In October, we announced our Inspiring Automotive Women Award Winners for 2021, and we recently had the pleasure of catching up with DeAnna Avis, National Customer Experience Lead at Solus Accident Repair Centres and Inspiring Automotive Woman of the Year for 2021 to hear more about how it felt to be recognised.
Thank you so much! I was quite shocked – it’s a tremendous honour and I am still stunned that lil’ old me won it. I am on maternity leave at the moment after having had my first child, Yuri, and it’s been a whirlwind. It means a lot to me to have this recognition, because in particular it’s not so much about me, but about how I have helped to create positive change and empower others. And I can think of nothing better – this isn’t an award saying how great I am, this is an award showing how the work I’ve done has helped empower women in our business and the industry, and that to me is a beautiful thing.
How does it feel to be recognised by your colleagues in the Inspiring Automotive Women Awards 2021?
It feels wonderful! I think a lot of people worry when they go off on maternity leave that they are going to be forgotten or left behind, so to be nominated by my colleagues for this award while I am still away really means a lot. It warms my heart to know that I am so valued by my colleagues. I’m passionate about making Solus and the wider industry diverse and open to people from all walks of life. It hasn’t always been an easy road, and some of the things we are doing now seemed like wild ideas at the time, so I’m very very glad to see to be appreciated, despite sometimes being a relentless and unapologetic pain in the butt about inclusion and diversity!
You are the National Customer Experience Lead at Solus Accident Repair Centre. What does your job entail?
As Customer Experience Lead, I was initially brought in to lead the customer-centric transformation and take us from a business that focussed on numbers and profit to an outstanding customer focussed business. I’m not gonna lie, from where we started it was a huge job – one that took us several years, from 2015 when I joined, until 2019 when we were named Overall Winner at the world’s largest Customer Experience Awards. By flipping our focus and dedicating ourselves to a great customer experience and an inspiring brand that captures the hearts of our colleagues, we have found that the business success and financial figures are taking care of themselves. Great culture delivers business results, and it is culture that is at the heart of my role as Customer Experience Lead.
Of course, now that we have transformed our business, the work doesn’t stop – we are continuing to grow, building more Solus sites, so part of our next steps is how to instill the same culture and values from scratch, with colleagues who haven’t been with us the whole time through the journey. In addition, I’m also working with Aviva’s wider motor network so that we drive this customer-centric change not just through Solus, but through all of our suppliers. Our ambitions are to change the industry, not just Solus.
Practically speaking, in day-to-day terms, my job involves a great balance of working with people and a holistic analysis of customer insight to help inform the way forward – I’m a geek at heart who loves data. Then having done qualitative and quantitative analysis on our whole end-to-end customer journey, the next step is actually doing something with all of those findings, working with all the different areas of the business to get the stakeholders on board for the changes that need to happen. As Jeanne Bliss famously says, working in Customer Experience is about being the “human duct tape” of the organisation. For me this involves working with everyone from the SLT at Solus, where we have a monthly customer council session, through to the operations leads, people team, support functions, frontline colleagues, our colleagues at Aviva, external suppliers as well as other people in the industry such as ABP Club, Bodyshop Magazine and Thatcham Research – and of course our customers!
In addition, I also am responsible for heading up the communications team for Solus, and our communication is an essential part of how we create our culture, especially being as spread out as we are across so many sites.
My job isn’t for people who like to paint inside the lines, and that’s why I love it – I get to work across functional boundaries and silos to drive change and make a difference.
How long have you worked in the sector?
I’ve worked in the sector since May of 2015, so 6 years! It’s really flown by, as every day in the automotive industry is so fast-paced.
Prior to joining Solus in 2015, I worked for 10 years at e2v (now Teledyne e2v) where I started off doing data entry, then moved into customer service. From then I stepped up into business analysis when we bought a company in France, and then I began leading a team of business analysts. My last step at e2v before moving across to Solus was leading the global customer strategy as Global Head of Customer Experience and implementing our CRM system in Asia, Europe, and the USA. One of my bosses at e2v gave me the advice to grow where I am planted, and I still think that is some of the best advice I’ve received. We can often make our opportunities right where we are, with grit, gumption, and determination.
What do you like best about your job?
I am motivated by making a difference, and an urge to constantly grow and improve. I’m glad that my restlessness and hunger for growth can also help others succeed. My favourite part of my job is when we hear from customers who say how much we’ve made an unpleasant experience, having an accident, into a pleasant one. We’ve even had customers say it is worth having an accident just to come to us!! When I hear that we’ve understood and helped meet a customer’s unique needs – whether they be looking after a disabled parent, or have an autistic child who needs consistency and routine, or have just survived Grenfell and need our help to rescue their car which is their only remaining possession, or needs their car to save lives by working in the NHS – that is what I get up for in the morning. Helping our colleagues relate to our customers as people and not just as vehicles is a truly beautiful thing to see.
What are your future aspirations?
I want to master the art of being a power part-timer, achieving a sense of work-life balance while being a great mum, and staying hungry to make a difference in my work. I want to help nurture the next generation of Customer Experience talent, as I really enjoy mentoring and coaching others. I also want to complete my degree in Psychology with the Open University, which I am slowly but surely working my way through.
Can you name a woman in automotive that inspires you and why?
Yes! My colleague Vicki Starrs (also an Automotive 30% Club nominee) is the first one that comes to mind. Vicki is so very talented and yet so humble – I don’t think she realises half of how great she is! As someone who’s worked her way up from working at Solus in Cumbernauld up to becoming a customer service lead, then implementing the roll-out of the customer-centric transformation across the whole business, as well as becoming a six sigma black belt and a CCXP, she is a very talented woman!! Vicki cares deeply about our colleagues and about the business and is the first to send words of motivation and support when someone has done something well, or when they need help. I think she is a great example of women succeeding in the business and shows how there really are no limits when we put our minds to something.
Here is a gif of my favourite moment with Vicki, when we found out we won Gold at the UK Customer Experience Awards: here
What makes you happy?
My baby Yuri is the light of my life! Other things that make me happy include playing music, spicy Mexican cheese and walking with baby in the sling, and feeling like a kangaroo with her pup. Always having about 10 books on the go at once. The smell of paper in bookshops. That feeling when I’ve just handed in an essay for Uni. My family, especially my loved ones across the pond who I can’t wait to see as soon as Yuri’s passport arrives. My faith is a wellspring of joy, as I feel there’s so much more to this world than meets the eye. I like thinking deeply about things, and then cuddling up with popcorn and Netflix to decompress. I’m not gonna lie, I also love winning awards at work, and I’m very grateful that Solus has given me and all of us who work there so many opportunities to succeed!!
Which word or phrase do you most overuse?
“Whatever”, “basically” and “like” – basically, watch Clueless and listen to their California valley girl speak, and you’ll hear my hit list of overused words!
What is your worst trait?
Just one?! I can think of loads. Being impatient, wanting to do too many things at once, never feeling good enough, procrastinating (although I do always pull it out of the bag!).
How would you like to be recognised (as an inspiration to others)?
I would like to be recognised as a person with a good heart, a kind person who helped others succeed and helped make the world a better place. I bring my whole heart to work.
What advice would you give to women who are wanting to progress in the sector?
Don’t underestimate the importance of finding a mentor and soaking up inspiration. The inspiration will give you fuel to keep going – so read books, listen to podcasts, connect with people on LinkedIn, who are doing what you want to be doing. (Next book on my list is Julia’s “Change the Game”!). The first job you have is to light the fire within yourself. Be open and authentic about your aims – if you are hungry to succeed, don’t sit back and wait for a job opening to appear, speak to people where you are now about what you want to achieve. At all stages of my career, I’ve found it helpful to have a formal mentorship relationship where you can discuss your journey with someone who has been there and knows the terrain. Put yourself out there and be humble enough and hungry enough to learn from the expertise of others. We can’t succeed on our own, we are only as strong as our relationships. I also believe in doing the job you want before you even get it – so many of my jobs have started off that way, where it wasn’t in my formal job title or description, but for the love of what I was doing, I did it anyway – and then that created the opportunities. Be patient, work hard, inspire yourself first, and don’t be shy about asking for and giving help!