Women in Tech Profile: Christelle van de Merwe, Global Director of Customer Operations at Mimecast

August 31, 2019 • Features, People, Top Stories

Women in Tech Profile: Christelle van de Merwe, Global Director of Customer Operations at Mimecast

Global Director of Customer Operations for Mimecast, Christelle van de Merwe.

As we close off Women’s Month we continue celebrating women who have been inspiring the next generation of young girls and women by leading the way in careers in technology, paving the way around youth empowerment and focused on gender equality.

To close off the month we feature, Christelle van de Merwe who is the Global Director of Customer Operations at Mimecast. Christelle is responsible for working towards optimising operations that drive the customer side of the business.

She has been with Mimecast for 8 years and joined the company following a nearly five-year tenure at Virgin Mobile focused on their CRM programmes and customer management strategies. Here is what she had to say during her interview with IT News Africa.

1. As someone who is passionate about Customer Experience (CX) what do you think is the impact of poor CX?

Poor CX is basically a failure point and a culmination of a loss of all the investment you had in actually bringing a customer on board.  Generally, any poor experience is rooted in poor expectation management – promises that are made and not kept and customers being left disappointed at not receiving what they were expecting out of an experience.  Therefore the impact of poor CX is that it can make or break a business – winning customers is costly and if you can’t keep them, you don’t have a sustainable business.  There is of course also the ripple effect of poor CX in that people are far more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one – so that means you are losing customers you never even had the opportunity to win due to bad word of mouth about your company.

2. What should people understand by the term Customer Experience?

The term Customer Experience is really part of an evolution that started long ago with buzz words like Relationship Marketing and Loyalty Marketing, which eventually evolved into Customer Satisfaction.  However, this evolution took that one step further with the realisation that a happy customer in a specific moment isn’t necessarily a loyal customer. It takes more than one or two steps of your journey being excellent, it needs an understanding of your whole customer journey and all the moments of truth to truly build an experience for your customers that gives them real value out of choosing your product or service.  At Mimecast we have also taken the next step towards Customer Success – experiences can also be just a moment in time, but true customer loyalty and advocacy is built when you really deliver value to your customers by making sure that they are successful.  This can mean many things but mostly centres around ensuring that they see proper return on investment from buying with you and can demonstrate to others the value that they are seeing, or how your product or service is making your customer successful in their own business.

3. What are the most important components of the CX?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific component as each product or service has unique deliverables that would make the experience memorable and of value to your customer.  However, there are some guiding principles that you can follow to ensure that your customers remain loyal and satisfied with your service which include:

Creating and then managing expectations – this is the absolute basis for good CX.  Never make a promise you can’t keep – rather under-commit and then over-deliver than the other way around
Consistency of delivery is also key – customer experience isn’t all about bells and whistles and fancy events, it’s about being a reliable and dependable business partner that your customer can rely on
Sincerity and passion from any employee shows genuine care for your customer and that human element really makes any experience with your company a memorable one for a customer – so a critical success factor for delivering great CX is having enabled and engaged employees who really care about what they do and believe in your product or service

4. What does your job as a Global Director of Customer Operations entail?

Mimecast has a global footprint of customers around the world and as such we have complex operations that run in the background that all work together towards delivering a great experience for all of our customers.  My role and that of my team is to look across our customer operations and find ways in which we can do things faster, better and simpler.  We do this not only to ensure that our customers receive a better and more consistent experience, but also have a greater goal in mind to make it easier for our employees to be able to do their jobs and deliver this great service with the right tools at their disposal.  This means that we consider processes, people and technology in building solutions to improve the way in which we operate in delivering a great experience to customers and our employees, and working towards driving customer success as an outcome.

5. Who is your biggest inspiration?

I would say I’m lucky enough to have a husband who is my biggest inspiration and really pushes me to realise my potential and grow in my professional and personal capacity.  He faces intricate challenges in his career and we talk through what we encounter professionally and how to best manage this and together come up with solutions to implement and management strategies that work in most situations.  He has always been an exceptional people manager through empathy and understanding which is another very important component of my career – a real focus on people growth and support.  We are both exceptionally competitive which is probably why this works so well!

6. How would you describe your upbringing?

I would say I was extremely blessed with parents who really made an investment in my education – something, of course, we only appreciate later in life when we look back and realise the sacrifices that were made for us to succeed.  I was always in an environment that encouraged me to succeed and build on my strengths regardless of what they were and I wish that most young women could be in that position to realise that they can still do something they love and become really good at it with the right support structures.  I think I was also very lucky in that despite growing up as privileged as I did with my education, I was never given anything without having to work for it, which really taught me from early on that there is no substitute for hard work if you want to find success in life.

7. You mention that you were first inspired to work in the tech sector during your dissertation at UCT, what motivated that decision?

I had some great mentors and teachers at UCT who really pushed their students into exploring growth potential in industries that were still fairly new at the time that I was studying and my interest in the tech sector started when I worked in the telecommunications sector on a dissertation and was very kindly supported by Cell C to do this body of work through the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing.  This led to my first ‘real’ job at Cell C where I learned that tech really wasn’t that scary and that one can learn anything with the right amount of focus and attitude.  I worked in Telco for many years and when the opportunity came to move to Mimecast it was a step into a sector I didn’t know much about at the time but had such great potential that I grabbed it with both hands and never looked back.  I think the initial motivation always was the potential for growth and the rapid change and evolution that you see in the tech sector – it is an exciting industry to be in and there is always opportunity to grow and evolve which is important to me in a career path.

8. What advice would you give to women looking to take up a career in technology?

Many women think that technology is a daunting career choice due to several clichés that surround it – it’s male-dominated, it’s difficult, it’s complicated – so many reasons to not try rather than to take the leap.  It is precisely the same ‘don’t do it’ reasons that women should take as a ‘do it’ reason.  There are so many growth opportunities for women in the sector precisely because there aren’t that many women in the market – see that as an opportunity.  It is not difficult and complicated, it is interesting and varied and endless opportunity to grow and improve yourself.  Any woman with an entrepreneurial mindset and a hunger to learn will thrive in the technology sector.  Tech is not just about sitting in a basement writing codes, the job opportunities are varied across the board from the business user perspective all the way down into deeply technical roles, so my advice would be to really explore the sector and the opportunities with your interests in mind and you will find something that suits you.  I firmly believe that anything can be learnt if you have the right attitude towards learning it so technology should be no different to any other career choice in this regard.

9. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

So many people think that career progression and growth mean job hopping to the ‘next step’ to make incremental gains in your career plan.  I’m lucky enough to work for a company where these growth paths are possible within Mimecast and I honestly see myself at the company I love and am exceptionally proud to be a part of.  I would like to firmly establish a dynamic operational team that operates to service customers on a global scale.  We have some exciting big projects on the horizon, and I would like to be a part of in these next 5 years and see them successfully executed – with loads of delighted customers and successful employees 😊

By Fundisiwe Maseko
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