Servant Leadership at Vistaprint

Added to People

At Agile2018, I had a conversation with experience report authors David Grabel and David Reichert. I met with them along with Serena Godfrey (who the report was about) and some members of her leadership team. Earlier in the day, Serena and three members of her leadership team — Bryan Stewart, Nigel Thomas, and Randy Malcom — were part of a panel discussion where the audience could ask questions as well as hear more about their story.

I was eager to continue that conversation.

What’s fascinates me about this it is a story of servant leadership in the most unlikely of places — a customer contact center. Call centers are typically high stress places to work where customer representatives are given little discretion when resolving a customer’s complaint. When answering the phone, often they read from a script. So if the customer’s situation deviates at all from the script, they might not be able to solve their problem to anyone’s satisfaction. Frustrating for both parties.

Today, at Vistaprint contact centers, customer representatives don’t follow any scripts when handling a customer’s call. Sure, they are given training on how to resolve customer problems. But equally important, they have the discretion to “do the right thing” to solve that customer’s problem. And, as Serena emphasizes, it is OK for them to have unique personalities or to make mistakes (she notes that they can always recover from them, after all; what they are doing isn’t life-critical). And as Serena notes, “Letting people be unique makes our representatives more human to our customers.”

How did they get to this place?  Well, according to Serena, it takes establishing guardrails, listening to your employees, and honestly responding. Sometimes as a manager you have to make tough decisions. You need to let people know what you’ve decided. But equally important as a servant leader, you have willingly step aside, not jump into typical manager problem solving mode, but let your employees make suggestions and take action. You’ll learn much from your employees if you do, but you’ll also instill in them a strong sense of autonomy, purpose, and can-do attitude. Job satisfaction as a servant leader is in seeing your employees succeed.

The culture at the contact center went from, in Davids’ words, “when the customer was simply seen as a number – what we referred to as their LTV – lifetime value” to a place where, “Today, we guarantee to make it right, regardless of whose fault it is. The customer’s satisfaction and ease of use are our primary measures. Representatives no longer need permission from their managers. They have the autonomy they need to make it right for the customer.”

It’s clear that Serena has had a tremendous impact on the lives of all those who work for her. I hope you find her story of servant leadership as inspiring as I do.

About the Author

Rebecca is President of Wirfs-Brock Associates. She helps organizations and individuals hone their design and architecture skills, improve system quality and manage technical debt. In addition to coaching and mentoring she conducts workshops on agile architecture, design and pragmatic TDD. She invented the set of design practices known as Responsibility-Driven Design (RDD) and by accident started the x-DD meme.

Rebecca is Director of the Experience Reports Program and Experience Report Track Chair. She is on the Board of the Hillside Group and writes patterns about sustainable architecture, agile QA, and adaptive systems. If you want to share experiences or wisdom in pattern form, Rebecca can help you turn your itch for writing into the written word.
Read her blog at and find articles and patterns on her resources page,

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.