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Women need more sponsorship, not just mentorship, says Janelle Estes of UserTesting

Janelle Estes, Chief Insights Officer at UserTesting, believes technology powers great experiences and allows companies to deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.

Women need more sponsorship, not just mentorship, says Janelle Estes of UserTesting

Monday June 27, 2022 , 6 min Read

Janelle Estes, UserTesting’s Chief Insights Officer, is also a research practitioner fascinated by human behaviour and data insights.

“I’ve been endlessly curious about human behaviour since I could remember. My mom tells me a story about how I used to relentlessly observe people in the front of the grocery carriage as a toddler and then ask her about something I saw weeks later. I was so grateful to find a college programme that supported this curiosity in a way that could be meaningful to the business world,” she says.

Janelle has over 15 years of experience conducting large-scale customer research initiatives with both B2C and B2B companies across a variety of industries to help them transform their customer, user, and brand experiences.

Janelle Estes

Janelle Estes, Chief Insights Officer, UserTesting

In an interview with HerStory, she takes us through her career, highlights how technology has enhanced the Customer Experience (CX) system, and what the future looks like.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

HerStory (HS): Were you always interested in STEM?

Janelle Estes (JE): Not in the traditional sense, but I’ve always been interested in solving puzzles… which you can loosely tie to STEM. People are complex puzzles and understanding them, the problems they need solved, and how they react to different experiences, is always an interesting challenge.

HS: Please take us through your career journey.

JE: I graduated from a business school, focused on accounting and finance, with a degree in Human Factors in Information Design. There weren’t exactly a lot of roles that were looking for this expertise at the time. (Now, demand outweighs supply.)

I started my career at Forrester Research in the customer service department, answering phone calls and emails from confused customers. Over time, I found my way to the CX research team at Forrester and went back to grad school to get my master’s in human Factors in Information Design.

I then went to a design agency, a software company, a consultancy, and ultimately landed at UserTesting and have been here for almost eight years. Throughout my career, I have been focused on understanding customers, and how to create exemplary experiences.

HS: Tell us about your role at UserTesting?

JE: In my current role as Chief Insights Officer at UserTesting, I am focused on a few things.

First, I spend as much time as I can in the industry and with customers. I learn something new every day. If I’m not talking to at least one customer a day, I am not doing my job.

Second, I take the things I’m learning about our industry and our customers, and translate that into trends and learnings for both external audiences and our employees. I articulate many of these key learnings in The Human Insight podcast I co-host with the UserTesting CEO and the User Tested book I co-authored with the UserTesting CEO.

Finally, I represent our customer at the executive and board levels. We have amazing executive operators that lead functions like sales, marketing, and engineering, but I can provide a unique and valuable perspective by being the voice of our own customers that informs key decisions and strategies.

HS: How has technology disrupted the customer experience ecosystem?

JE: I wouldn’t say it has disrupted the CX ecosystem; but it has enhanced it. Technology powers great experiences and we now have technology that allows companies to deliver exceptional experiences to their customers in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.

HS: How are women leaders participating in leading the change in the CX space?

JE: Leaders in CX, generally, are focused on both evangelising and showing the value of providing great experiences. Storytelling is a great skill to have. People will listen to concepts and frameworks, but stories have an undeniable power to bring all of it to life.

HS: What are the stories from India in CX?

JE: Forrester Research has recently reported on the great experiences provided by HFDC Bank. I have not personally evaluated that experience, but I would love to explore it as customer experience is critical within the financial services industry. It’s about continuous improvements and optimisation. Understanding customer needs and addressing them in the right ways. The reality is that every brand and company is competing with the last great experience their customers had. Their expectations will continue to grow beyond what most companies can meaningfully deliver.

HS: What more can be done to sustain women in tech?

JE: I believe offering the same opportunities to everyone is the key to attracting and retaining women (and other underrepresented groups) in tech. It’s easier said than done. Many times, it’s not by ill intent. It’s because we’re just conditioned to patterns and behaviors that have served us in the past. We need to shake those up.

HS: What have been your biggest successes and challenges?

JE: The pinnacle of my career to date was when we publicly listed UserTesting on the NYSE. I’ve been a lifelong believer in the practice of understanding customers as human beings and not just data points, and to see our company evolve from a startup that powers this to a publicly traded company is something I am not sure I’ll ever be able to articulate in words.

In terms of challenges, I think that’s about perception. Sure, I’ve had challenges in my career, but pushing through those have always led to tremendous growth… both personally and professionally.

HS: Why is networking essential for women in tech?

JE: I’ve always been a big believer in networking, but it hasn’t always been my most favourite thing to do. Today, I can say I genuinely enjoy it, but I think it’s because I believe I have my feet underneath me professionally. There is an unwritten rule that talented women promote and sponsor other talented women and a great way to find those promoters is through networking.

HS: Why do you think there are very few women in leadership positions in tech?

JE: I have a few theories, but the main one is that women need more sponsorship, not just mentorship. Women need people already in leadership positions to promote, evangelise, and socialise their success. This makes women visible beyond their direct managers and sponsors, and leads to more leadership opportunities.

HS: Why should every organisation have an equal opportunity mindset?

JE: Talent is everywhere. Diverse perspectives provide so much value. Why wouldn’t you want feedback from a variety of people with different life experiences to drive your decision-making? Have you seen the stats that show that businesses with diverse perspectives thrive more than businesses with perspectives from the same types of people? The numbers speak for themselves.

Edited by Megha Reddy