FinTech Female Fridays: Meet VP of Customer Experience, Stephanie Bell
Breaking into the tech industry can seem daunting, but Customer Experience VP, Stephanie Bell, has done it with grace. Now leading several teams across CX at Alice, a venture-backed startup raising the paychecks of hourly workers through Pretax Spending, Stephanie uses her enthusiasm for the customer lifecycle and passion for technology to fuel her busy and ever-changing day-to-day. She’s committed to bringing accessible benefits to underserved populations while diffusing the need for understanding the complexities of those benefits. In this feature, learn how Stephanie carries out this mission at Alice as she balances management, customer relations, and of course--being a cat mom.
Full name: Stephanie Bell
Current job title: VP of Customer Experience
Company: Alice Financial
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Starting out with a career in interior design, Stephanie earned a BFA and worked in the design/construction industry for the first seven years of her career. Ironically, she felt very uninspired by this industry and found herself frustrated by the manual and outdated project management tactics. “I noticed that much of my free time was spent using, researching, and submitting user feedback to new tech platforms like Pinterest, Venmo, and Instagram. I realized I wanted to break into tech, but was clueless about how I could make the transition with my background.”
One day, she came across an entry-level position as a Customer Success Specialist for a company that wanted to help wholesale brands bring their businesses to the internet. “I wrote a cover letter to explain how my interior design experience was extremely relevant to understanding the customer pain points, and how I could drive customer outcomes with immense enthusiasm.” Stephanie got the job and since has actually found working in tech startups to be more fulfilling and creative than any of her previous design roles.
Stephanie has been responsible for the post-sale customer lifecycle for 15 years across various industries. About eight years ago, she worked for an e-commerce startup where she loved her team and role in onboarding mid-market and enterprise customers. “I learned that some of my customers were involved in manufacturing that was very misaligned with my personal values. That’s when I knew I had to make a major change in my life.” A great lesson on never compromising your morals, Stephanie was then introduced to the CEO of Alice, a mission-based startup that wanted to bring complicated financial services to underserved populations, specifically hourly workers. “Having been an hourly worker for over a decade, I was deeply compelled by how badly folks needed a platform like Alice. For over four years, I’ve woken up every day absolutely thrilled to get to work on this mission.”
Stephanie and her team at Alice are making paychecks larger with technology, instead of asking people to know how “section 401, subsection b”, of the Internal Revenue Code works. Alice makes pretax benefits work for hourly employees– ”we call it Pretax Spending, using hard-won insights from years of research and beta testing.”
Alice’s culture is very focused on its mission. “No matter your role at the company, there’s always a way to trace back your efforts and the day-to-day decisions you make to put more money in the pockets of hourly workers. We’re also a written-down culture. As the first customer-facing hire at Alice, documenting what only lives in my brain has been imperative to growing my team (and taking a vacation!). Growing a customer organization from zero to one means that you have to make yourself replaceable by documenting learnings and information so that you can build, hire, and scale your team.”
When asked about being encouraged to try a task or take on a project outside her realm, Stephanie proclaimed that that is actually what working at a startup is all about. She is thrilled that every day your boss, your colleagues, and your customers will ask you to try tasks and take on projects that you may not know how to do. “The purpose of a startup is to resourcefully iterate and figure out what works. Over the years, I’ve reached out to experts, gone down internet research rabbit holes, taken classes, and even founded a Meetup in order to learn more about the new projects I was tackling at the time. You will succeed and you will definitely fail--but as long as those failures come with learning, both you and the business will make better decisions going forward.”
If Stephanie has learned anything from her career so far, it would be the very important lesson of speaking up. Like so many of us, early in her career, she was often afraid of stepping on people's toes or sharing insights that could shake things up within a company. “I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors and leaders who have empowered me to confidently voice my opinions. A common example was when customers gave negative feedback about a product or feature that my company was really excited about. Even though it could feel uncomfortable to be the bearer of bad news, I’ve learned that measuring and surfacing these types of insights are invaluable to a product’s customer experience and can inform what's needed to create sustainable customer growth.”
More on Stephanie
Where you currently live: Brooklyn, NY
Living arrangement: With my partner and 2 teenage cats
Hometown: Monroe, CT
Favorite hobby: Hiking
Favorite part of your day: Morning coffee & reading
Productivity hack: Unstructured focus time is nothing new, but it’s my best productivity hack, allowing for time to work on projects that require deep thinking and analysis. It can be tough when you run a customer-facing team that has to react to customer needs, but it is critical to establish proactive processes that help to better predict and manage those reactions. I stay motivated by having facetime with my direct reports. I love watching the folks I manage grow and develop themselves over time; it is the most rewarding part of my job. Maintaining work/life balance is always a challenge at early-stage startups. It's often just about communication: setting expectations and boundaries with my team around personal needs goes a long way!
8:00 am - Coffee, meditation, and my latest non-fiction. I’m a bookworm and prefer to do my non-fiction reading in the mornings to get me inspired for the day ahead. This week I’m opening up Dorie Clark’s ‘The Long Game, How to be a Long Term Thinker in a Short Term World.’ I tend to best retain new information if I write it down.
9:15 am - I clean up dirt from a plant my 2 cats knocked over.
9:30 am - Still drinking coffee, I’m checking my personal email and get sucked into a NYT Dealbook newsletter rabbit hole before taking the plunge into my Alice inbox.
10:00 am - Since Alice is fully remote, we keep a few open meetings for social time (Monday mornings, Wednesday happy hour, etc) where we pretty much reenact the bygone era of watercooler chats. Today we get a fun recap of everyone’s weekend shenanigans. I’m 10x more energized after getting some solid laughs in with my team.
11:15 am - My 1:1 with my boss, Alice’s CEO, Avi Karnani. We also recap our weekends and share some laughs--we definitely know how to reel in the serotonin on a Monday morning around here. We then dive into some updates from last week, outlining our plans for this week, and finally tackling some bigger questions like: “Who on the team needs extra support this week?” and “What do you feel I should be thinking about?”
12:00 pm - Various stakeholders across the Alice team jump into a standing monthly meeting with our biggest customer. Here our CSM reviews an agenda that touches on recent support issues and more long-term account planning for open enrollment and the end of year--two critical milestones in the customer journey of Alice. My team runs the call, I am here as the executive sponsor. Hearing directly from my customers whenever I have the chance is very important to me; it can be harder to prioritize in the leadership role, but it's critical to keep up with what our customers are saying.
12:40 pm - After the customer call, our CSM and I jump on a quick phone call to discuss next steps. I pop a Daily Harvest bowl in the microwave--I am obsessed with their harvest bowls. The company is an organic, plant-based food delivery service that only asks 4 minutes of my time to prepare, and they have a female founder and CEO. It’s a healthy eater's WFH dream lunch.
6:15 pm - I take a deep breath after a marathon of 1:1s and team meetings. I try my best to take notes during those calls because by the time I take a step back, I can’t even remember what day it is.
6:45 pm - Wrapped up my emails. I quickly change into yoga gear and panic-power-walk to my yoga studio which has me stressed about the irony of the situation.
8:00 pm - I put on the latest podcast of Dr. Casey Means, cofounder of Levels. She’s a friend and an incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking leader in the health industry. She’s had a major impact on my personal health over the years so I figure if I listen to her voice of reason while I shop at the grocery store, I’m more likely to skip the pint of ice cream.
9:30 pm - My partner and I clean up dinner and catch up on each other’s day.
9:45 pm - I ask if it's too early to go to bed as I get into bed. The question has become part of my wind-down routine. I grab my latest fiction title. Ok, I admit it, I’m not reading any fiction right now, but I try to at least keep all business books off my nightstand. Currently reading Women Who Run with Wolves, which is about cultivating intuition.
8:00 am - Coffee, meditation, and Dorie Clark again.
9:00 am - Cat chaos ensues. Nothing breaks or spills. It’s going to be a good day!
9:10 am - I get dressed in regular business attire. I find this helps me transition into work mode, despite working from the same room where I also wear pajamas!
9:15 am - I start putting together my weekly memo update in preparation for today’s Executive Meeting.
10:00 am - I get distracted by the latest Julie VerHage’s Fintech Today newsletter.
11:06 am - I’m late to the executive meeting because I was reading the other memos the team put together.
12:00 pm - I microwave my Daily Harvest bowl on mute.
1:45 pm - Even though the exec meeting is 2 hours, I still have more ideas I want to discuss with my boss, so we have another conversation that spills over into the afternoon.
3:00 pm - Focus time has finally arrived! I make sure the cats are locked out of my office, I turn off Slack, and I put my phone on Do Not Disturb.
5:10 pm - Feeling productive! I’d prefer to keep going, but I really want to ride my bike while it's still light outside. I gear up and head to Prospect Park for a few loops.
6:30 pm - Shower. Pajamas. Order something on Seamless. Continue my focus time from the couch. The change of scenery gets me back in productive mode. I got some plans written down for the team. I finished up a document that explains how we define, measure, and prevent churn at Alice. This document was started months ago so it feels GREAT to share it out.
7:30 pm - Make sure there are no urgent Slack messages. Check-in on the team. Post a cute photo of my cats to the #pets channel.
8:00 pm - My productivity leaves me feeling like I’ve earned a lazy Netflix night.
8:00 am - My routine is a bit off this morning because I have a busier schedule than usual. I sip coffee in between showering and getting ready for the day.
9:00 am - Coffee meeting with a peer from Pavilion, an international community of executives from the hyper-growth companies. I participate in their weekly coffee roulette where you get to meet new members of the community.
9:30 am - Alice has a Town Hall meeting today, so I get started on reviewing the slide deck, agenda, and gathering some metrics and anecdotes about our customers.
10:00 am - Got the word that our Press Release about Alice partnering with UKG is going live!
11:00 am - Early lunch while I sync up with People Ops, my boss, and other execs to finish the Town Hall prep.
2:30 pm - I get some much-needed face time with folks on my team because today I have a handful of my quarterly 1:1s scheduled. I’m super fired up and inspired by what they’re working on and the incredible attitude they bring to these conversations. Bring on Town Hall!
4:00 pm - Town Hall is here! We celebrate Alice's anniversaries here and it's my favorite part of the meeting. It’s where the CEO (and the most tenured folks on the team) share the story of that employee’s contributions and impact over the year(s). It always leaves me feeling super proud to be working with such an incredible team!
5:30 pm - I reply to a bunch of emails from the uptown 3 train.
6:00 pm - I arrive at the first of 2 different volunteer sessions with Silver Circles in Harlem. I meet with elderly folks in Harlem and provide them with tech support and teaching sessions so they can better understand their computers and cell phones. Teaching clients how to more effectively connect with their loved ones is SO rewarding! My early career was largely focused on onboarding and customer training sessions, both remote and in person. I love that I can still put these tactical skills to good use in my free time.
7:00 pm - I brought The Long Game for the train ride home but truthfully got distracted by Instagram for most of it. This reminds me why my morning routine is so important.
8:00 pm - Quick phone call to recap the Town Hall meeting with my boss as I make dinner.
9:00 pm - I call my friend and mentor Fiona. She’s a VC at True Ventures and our conversation inevitably ends up being about the latest in crypto.
9:30 pm - Wind down with some tea and my book.
Reach out to Stephanie on Linkedin.