK: You’ve overseen some pretty significant changes in customer experience over time. What are you predictions for the future of CX?

Ginna: When I came into CX in 2002, that was soon after the development of the World Wide Web and mobile became accessible to anyone. Technological advances are arriving exponentially faster than they were in the 80s and 90s, and I think that trend is going to continue. We’re all trying to find ways to incorporate AI into the customer journey to reduce costs and improve the customer experience. There are so many channels now, like social media, where we can engage with our customers.

Companies that can figure out how to build that connected and compelling customer journey - one that’s proactive and anticipates the customers need - those are the companies that are going to flourish. I can probably name just one or two that have got the whole journey figured out. We’re striving to get there. 

I know more mature companies with legacy technology have their work cut out for them. If you’re a young company, you have an advantage building a system that knows a customer in every part of their journey.

EITK: Knowing what you know now, what’s the best advice you would give your younger self just starting out?

Ginna: I would tell my younger self two things: One, to be tenacious in my thinking on how to disrupt my industry in a positive way - reducing effort and friction for the customer. Essentially, that means being easy to do business with. By walking in the customer’s shoes and experiencing the customer journey I look for disruptive ways to have breakthroughs.

Building relationships is also extremely important, especially in customer experience. CE professionals often have the right ideas, however they don’t have the funding to make it happen. Having relationships with the decision-makers who hold the purse strings is key. You have to be a salesman and get your vision out there with buy-in of what new initiatives could mean to your business. Otherwise you could be a victim of market disruptions rather than the beneficiary.

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