Case study

Director/Customer experience specialist — Elsje Hugo

Elsje is the director of Auburn Vine, a management consultancy which she founded and owns, and is also a UK brand ambassador for De Grendel Wines in Cape Town, South Africa

How did you get your job?

I studied for a BA International Hospitality Management at the University of Derby, Buxton and graduated in 2015. I entered the customer experience field when I was working in Cape Town, South Africa as tasting room and guest experience manager at De Grendel Wines.

I made contact with a customer experience consultant based in Cape Town, who put me in contact with global industry expert, Ian Golding. We had a couple of meetings in Johannesburg, and through my curiosity I gained a deeper insight to the industry. When I returned to the UK, I was given the opportunity to work in association with him. Ian introduced me to various industry professionals and my other associates.

What's a typical working day like?

As the director of Auburn Vine, I work with my associates to provide tailored training to staff working in customer experience in industries ranging from banking and financial services to education, hospitality and retail.

I co-deliver and help facilitate workshops with the aim of identifying the wants and needs of our clients' customers, developing the skills of customer service staff and equipping them to provide the best experience possible for their customers. I work mainly from home in this role but travel abroad a lot for workshops.

When working as UK brand ambassador for De Grendel Wines, I'm on the road for most of the day visiting existing and potential customers throughout the UK to increase awareness of our wines. During visits, I create a full picture of the brand through storytelling, tastings and training.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the flexibility and the travel involved in the job. The various elements of my work give me a wide range of experience and exposure to so many industries, cultures and ways of working. I get the chance to do a bit of everything that I love and get to meet so many wonderful people.

What are the challenges?

Time management is always a big challenge, especially with juggling the various branches of my work. Being a people person, I do also miss going into the office and seeing my colleagues every day and having that support system in place.

How is your degree relevant?

My degree set me apart from other candidates and gave me the opportunity to gain a higher-level position in my role at De Grendel. It also taught me the balance between practical work and theory, and how they interlink.

The practical and managerial exposure we received on events during the degree, and how the lecturers allowed us to take complete lead, was also really useful. It allowed my confidence to skyrocket.

Doing a degree also taught me time management, which is a fundamental component of working life, especially working for myself now. The degree also allowed me to decide which parts of the hospitality industry were for me and which weren't.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I'm fortunate to be working for myself and building my own company and brand. I'm continuously working on the development of my 'niche' within the customer experience industry. As a whole, my ambition is to take advantage of time and to be able to work from wherever I am. It gives me the chance to travel and spend time with my family and friends across the world and structure my work around that.

What's your advice to others wanting to get into customer experience?

  • You need to have the interest of the customer at the heart of what you do. Your love for working with people has to be a priority as well.
  • It tends to be an industry that is quite undervalued. People, including me, forget that it's an actual science. There's a lot of theory and methodology involved, so I'd advise you to research and read as much as possible. Also, try and keep up with trends and how the world is changing with the impact of technology.
  • Put yourself out there and make contact with industry professionals. Attend networking events and conferences - many of them are free of charge, and you'll gain so much insight through meeting incredible people.