Judging Interview: Debbie Ashton

Thomas FairbairnOctober 22, 201911min0

Judging Interview: Debbie Ashton



Debbie Ashton (left) is a Founder and SVP for Strategic Customer Experience at FinancialForce, and was a judge at this year’s UK Customer Experience Awards. We caught up to discuss her judging experience. 




Was this your first time judging?

Yes, it was my first time. I was judging in the Team of the Year category. 


For those who haven’t judged before, could you give a brief rundown of what the job entails?

Once you’ve agreed to do the judging, you can choose your top 3 categories that you’d like to judge, and then there’s an internal selection process to decide which one you get allocated. After that, we received a package of pdfs that include the submissions from different organisations that have put their names forwards. I quite liked this: we got all the information via email from Awards International with login information to the portal. On the portal, you could find all the relevant paperwork, you could view it all online or download the pdfs. 

I liked the flexibility of the process. I travel a lot, so I actually downloaded the entry forms onto my laptop when I did a trip out to the US. I read them on the plane and did the scoring, then when I got where I was going, I could just put in all the scores to the portal. 

We were also invited to a webinar to get additional information about the judging process. If you missed it (like I did) you could watch a tutorial. So there was tons of information to help you successfully judge the categories. 

On the day of judging, there were live presentations, held at Wembley Stadium. Each organisation would come in and deliver their presentation live. You get to ask questions and interact, then you do another scoring. The judging process consolidates the scoring from the live presentations with the scores from the paper submissions and comes up with the winners.


What did you like about this two-step process?

I liked seeing the live presentations and being able to interact with people, but it was interesting to read the submissions and get an understanding of what people had done and how successful they’d been at creating change programmes in their organisation to improve customer experience. What I liked was that when you read them, some of them really stood out in terms of diligence and accomplishments – that really came across. 

When those companies came in to do the live presentations, you could relate to it. You might already have had some questions in your mind that you wanted to ask. It’s good to have some balance. 

It created a sense of competition but also a bit of pressure, which you wouldn’t get if you were just writing a paper submission. I think that created a bit of an edge which was really exciting on the day. 


To find out more about how to judge, please contact Lisa Bailey at lisa@awardsinternational.com


What is your feedback on the standard of entries?

My colleague judged at the Awards last year, and she said that the submissions had significantly improved over the previous year, and there were a lot more people participating in the judging this year. I thought that was a good sign of how this is growing as a subject. 

In terms of improving the quality of entries, the people that scored highly were people that very specifically answered the questions in a reasonable amount of detail. They gave the context, defined the strategy, the success criteria, the targets, and explained the programme and results. What was particularly meaningful was when an organisation demonstrated that they had directly impacted the company’s revenue, and directly impacted the NPS. Those are really meaningful metrics, so it was great to see it directly laid out like that, it was great.

When they presented, the people who got the best scores were the ones that took on board all the criteria, answered against them, and were very specific with their evidence. One of the finalists explained that they had lost business as a result of poor customer experience the year before they implemented their improvement programme. As they implemented their changes, they actually picked up a client they had lost, which had a significant impact on their revenue stream. 


There’s no conferring between judges during the scoring process. What did you make of this? 

We took that very seriously. We were covering up our answers as we wrote them and we didn’t actually talk about it until everything was submitted. We had a great chair of judges who made the rules of engagement clear at the beginning. 

In that one day, we had a great team feeling and great camaraderie, and I think that’s definitely the right thing to do and something that should remain as part of the Awards. 


What do you feel you learned about customer experience?

I found it really thought-provoking and inspiring to see what other organisations have achieved in customer experience. Some organisations were tracking their NPS score on a much more frequent basis than we do and analysing how their programme impacted the NPS score, and I felt that was an area where we [Financialforce] could improve. 

I came away from the event thinking we should implement a new change programme specifically focusing on the customer experience, what we’re seeing in terms of trends. Listening to the stories on the day of the Awards really reminded me how critically important CX is to the success of your organisation, and how to have to stay laser-focused on understanding what impacts the experience, and what you can do to improve it. I’ll be kicking that off in the next fiscal year for us. 

Some of the features that Finalists were discussing were also really cool, such as Zen Desk. I also want to implement more surveys of customers, especially at the point when customers decide to keep using our service or go somewhere else. 


What did you make of the networking opportunities throughout the day?

I connected with all of the judges on LinkedIn. I also contacted the winner of our category [from GAME] to tell her how inspired I was. At the dinner table, there were some really fantastic people, and I connected with them on LinkedIn. One of the women sitting to my left messaged me the next day saying it was one of the funnest nights she’d had in ages. We had a really good table, and I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat for the ceremony! 


What did you make of the ceremony? 

It was really cool! You got to see the scale of the event. It was a nice meal with good service. It was well-organised, there was a good stage and good audio. It’s great to see all those nerves released at the end of the day. 


What are the main benefits of judging?

To be inspired by hearing other organisations and the benefits they delivered to customers – that’s number one. Having a day away from the normal working environment, doing something different allows for some great reflective time. Giving your brain that space allows you to be inspired and to have some different ideas about things that contextually relate to what you do. The final benefit is meeting new people and building up your network, which I really enjoyed. 



To find out more about how to judge, please contact Lisa Bailey at lisa@awardsinternational.com

For more customer experience stories from Awards International, click here

To book your seats for the UK Business Awards, click here.




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