In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Justin Schmidt is joined by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen, Vice President Human Resources at Midwest BankCentre. They discuss the meaningful work they do to engage with their communities, specifically around educating people on how they can access a financial network that will benefit them.
Justin Schmidt: Welcome to The Support Automation Show a podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders in customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. I’m your host, Justin Schmidt. Julie Tuggle-Nguyen welcome to The Support Automation Show.
Julie Tuggle-Nguyen: Thank you so much, Justin. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Justin: Likewise, for our listeners out there, Julie is the first guest we’ve had on this show who is also from the St. Louis area. Capacity is based in St. Louis so I live in St. Louis, and Midwest BankCenter, where Julie is the Executive Vice President of HR is located here in St. Louis. It’s fun to have a fellow St. Louisan on the show today.
Julie: That’s fantastic. Yes, this is where I grew up. I left for a little while with college and my first job was actually in Dallas, Texas, but as so many St. Louisans do I was gone a few years and said-
Justin: You’ve come back.
Julie: -time to back. Here we are. This is my 15th year since coming back. I’ve been back in the area for 15 years and we’re going strong.
Justin: Love it. If you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about Midwest BankCenter, your role there, and maybe the journey to that role?
Julie: Yes, I would love to. Midwest BankCenter is a pretty special organization. It’s been around for about 115 years. We are an organization with about 280 employees working at 18 locations around the regions where St. Louis City and county, we’re in St. Charles and Jefferson County, and then St. Clair County, Illinois. When we look at that, we’re in this little spot, this niche position where we’ve got over 2 billion in assets. We’re growing; we’re growing in a lot of very different places. We are deeply rooted in the communities that we grew up in, and that we continue to serve every day in our work in the St Louis region. When you get down to the purpose and the work that we do here, it is really centered on helping our regional communities thrive and grow. This is integral to our business strategy and the work that we do, and it comes through in a lot of the different things that you see us doing in the community every day. When you talk about my role at MBC I’m so lucky I get to lead the people function for the bank. As you shared before, my official title is Executive Vice President of Human Resources.
What that really means is, is the opportunity to engage with folks, to find out what people are needing and how we can make a culture. Create engagement for our teams, which enable us to go out and do the amazing things that we’re doing every day in the community. I think I’ve got one of the best jobs that you can have, and I really enjoy it because I get to be engaged with our people every single day.
Justin: For those of you who are not in St. Louis recently, Midwest BankCenter donated a block of land where affordable senior housing is being built. My family are not Midwest BankCenter customers, but I know of Midwest BankCenter because I know they did this building. Affordable housing is a very important thing to do from a civic perspective. It’s very cool to see that you guys did that. It’s not lip service when you say the investment in the community, it makes a difference. Prior to Midwest BankCenter, you worked at one of the largest privately-held businesses in the United States, correct?
Julie: That’s right. I spent 12 years with Enterprise Holdings in the information technology division.
Justin: You’re uniquely positioned to discuss support automation, and specifically how technology automation, etcetera, can be leveraged for employees and team members. One of the things that I want to start off with here, you mentioned this in your introduction to Midwest BankCenter is that investment in community– but then you also mentioned the investment in the people at Midwest BankCenter. You call it out as your favorite part about the job. When you think about people, and community, and all of the human soft skills that go into that, technology automation, artificial intelligence, isn’t necessarily the next thing you intuitively think of. When you have a workforce that– enterprise, for example, 50,000 plus employees, or whatever it is– you have to leverage technology in order to engage all of those people and to keep everyone feeling like they’re part of the team. One thing I’m curious about is when you think back to your time there, and as you’ve gone through the growth at Midwest BankCenter. What are some examples of technology that was brought in to help keep those connections, and help drive a sense of community within the workforce?
Julie: It’s interesting when you’re thinking about the soft skills, and the people skills, and all of those things that go along with core people leadership. Technology doesn’t replace any of those; all of those mechanisms still have to be in place. What technology really does is it’s an enabler. It enables you to connect with people more fluidly, just like you and I are connecting today over Zoom. We couldn’t have done these five years ago, but today and post-COVID, this is normal. Technology has to be seen as an enabler to making things better to enhance all of those core people’s skills and people’s needs that exist every day. Regardless of the AI that you introduce, or the latest technical craze that you’re looking at. When I think about how that applies with your workforce, it’s really being able to recognize the opportunities that tech provides, being able to leverage those in the culture or the organization that you’re in. I will tell you, there is not a one-size-fits-all. This little tech piece or this platform is going to change your life. It’s really all about bringing the tools to your people, helping them understand how to implement and integrate them into the work that they do every day.
Being able to leverage that if your customer is someone who is a bank customer who’s logging in from their couch. In my case, if your customer happens to be the employees who are servicing your external customers, it’s all about finding the ways to leverage and build those relationships-
Julie: -and support too.
Justin: Yes. Julie, when I say the word support automation, what’s that mean to you?
Julie: Support automation in my world from a Human Resources perspective is really all about being able to give our employees as much seamless support as we can from really behind the scenes. So that my team and my people are not sitting behind a desk doing data entry somewhere. My team is out sitting down with you having coffee, or they’re in one of our 18 branches, engaging and having a discussion, or we’re having external touch bases with folks that are on a Zoom meeting all over the United States. That may be our employees who are now full-time remote because we have new opportunities and we’re able to recruit in multiple states now. When I’m thinking about support automation, again, everything for me comes back to, it’s got to be able to impact my bottom line, whatever that is. For me, it’s about having my team out building relationships, not doing data entry. There’s just no value in it.
Justin: Exactly. One of the things at Capacity that we always tell people is good automation, and the good implementation of automation is really about unlocking the potential of your people. Not about replacing people, not about turning a human job into the output of an algorithm on a server somewhere. Rather putting that person in the position to be their best, to do their best work, to find the work more fulfilling. An example I always give is when you call a retailer and you have a support issue of some sort if the person on the other end of the line is– If you’re the 50th call in the last 50 minutes with the exact same issue and they’re going through the motions in a robotic zombie state, that experience is not going to be great. In a world where all the level zero support, whether it’s your Chatbot or knowledge base whatever it is, can answer some of those questions and resolve some of those issues before the phone’s ever picked up, the energy that that agent is going to bring to that interaction is going to be a lot higher which is good for the brand.
It’s also just a better experience both for the customer calling and for the person going to work every day. That same thing happens internally with HR people operations, IT whatever it is especially at larger growing companies. One thing that comes up every now and then I’m very curious Julie, your expertise and throughout your career doing this sometimes people think automation is scary. Why do you think that is? What is it that leaders must do to get over the hump to have the team welcome automation with open arms?
Julie: I think that is a great question, Justin. To be honest with you, my career has taken me– I’ve been in three different companies over 20 years. In each one of those, I have hit this every single time no matter– My first job was with General Motors and so their automation was front and center and something that was on people’s minds all the time. It’s very similar responses across the board because there is this sense that a robot is going to come in and it’s just going to do everything this way, this way, this way, or a system or a platform or whatever. It’s going to replace me and I won’t be needed anymore. In my experience across three different industries in 20 years, what I have found over and over is that the automation, the platforms whatever it is you’re using does not and cannot replace the people interaction and the relationships. When I think about the work that we’re doing today at the bank, there are certain aspects of that work that you touched on, the first level of calls, “What’s my account balance? Did this happen or did that happen?” Looking at the basic nuts and bolts, that can be automated but you can’t automate the experience with our customers.
The ability to sit down and help someone through their first mortgage application. The ability to work front and center with our commercial clients on a work site somewhere. Those are the things that can’t be replaced no matter what you automate, that’s the core of the business, and in business-like banking that is the differentiator. That is the place where you’re able to engage and really make a difference for your people. The other part of that is that not only do you make a difference within your community on a one-on-one basis, but then our people and our clients and customers many are very attuned to the fact that we are feeding back into the community and that the work and the money that they’re investing in the things that they’re doing are helping to grow the greater St. Louis Community.
Justin: That’s powerful because it’s one thing to simply fulfill the social contract we all enter into when you engage in capitalism. You go to the store, you hand in the money, they hand you the product and you go home. We did that. It’s something else entirely to mechanically cover all of that, but then also as the person’s leaving the store, they’re leaving the store, banks most– I think I read this once that most people choose a bank that’s really close to where they live. You are part of that community so that good experience with your brand is a good experience with the community. Ultimately, we’re social creatures that crave community and a sense of belonging. You can participate in that, you can help manage that, you can help influence that and well thought out automation to ease the burden of your team, helps enable that. It’s a really powerful thread that I think as I’ve had a lot of these discussions and as I’ve been in the support automation space with Capacity the last three years, one thing that HR, in particular, is just really good at understanding is that holistic relationship between the end customer. The person behind the teller in the case of a bank and how that all fits together to really drive a shared experience.
When you think of those shared experiences, this may be a bit of a roundabout way to get to a point, but when you think about automation, the business needs to be profitable. A business needs to keep innovating to continue to grow, and the people both involved in the business and the customers all need to have a good experience. How can businesses bring automation into what they’re doing and not lose sight of the coalescence between profitable people and innovation?
Julie: It’s an interesting question and it gets back to me to the fact that you don’t change for change’s sake. Tech is a tool to the solution or to the outcomes that you’re looking for, but tech is not the end-all-be-all for anything that you’re doing. So many companies and everything that we do, I’m trying to think of a company where this or an example where this doesn’t apply, but generally speaking every single company finds success in its customer relationships. In the experience that it is able to give the customers and the relationship that you feel that you have with that company. That’s what it all comes back around to, and so again when I think about innovation, when I think about tech, when I think about automating processes or bringing in a new system, everything really falls into the support of those relationships. Even when you find yourself in a place where again some of the baseline work or certain things may now be handled in an automated state or a digital state, it should be enabling your people to be out doing more. To be able to impact the bottom line with whatever your business is.
If it’s increased sales or however it is that you’re engaging with your customers, that is what it’s all about. It’s the silent support in behind that enables you to then do more. Again, when I think about the bank, for instance, it’s being able to be on a worksite with a client and an iPad. I’m going to run through these 10 things and we just solved five problems. I’m going to jump in my car and go to the next client in a traditional or in a setting where things were heavily manual that would have been probably a two-hour meeting in an office that you would have lost a half day. Your productivity changes. Your energy changes. The engagement and the culture of the organization is impacted when tech goes right.
Justin: Midwest BankCentre is in a very interesting position on this too because it’s a regional business, but you guys offer the full– You go to midwestbankcenter.com and browse through the top menu there. It’s all the same stuff you would find, Chase or PNC or whatever. It’s a very big bank breadth but then the depth there is very community-driven. A lot of things not to throw shade at Chase could say a lot of things about Chase Bank community-driven is not the first thing that comes to mind. If you don’t mind, speak to how you manage internally keeping that same ethos of delighting the customer in that virtuous cycle of the employees, the team member to the customer relationship there? How can you make both of them happy with good technology? If you don’t mind, how do you manage that across personal banking, business mortgage, insurance, financial planning? There’s a wide breadth to what you guys do. How do you keep that all so that the brand experience with Midwest BankCentre is the same across that portfolio?
Julie: We’ve done several things internally. In the last three years, we have leaned in and really pressed into technology. This idea that we set at the intersection of purpose people and innovation. You hear and if you read any of Orbs’ writings, you see this come up over and over. This is really core to what we do. What has been very important for us because that is a lot of change in an organization. Three years ago, there were a lot of manual processes. There were a lot of things that today we’ve revisited and we’ve changed how we do things, but it doesn’t happen in a moment. What we did internally was we really invested in a methodology called Simplexity that we learned and trained internally to really help us ask the question of, “How might we solve these issues?” That’s a question that we’ve introduced in lots of different places in our business to stimulate your mind to be thinking about how we might be instead of why can’t we, or, “Well, we’ve never done that before.” It starts to change your perspective. The next click of that is to be able to take those ideas, to be able to take that technology and those new processes.
To be able to communicate them throughout the organization so that people understand what’s happening. You’ve got to train people on what these things are and what they mean for them, and how to integrate them. One of the biggest challenges that I see companies face over and over. Pick your industry, I’ve been in three, it’s the integration of these systems into the work that we do so much training and so many implementation teams will come in and they will implement a platform for you or a program for you. Then they hand it over and say, “Good luck.”
Justin: Yes, “Have fun.”
Julie: “You’ve got what you need, knock yourself out.” People don’t inherently know how to take this shiny new tool that we’ve just bought and truly integrate it into the business practices. That is for me. One of the most integral and important aspects of any technology that you introduce to your organization is truly the integration after the implementation plan is done because that’ll be done in 12 weeks, just ask anybody. Really taking that implementation and making it my own and helping your employees. Again, understand it, start to develop a common language, and also gain confidence around what it is they’re doing. Because particularly when you’re in a space where something has been heavily manual, automating things is scary. I’ve never done it this way and I’ve done it for 20 years. If I’ve never done it this way, I don’t know how this is going to work for me? It’s all about helping people understand the integration, and then helping them build their confidence around the new skills so that they can go in. Again, technology is a tool. It’s a tool in my tool belt that I’m going to pull out and I can use it as I need it, but it doesn’t define the relationship and it doesn’t define the work that I do.
Those are some of the key things in my years that I’ve experienced, and I feel it’s a common experience that a lot of people have when they start to go down these paths.
Justin: It absolutely is and it dovetails with something that we say a lot to our prospects. I know I’ve said this on this show a few times, I’ve said this at booths, at conferences back when that used to be a thing. I’ve said this on Webinars, I’ve said this in more one-on-one-type conversations. Before you buy anything, whether something is deep and widespread as an ERP or something as simple as a calendar management application, you need to really map out the process. The people that are going to– This map, find your stakeholders, map out the process, understand what existing technologies in place that this solution’s going to have to connect with and integrate with et cetera. Really do the process design and job design first because a couple of things will happen. One, you may find that you might not even need the tool. I say that as someone who markets software for a living but we got to be honest with each other. You have to understand what it is that you’re trying to do.
That process of mapping this all out you’re going to learn so much about your business, so much about your process, so you can find so many efficiencies that you can gain before you even go through day one of your 12-week onboarding plan. You touched on it there and it really understood what’s going to happen after integration and how the ongoing usage of this is going to be. That’s a really key thing for people, and I’m very glad you brought it up. Closing out our conversation here, if you could go back and give your 20-year-old self a piece of advice going into a career in HR, people operations, it’s called a bunch of different things these days. Let’s call it HR just to make it easy. If you go back and give your 20-year-old self a piece of advice before getting into HR, what would it be?
Julie: My undergrad is in psychology and it’s because I enjoy that science, I enjoy that practice, I enjoy people. I think this was the business application opportunity that I found that made sense, but I think what I’d say to myself is, “Number one, trust your gut because it’s normally spot on and it really doesn’t lead you wrong.” I think I would say, “Worry less, you get your outcomes regardless of if you do that with worry or not. Trust your gut that you’re going where you need to go, don’t worry about it all so much.” Just a funny note, something we’ve been talking about internally which I’ll touch on a little bit more here in a second. Internally, we have a group of executive leaders. We have four women who are members of our executive team which is pretty astounding in the banking world. You typically just don’t see that much representation of women at the top levels in the banking environment. We did a podcast or a lunch and learned with our organization. One of the things that came up was what you would tell yourself on a personal level if you could go back and do it. I think the third one was to buy that bikini.
It’s just fun things. Just looking back and recognizing that when you’re 25 years old, you’ve got a lot of energy and you’ve got more than you even recognize that you have. Trusting what you’ve got, doing it with confidence, and enjoying the experience because it’s great. The more that you do that you get a little sharper along the way as you go. You learn some different things and some lessons are pleasant and some are not but as long as you keep learning and growing, it all turns out just fine.
Justin: Absolutely, thinking about the future a little bit, what excites you the most about the future of support automation?
Julie: I think what excites me the most is what automation really is enabling for us when I think about our business and our business strategy. One of the things that really accelerated for us in the last two years with the pandemic was this thought around being able to be remote workers or hybrid workers. This is a space that three years ago in a community bank, you didn’t really have a lot of activity in this space but what the pandemic helped us do was push into this space and push in hard. What we found from that is fantastic engagement, we just got a top workplaces distinction in April, which was really exciting for the group. In addition to that, it has opened up our ability to hire and recruit talent from across the United States. We couldn’t do that if we were still manually centered, the working manual is everything paper-based or everyone has to be in person for this or for that. Tech has enabled us to have employees truly throughout the United States and to really be able to function in whatever capacity we need. Again, if you are working in a bank, front and center with our employees shaking hands or you’re working in Florida, running a business division for us with us still centered here in the St. Louis region.
What it has done for us and what it will continue to do for us is enable us to engage a broader talent pool and enable us to be able to do more and grow faster than we’ve been able to in the past and at the bank, our– the dollars that come into the bank go back into our community to the tune of about 95 out of every $100 is being reinvested back into the communities that we serve. The ability to be able to grow that and to exponentially grow that with the support of tech is very exciting for how we can continue to drive our own communities and grow our communities in new ways.
Justin: Absolutely, that’s the– if there’s one theme of this show and or one tagline that I could slap on every piece of marketing collateral that the capacity produces, it really is that embrace how technology can help your teams do their best work and how they can realize the ultimate expression of what they are, who they are, what they do in the workplace. To end here and this has been a great conversation, Julie, I really appreciate you coming on, we’re going to end with our quickfire round our famous five. I really need to come up with a name for this, I say this every single show. People who listen to this regularly are like, “Justin, you really need to just brand the thing and get past the explanations,” but maybe me awkwardly saying I need to brand it is the brand of it. Let’s end with the quickfire round here. What’s the book you most often recommend to people?
Julie: The book that I know I’ve been recommending a lot as we have been growing and we have been changing, there’s two and they’re not new, flashy books. I got to tell you, Good To Great, that’s a big one.
Justin: All-time classic, yes.
Julie: Absolutely, the other one that again, as you’re thinking about change and you’re thinking about the growth of teams and we’re growing teams and remote settings and hybrid settings, The Five Dysfunctions. We go back to that, I look at that, it helps in so many conversations that I’m having with managers who are having challenges around again. Those core team dynamics, the people skills, how do I grow a team? You’ve got a whole lot of great information sitting right there.
Justin: Love it. What’s the best productivity hack or productivity tip that you found that you use in your working life?
Julie: I’ll tell you two. I am a working mother of two, my girls have finally made it to the ages where they can self-sustain. After my second was born, on a personal note, I gave up pairing socks [chuckles] because the time that it would take me to find the black socks, everybody’s wearing white socks [laughs] and I haven’t paired a sock in 10 years.
Justin: One less thing to worry about, right?
Julie: On a personal note, that I did for myself, it was a gift. Professionally, one of the most impactful things that we’ve done or that I’ve done as part of our organization, in 2019, we introduced the idea of no meeting Friday. It’s really centered around the space of every Friday you block it, you don’t take meetings unless you just have something with an external vendor or whatever. That day is really centered around your strategy, thinking, analyzing, and really moving the work that you’re doing forward. Every day in our lives, we get so bogged down with meetings and calls and everything that’s happening around us. It’s a weekly time out to focus and to really go deep on the work that you’re doing. We do that as an organization, it’s a powerful tool.
Justin: We do it as well and there are a few things I hold more sacred than my no meeting Friday. I will defend that thing to the death because it really does help to have that dedicated time for deep work. If you could recommend one site, blog, slack community, LinkedIn group, conference, offline community, one community for HR leaders to embrace and understand how automation can help them and their teams, what would it be?
Julie: I’ve got to be honest with you, from an automation standpoint, one of the best partners that I found not over one year but over many years is Gartner. I go back to that partnership with Gartner, the research, the things that they’re doing in this space, they’re huge, they’re everywhere. They can bring different perspectives and thoughts. For me, that’s been an important partner. For any HR leader or professional or even someone who’s growing their career, it’s about finding the resource that has a broader view that can partner with you and help you see not only the things that are in front of you but see the bigger picture as well. It may be Gartner; it may be something else for someone else but it’s finding that partner that I think is really critical.
Justin: Yes, that is absolutely critical to feel like you’re not alone on the journey, and you’re not. Were all– even us as B2B software, marketers have a fairly competitive lot. There’s a lot of great marketing communities and I recommend anyone getting into it to join a few LinkedIn, Facebook, et cetera groups and go to some conferences and meet some people, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you just say hi.
Julie: There’s also some really great local HR chapters, wherever you are, insurance society for Human Resource Management has local chapters throughout the United States, really in most cities. That’s a great place to really be able to sit down and talk to people about what they’re experiencing. The other thing that I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with in the last few years is I have been asked to be on several advisory groups and HR discussion forums that have come again in the last few years where you’re really sitting at the table with a group of individuals who are having similar experiences to what you’re having and you’re able to again, learn from each other about how they’re approaching things, what they’re doing, how they’re really tackling the challenges that are before them in their business. They’re usually confidential where you can really sit and have some great discussions and I would encourage anyone who is listening and scratching their head, find a forum, find a discussion group where you can engage and just spend some time with peers and with others in the field. It really is a game-changer.
Justin: It is a game-changer Julie while also is a game-changer to this conversation. I really can’t thank you enough. For the listeners out there, if someone wants to connect with you, where’s the best place to find you?
Julie: Through LinkedIn. Send me a note I’m out there and I’d love to connect, so feel free to reach out. Justin, I think you will provide my LinkedIn link?
Justin: Yes, we’ll put it in the show notes, along with the links to the books you recommended and all that. We’ll definitely make sure people can get in touch with you. Julie, I really can’t thank you enough. This was an illuminating conversation and the big thing that stuck out for me is community. Whether it’s with the employees, with the customers, between the customers and employees, with your business and the larger community, where your employees and your customers live is all-important. The communities with other leaders in the space, making sure the sanctity of those relationships is held as different technology. Automation is brought into the fold, doing the proper planning, leading up to the implementation, understanding how that tool and that process is going to evolve after implementation. All great stuff in this conversation, I really can’t thank you enough, and we will see everybody soon. Thanks, Julie.
Julie: Thank you so much. Thank you for your time today.
Justin: The Support Automation show is brought to you by Capacity.