Episode 122: Leading with Trust with Fiix Software's Jes Ellacott
Jon Prial: I think we can all feel it now. Whether it matters to you as an individual or your kids, which might be different, what companies are doing with your data seems to matter more and more. And it's more than privacy, it's bigger than that. Today, we're going to be talking with a company that made it a top down decision about leading with trust. And that's leading with trust, not an afterthought. Why? Because it helps the bottom line. And then the conversation is even more frightening because if you break that trust, it could hurt the bottom line. So are people more and more skeptical or are they positive of actions like this? Well, today we're going to find out about going beyond messaging and deeply building trust into your brand. I'm Jon Prial and welcome to the Georgian Impact Podcast. With me today, I have Jes Ellacott, who manages the content marketing and creative services team at Fiix. Jes, tell me about Fiix.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So Fiix is a CMMS software company. So we sell maintenance management software, which helps maintenance teams in production environments, schedule, organize, track and optimize equipment maintenance and connect to other business systems. We work with a lot of teams who are actually transitioning off of pen and paper and onto software for the first time and really partner with them through that process.
Jon Prial: Very cool. From my background, I was an IBMer for a million years, they bought an MMS company, obviously it was all on- prem. And the whole transition from on- prem to SaaS is obviously profound. I can't remember the name.
Jes Ellacott: Maximo.
Jon Prial: Maximo. So you are the next generation Maximo. So I know kind of what you do. Is that fair?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah, absolutely. I think yeah, we are the next evolution from those legacy on- prem softwares. We're now the new generation of flexible cloud- based systems.
Jon Prial: So why don't I start with a horror story? Whisper, Whisper was an app for secret sharing and they build themselves as the safest place on the internet. And it turns out they left years of user's most intimate confessions exposed on the web, tied to their age, tied to their location, the details. And of course, there's all kinds of alarm among cybersecurity researchers. People could have been blackmailed, unmasked. What's your thought about a company that did that?
Jes Ellacott: I think just from the pure trust perspective on that, why? You are leaving really sensitive, really personal information available for anyone to access. That's not how you treat people. And really when we talk about trust at the core of it, whether we're talking about data privacy and security, whether we're talking about trust in a broader sense, we're talking about humans and doing the best thing for the people involved. And to me, that is not how you treat people, that's not how you treat their information.
Jon Prial: And there's really two parts to this. One, you're talking about how they treat it with people. But really, it even starts with what they told them in the first place. Right?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah.
Jon Prial: They kind of gave an incorrect message, which really violates a different level of trust.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So off the top, you're lying, first of all. You're misleading people in that. And then there's the deeper level of potentially leaving people vulnerable to having that information accessed.
Jon Prial: So let's talk about trust and Fiix. How did this come to be?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So trust has always been a big part of how we run our business, everything from how we run marketing to how we get customers set up with our software, to even how we connect with our community through our social impact program. There are so many examples of how trust impacts our business and the work we're doing right now is really about formalizing that relationship. So in terms of this process and how formalizing that relationship really started, it started with a session that our senior leadership team had with the team from Georgian, where they went through all the different pillars of our business, from sales and marketing to product, customer success, HR, social impact, et cetera, et cetera. And they mapped out the opportunities to build trust in every single one of those pillars. And after they had that session, we sat down and started thinking through what this meant for Fiix beyond just identifying those points and how we're going to start explicitly communicating trust internally as a core value and as a foundation of how we work. And really it was in that conversation where we identified this connection between trust and brand, that trust really bookends our brand in that it's this foundation for who we are, and also the result of doing business the right way. So that was kind of the spark, that was the spark for this whole body of work. And the next step, which is kind of where we're in now, is communicating this and making it tangible for people across the whole business. And honestly, that's the challenging part. We're taking trust, which is this abstract concept and really trying to make it real for people.
Jon Prial: And you mentioned different pillars. Talk to me about some of the different pillars and how the message should be different, or if it's going to be the same.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So as part of putting some structure around this process, we're really looking at three buckets, which are customers, employees, and community, and understanding what policies and programs and philosophies exist within each of those and how we can formally integrate trust in those aspects. So when we're talking about pillars, when we get into the customer pillar, marketing is a good example. And how we're thinking about trust in our marketing, for instance, it's about really challenging ourselves to scrutinize the information and the experiences we're putting out into the world and asking," Is this useful? Is it usable? Is it relevant? Is it adding noise or is it adding value?" And it's about pushing ourselves to not be comfortable and just always learn more and always do better. Professional services is another good example. That's really how we get our customers set up and using our software. And like I mentioned earlier, we're dealing with a lot of people who are coming from pen and paper and getting into software for the first time. So getting people on the ground to not only teach the technical aspect of the software, but also help create that trust between us as a vendor and the folks that are using our system, that's incredibly important.
Jon Prial: Interesting. I was going to say, when you talk a little bit about the piece parts, and we mentioned that Whisper example, in this case, you're really trying to get it right. Were there other parts of the company that have already done all the good security things? There's a level of comfort that you haven't done any of the violations that we talked about with Whisper, for example? So you have that all cleared up?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think when we're talking about trust now in this new context, this is really about this bigger picture of trust. I know for you folks at Georgian, you have this mandate around trust from a privacy data security perspective, which is fantastic. And we absolutely adopt that. That's a huge part of our business. Our software is incredibly secure and we've ticked all the boxes there. The work we're doing now is more about integrating trust more holistically into every single part of our business.
Jon Prial: Wonderful. Now it's interesting, and I'm an old product and content person, and for the most part, other than when you're going to run an advertisement and you have to get legal approval, other than that, content's been largely unscrutinised. And it's different that you've got a journalism background. How are you bringing your journalism flare to this role?
Jes Ellacott: There's so many ways that I think we can really look to journalism in marketing and start to integrate more of those ideas. Even basic things like citing sources. I have seen so many data points published and repeated in content marketing without a source cited. And it's almost impossible to track down the original source for that information. I think we can do things as simple as just citing sources, as simple as talking to experts, instead of just going to Google for our information. I think we can add a lot of value by talking to experts and bringing in those voices into our content marketing, and connecting people with that expertise versus just doing Google research because it's the quicker and the easier way to do things. I think there's a lot we can look to in terms of journalism ethics, and asking ourselves," Should we publish that? Is that the best way to go about this?" It's really just about continuing to challenge ourselves and continuing to ask ourselves, is this the best possible version of this that we can create? And the idea of journalism ethics can really interact with how we're doing marketing and really bring a lot of those ideas in.
Jon Prial: It's interesting. And what I like about this is what I'm hearing from you, this is very transferable to any company listening on this podcast. This is not relevant to a particular vertical slice at all. This is relevant to all companies doing communications, particularly software companies right now. Do you feel, I guess what's the starting point? Obviously we're going to earn trust through your behaviors. You run the risk at any point in time of losing trust by bad behavior. So does this journey ever end? Do you ever reach, do you have a top out or do you feel like it's something that you can always strive to improve on?
Jes Ellacott: I think it's always something you're working on. I don't think we ever get to a point, like whether in our business relationships or our personal relationships or any part of our life where we can say" Yep, done it, we've done trust. Onto the next thing." I think it's something that you're always just scrutinizing your behavior, you're always making sure that you're making the right decision. And it gets hard when things get hard, right? You want to make sure that you're always keeping that in the forefront and that you're always focusing on trust as a core value of how you're actually doing business. And yeah, it's never over. You always need to keep that at the forefront and remind yourself and remind your people that that is ultimately what you're trying to do.
Jon Prial: Well, we don't know when this podcast will air. You and I are talking right now in mid- March and everything that's going on with COVID- 19 raises a lot of questions when it comes to trust. What I like and what I hate is that every company that has my email has sent me at least one email about the virus. And to me, some are really important. I had some flights booked next month, so I needed an update from the airline. Some are important to me because they have to deal with closures. At the same time, I feel like I'm getting so many emails. And I guess I'd like to get your thought in terms of what does it take to make it, I don't want to be robotic, I don't want to feel like a robot's talking to me, what's your sense when you bring your writing skills to this and you know you need to communicate to tens, hundreds of thousands of your customers? How do you make this work?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. I think it's empathy, right? It's understanding for your specific people, your specific customers, what is it that they are struggling with right now? And I've seen this unfold in a whole bunch of different ways, some good, some bad, over the last basically week and a half, where some companies are trying to be really opportunistic about this, which is not the appropriate response. Some companies are going fully business as usual, which is also not necessarily appropriate. I think it's just understanding what people need right now and also asking yourself, especially if you're a vendor, what is your place in this? Should you be offering tips and tricks on how to cope with COVID right now, or should you be stepping back and letting the companies that your customers work for communicate with them? It's just about understanding what the need is. And really again, trying to provide that value versus just trying to seize a market leader position where it's maybe not appropriate.
Jon Prial: That's a great answer. It makes me much more comfortable that that level of thought is being applied to things. I'm not sure I get it in the hundreds of emails. I do not want to receive a note where I feel like someone's taking advantage of the situation. I do not want to feel like someone's not being empathetic to my concerns. Yet, they do have a role, right? They do have a platform, so to speak, in terms of passing information to their customers. So I guess they really do have to get it right.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah, absolutely. And it's a matter of having those conversations and finding the balance between reacting in a good timeframe and not being too reactive. I think a lot of those emails that you're getting are people just being super reactive of," Hey, everyone else has sent something. We should also send something." And that's why you're getting these very generic responses that are maybe not super helpful. And I think there's an opportunity again, for vendors to really look at it and say," Okay, how can we provide timely information, but make it useful?"
Jon Prial: Outstanding. Okay, I'd like to talk about leadership. Talk to me a little bit about some of the layers of leadership requirements that you've seen as you work this through your company.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So this has been a really interesting process. So again, this got sparked from that initial conversation that our leadership team had with the Georgian leadership team. And how we've actioned trust so far has actually been a huge departure for us as a business. So we're incredibly data- driven in how we run everything at Fiix, but when it came to trust, we really made a very deliberate decision to start communicating these ideas without having the whole thing totally buttoned up. And that very much came down to leadership in this case. So we made the decision to forge ahead and just start talking about trust and helping people at Fiix make those connections between their actions and how those actions build trust.
Jon Prial: Wow.
Jes Ellacott: And what started as this abstract idea at that leadership level has just filtered down through the company and I've seen it in action. I've seen people in meetings challenge each other to think about the best way forward, from a trust perspective. I've seen leaders, we've got a Koodo channel on Slack. I've seen leaders on that channel call out specific actions and say," Hey, this is a great example of building trust." So we've seen this really just grow organically and that's been so cool.
Jon Prial: So can I pre- book now to talk to you in say six to nine months, and then as a data- driven company, like Fiix evolves, we can get some interesting measurements around this? I'm not going to ask for any now, but can I talk to you later?
Jes Ellacott: Absolutely. Yeah. And that's the thing. The next step for us is building more structure around this way. I realized that saying that we just started talking about it can almost feel like an unsatisfying answer, especially for other folks who maybe want to action this in their business. And I know that we work in this world of frameworks and processes and systems and measurement and saying that we just started talking doesn't necessarily feel that structured. But we are starting to build structure around this. And again, back to those buckets of employees, community, customers, we are starting to build structure in those areas and understand how we can really tie trust into those pieces and how we can eventually get to measurement there.
Jon Prial: Can I ask you to dig into the kudo channel and give me one or two pretty cool examples?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. I've got a great example here. Someone from our customer success team is calling out a whole bunch of his teammates, just flipping over Koodo, saying" Hey, they're instrumental in helping the team deliver impeccable high touch service to our clients," calling out how this is building trust with folks who are newly getting rocking and rolling on our software. So there's example on example of these here, but I'll leave you with that one.
Jon Prial: That's a good one. And it reinforces the culture you want from your employees. So that's fantastic. And you're seeing that the entries in the Koodo channel coming from top execs, managers alike, everyone playing?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah, definitely. I've definitely seen our senior leaders absolutely adopt this language. When they're talking to the company, I hear trust come up more and more often. And that filters down, right? People look to their leaders all the time. And with our leaders pointing this out, we're now seeing managers point out trust- building behavior, and then we're seeing team members point out trust building behavior. So it has this really cool filter down.
Jon Prial: Nice. And it starts at the top and rolls all the way down. That's great. So let's talk a little about you because I know you run brand onboarding sessions for new employees. Talk to me about how you evolve that session.
Jes Ellacott: Yeah. So I am fortunate where I get to meet every new person that comes to Fiix and I get to take them through what is brand, why does it matter? And really since we started doing this trust work, I've started including a huge section in this onboarding about trust and about why it matters to our business. And it just so organically fits in with the brand piece where we weave it into the whole conversation of why does brand matter? Well brand matters because it builds recognition and differentiation and trust. And our brand is also built on a foundation of trust. Again, it's this idea that trust bookends our brand, right? It's the foundation of our brand. It's also the result of doing business the right way. So we talk about that a lot in brand onboarding.
Jon Prial: Do you work with the executive team on envision of what a Fiix culture might be and how trust becomes part of that?
Jes Ellacott: So from an internal perspective, when we talk about working on this with employees, we have a shared value system at Fiix, which we call our definition of a Fiixer. And a big part of that value system is empathy. And of course, empathy is one of the key activities in order to build trust. So that's been there from the start, that's been there since we've had this value system. So it is already deeply integrated into our behavior and into our culture. It's again, just a matter of formalizing that relationship and calling it out when you see it. But this definition of a Fiixer underpins so much of what we do internally from a culture standpoint. We have a quarterly award that is peer nominated, which is voted on against this definition. So it's there and it's in our lingo, it's in how we deal with each other. So that's already there. It's just a matter of how do we play up the trust aspect even more and how do we help people see the connection between empathy and trust, between their behavior and trust.
Jon Prial: That's great. I love that we talked about employees. Let's just go through some of the other piece parts. And how do you think about your communications to your customers or business partners, the broader community that Fiix works with?
Jes Ellacott: Yeah, absolutely. We've already chatted about marketing a little bit in terms of how we're actioning trust through marketing. And there's a million examples I can pull from marketing. Not having click baity headlines, that builds trust. Making sure that when we're asking people for their information in a form, we're delivering value on the other side, that builds trust. Sales conversations, huge opportunity through our entire sales process and into our customer onboarding process to make sure that we're always setting and meeting expectations appropriately. Our product, product is a huge opportunity to build trust, A, in terms of data privacy and security, as you've mentioned already. And also just in terms of uptime, in terms of delivering the thing we say we're going to deliver. Every single one of these things is an opportunity to build trust. Another big bucket that we talk about is community, speaking to and communicating with our community. And we do a lot of that through our sustainability and social impact program, which used to be our CSR program. So through that program, it's about how we're doing good and how we're having a positive social impact on our community. But we also measure and report on that work. So it's not just about, hey, we're going to go out and do all these activities. It's about transparency and it's about saying what we're going to do, and then reporting on it and being open and transparent about what we're doing and how we're progressing against our goals there.
Jon Prial: Jes, that's a great answer. It's so important to get this right, is going to have corporate bottom line, happier employees, happier customers. Jes Ellacott, thank you so much for spending the time with us today. It's been a pleasure.
Jes Ellacott: Thank you so much for having me. This has been so great to chat about.
When companies start leading with trust, they win.
Jes Ellacott is our guest on this episode of the Georgian Impact Podcast. Jes manages the content marketing and creative services team at Fiix Software, which is upending the way companies track equipment maintenance. Fiix is on a mission to bring trust to the forefront of everything they do, and Jes is leveraging her background in journalism to build trust among customers, employees, and the broader community.
You’ll hear about:
- Why communicating trust as a core value internally is an important early step.
- How citing sources, talking to experts, avoiding clickbait titles, and adhering to journalistic ethics can build trust in marketing.
- Trust in the era of COVID-19, and how empathy in messaging is key.
- How a data driven company stepped back from hard metrics to build trust through culture change.
- The value of pointing out and encouraging trust building behaviours at all levels of a company.
Who is Jes Ellacott?
Jes Ellacott is Content Marketing Manager at Fiix Software, a cloud-based CMMS is disrupting the market by revolutionizing how thousands of companies worldwide schedule, organize, and track maintenance. She has a degree in Journalism from Carleton University, and a Graduate Certificate in Documentary Production from Algonquin College. Before Fiix she was Blog Editor and Content Manager for Technavio.