How JOANN Creates a “Happy Place” for Service Teams and Customers


In this Gladly podcast episode, learn from Drew Chamberlain, the Director of Operations and Customer Experiences at fabric and craft retailer JOANN, how their brand evolved to embrace digital innovation while always putting customers first.

At JOANN, their holistic approach to customer experience begins with the recruitment of customer service team members, and ends with dedicated, engaged, lifelong fans.

“We’re always looking at how we can make the experience better for the retail customer and how we can make it better for our team members, too.”

Drew Chamberlain

Director of Operations and Customer Experience, JOANN

Joseph: Welcome to the Radically Personal podcast where the people behind the most beloved brands share how they put the customer at the heart of everything they do. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. On today’s episode we sit down with Drew Chamberlain, Director of ...

Joseph: Welcome to the Radically Personal podcast where the people behind the most beloved brands share how they put the customer at the heart of everything they do. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. On today’s episode we sit down with Drew Chamberlain, Director of Operations at Joann, the leading retailer for crafts and the maker movement. Drew shares how Joann reinvented their brand to be a destination, or as he likes to say, a happy place that goes far beyond the purchase experience.

Drew: The retail landscape is changing in front of us. We realized that we need to continue to inspire customers and find their creativity, and work together to find new ways to inspire each other.

Joseph: We’ll find out how Joann’s recruitment strategies help them find the most radically personal associates.

Drew: We can teach somebody how to pick up a phone or how to type in an email, but if they don’t put that customer first, and if we can’t get that from them during the hiring process, they’re probably not the right fit for us.

Joseph: And finally, we’ll see how being Sam the Ram prepared Drew for a career focused on human connection.

Drew: I was my high school mascot and it’s shaped me to who I am today.

Joseph: This is Radically Personal.

Joseph: Drew, welcome to the show. I’m so glad you’re here.

Drew: Thanks for having me Joseph.

Joseph: Why don’t we start Drew with a little bit of background about you and who you are.

Drew: My name is Drew Chamberlain. I’m the Director of Operations for Joann Stores. I come from a long history of supporting customers. Funny story, when I graduated college and went for my first role in a major business, this company was looking for support specialists, and I thought, “Ah, I don’t know if that’s where I really want to be, but I’ll go in, I’ll do my 12 months, get out and run the marketing department.” But I got in there and really enjoyed interacting with customers every day, and supporting them, and finding solutions to problems that they had. And found that, that’s where my true passion was, was creating these amazing experiences for customers. Here I am 22 years later, still supporting customers in any way that I can. That brings us to the major focus of Joann, and while we’ve always put the customer at the center of everything we’ve done, it’s something that we continue to drive and talk about internally is, the customer ultimately is who we need to listen to and who we need to be supporting.

Joseph: You know, Joann is this amazing, amazing brand and company. They’ve been around for 75 years and I love how you describe this vision, which is that you’re in the business of helping people find their creative happy place, whether they’re a weekend knitter, an Etsy crafter, or a 3-D printer. Joann really has made it their mission to cater to this new maker movement that we live in today. A great example of the reinvention that’s happening is this one of a kind concept store you have now in Ohio, which has things like this craft creator, a kiosk where customers put their personal touch on maybe a trending Pinterest project. As well as the maker studios with the 3-D printing services. Helping people get to their happy place is not only sort of an idea that is an emotional state, but you really trying to become a destination in the same way that people think about going to a Starbucks and spending the day. Joann really is trying to be and become this happy place for customers. How are you participating in that evolution and driving that evolution of the brand?

Drew: Well, you’re absolutely right. The retail landscape is changing in front of us. Whether it’s more online shopping, whether it’s the competitiveness of having stores fighting for the same customer’s attention. We realize that we need to continue to inspire customers and find their creativity. We love that we can provide products that customers need, components to build their products and share with their friends and their loved ones, but we also want to be a destination, a place where people can come together as a community. They can learn, they can get their hands on products, but also work together to find new ways to inspire each other. As you mentioned, we’ve got our creator studio where we offer classes in store so customers can learn new ways to be creative and inspire each other through learning in a classroom environment. In addition to that, we’ve got online classes available where customers can come to the store and find the products that they’re looking for and then go home and watch videos to learn how to use and apply those products so that they can create even more exciting items.

Joseph: That’s great. I’m actually looking at some of the examples here in the creator series, so the idea is you don’t want to be just the place that people come and buy some materials for a project. You want to be the place that people come and learn these things, so how to make a stuffed animal, for example. I mean these are some really fun projects to do individually, but the idea is you want to teach people within the stores to create that community, if that makes sense.

Drew: We do. In addition to the creator studios classes. We also offer things like birthday parties for children. We want to inspire the next group of crafters, and bring them into the store so they can learn that it’s fun to work with your hands. That you don’t have to sit behind a TV and play on a video game all day. You can actually make stuff and have a tangible product. Then we get them in the store and it’s not just about learning the tools, but interacting with each other and seeing what other people are doing in a segment.

Joseph: Oh, that’s awesome. It’s really thinking, going through this reinvention of the brand to connect with this next generation of creators and makers, reinventing the store experience. Building that, as the destination, if you will, is one side of it, but you’re also investing a ton in digital, and digital community, and digital experience. What are some of the things that you’re doing there?

Drew: One of the big things is just from our general social presence, we want to create unique Facebook pages or communities where customers can come together and not only chat with Joann team members and people in place to support them, but also so they can work with each other, and help solve problems together, and inspire each other to move their craft and their abilities forward. It’s been great for us to have Facebook pages that are unique to quilters, or Facebook pages unique to paper crafters where people can come out and join together as a community and have a long conversation going about things that they enjoy doing together.

Joseph: That experience, sort of the community is obviously people doing things together. It sounds like you’re also now live streaming classes and content. Where do I go for that sort of stuff?

Drew: Yeah. Creative Bug is been wildly popular with our customer base. It’s kind of like YouTube on steroids. It’s specific to the crafting fans out there where they can join in and see videos on how to improve their art abilities, or quilting, or any of the things that people enjoy doing. We’ve got videos that show them how to do it and then we provide them a list of the products that they can use to make these items.

Joseph: So I’m looking actually at right now. For example, you’ve got classes on ceramics, this is not about going to get some fabric. This is, I’m looking at these how to do stamp ceramics and stenciled glassware, basically a way from me to learn how to make things. Then Joann is there supporting like, “Hey, here’s the materials you need to do that.” It’s sort of this thinking about the experience more broadly than just the purchase experience, which creates a community to your point.

Drew: Correct. Yeah. Anything we can do to partner with, or inspire, or work together with our customers to help them find that creativity, that happy place. That’s what we want to do.

Joseph: One of the ways, broadly we think about recruiting, we always think about really two things. There’s the technical skills, can they do the job right? But then there’s another side of it, which is what we call the relational competency. How do you instill that engagement with your team?

Drew: Yeah, it starts at the beginning and hiring the right team members from the start. One of the things that we look for when bringing on a new team member is an appreciation for the customer or strong customer service skills. While people may come from the call center environment, that’s not necessarily a priority for us. We can teach somebody how to pick up a phone or how to type in an email, but if they don’t put that customer first and if we can’t get that from them during the hiring process, they’re probably not the right fit for us.

Drew: Beyond that, it’s creating and giving the tools that they need to be successful and that’s one of the things that the teams really appreciated with what we’ve done here at Joann, is we’re always looking at how not only we can make the experience better for the retail customer, but how we can make it better for our team members or our internal customers here. By having the right tools in place and making their jobs as easy as possible to find answers, to deliver solutions, it makes them excited to support customers and go above and beyond.

Joseph: Sounds like you bias more towards the cultural side of things versus trying to find people who have necessarily worked in customer support.

Drew: That’s very true. Our experience has been we can show somebody how to use tools, how to follow scripts that may have been created, how to find answers and solutions, but finding that person that really cares about the customer and wants to deliver that wow experience, that’s the hard part. It’s hard to train somebody on a personality trait or a cultural trait. If we can find somebody that has that from the beginning, that’s great. Now that’s not to say that people don’t join us in and get involved in the excitement that happens at Joann and becomes green with the rest of us and continues to grow that customer service muscle, but if we can find that from the beginning, we’re definitely going to bias towards that.

Joseph: You just use the phrase becomes green like the rest of us. Can you, what does that mean?

Drew: Yeah, sure. So as you mentioned, our branding and our company has gone through a transformation in the last few years and one of those is green. Green is our corporate colors and we like to pride ourselves on being green team members and green meaning bring the best that we can each and every day and always putting that customer first.

Joseph: Let’s just continue on just thinking about this thing of how you recruit folks. Are there particular kinds of questions when you’re recruiting that you ask people to try to get at that trait of people who can sort of deliver that wow?

Drew: One of the questions I love to ask is, or somebody interviewing, to give me an example of when they received poor customer service, specifically they received it and how they would have done it differently. I think it’s great to put them in the customer’s shoes to see how they felt in that environment. Then say if you were the one delivering it, what would you have done differently? That’s always good to find out how people interact and get examples of how maybe service hasn’t been delivered great from other places they’ve gone to. One of the other questions that I love to ask, and this is regardless of the position that I might be interviewing for, but my favorite question ever is on your next opportunity, what’s one thing that you’d like to avoid? It’s one of those questions that people have to think about and sometimes, they’re super obvious.

Drew: I don’t want to talk to angry customers. Well, you’re probably not going to want to be in customer service, right? But then, sometimes people give very honest questions. I don’t want to fill out a ton of paperwork and I used to work in an industry where I had to fill out pages and pages of paperwork. It allows me to see that person’s mindset and how they think and look at a question that might not be the typical interview question. That allows us to see are you putting customers first? Are you concerned about partnering up and working in a team?

Joseph: Yeah, it’s so important to sort of get at people’s motivations. What motivates them. You guys talk a lot about this idea of getting your customers to their happy place. You got to think about that with your team. What’s their happy place in terms of what they’re going to be doing day to day. If you can make sure that they’re in a happy place, then there’ll be successful at the job, so to speak. I like the idea too, like that question of understanding what’s a bad experience you had and how would you do that differently? That’s a great way to see how people think, which is always super valuable.

Drew: Yeah. For me personally during the interview process, we’re all in this interview mode. The person that I’m asking questions, who wants to show something to me and I obviously want to show something to them. Really my goal by the end of the conversation is to find out who they really are, not who they are sitting there trying to interview and trying to impress me to get a job, but who you are as a person. A lot of that just comes in how you ask the questions, do it naturally. Do it as a part of a conversation versus a very structured, ask A, get answer B, ask C, get answer D.

Joseph: How do you think about the digital initiatives at Joann? Obviously, as your customers evolve to this next generation of creators, I actually like that idea. Especially thinking about like people using 3-D printers and whatnot. How is digital changing things for a brand like Joann?

Drew: Well, specifically from a support standpoint, digital has changed how we communicate and connect with our customers. When you think about from a marketing or an advertising standpoint, it’s no longer just newspaper inserts or direct mailers. We’ve got a social media that we post on. There’s emails, we have an app that customers use. We try and use every possible way to communicate to customers because we know that each customer wants to be communicated to differently. The flip side of that is how customers communicate to us. So thinking back to when I joined Joann, we limited the channels that customers could reach out to us to two, you can pick up a phone and call or you can reach out via email, and we know that customers as we’re going through this digital transformation, they have phones in their pocket with the capability of sending texts.

Drew: They like to have immediate answers through chat online. They like self-service and having more capabilities to receive answers when maybe a team member isn’t available or maybe they can find that answer on their own and don’t have to wait to talk to somebody.

Drew: One of the reasons we look to upgrade our technology and how we support our customers and the tools that we were using previously didn’t create the best customer experience. If they wanted to reach out via different channels, it was always a different format for them to reach out to us and our team members weren’t able to connect the different channels. If you called us, it was one person that supported you. If you emailed it was somebody else. If a customer calls us and we start the interaction there, but then say they have to end the call because they were in a car and they’re moving into their house, we can easily switch that over to an email or to a text without any impact to the customer.

Drew: It’s seamless to them and more importantly it’s seamless to our team members. They’re doing it in the same user interface, the same screen. It’s just a matter of typing in the different window and saying, “I’m going to send this as a text,” or “I’m going to send this as an email.” That’s really helped us personalize that support for customers and show them that we’re here to support them regardless of the way they want to interact.

Joseph: That’s like the fundamental difference of radically personal customer service versus radically ticket centric or case centric customer service where you know the phone call is one thing, the chat session is a different thing, the text conversations different. You were one of the first people, as you know, I mean when I first reached out to you several years ago now, who got that which was really awesome.

Joseph: When you think about delivering radically personal customer service, is there an example of something you and the team have done maybe a little above and beyond what you may think of when you think of delivering customer support and great customer experience?

Drew: I have a great example of this and I love to share this one because I got to be a part of it and see it firsthand and it was just amazing both for our team here at Joann but also for the customer that got the experience. We support our customers through all channels, through our customer experience team and that includes social media and one of our team members noticed that a customer of ours posted on social media that she was traveling to the Joann headquarters in Hudson, Ohio and took a picture of the sign out front.

Drew: He recognized that she was doing that and she was coming to shop and reached out to me and said, “Drew, I’d love to do something for this customer. She didn’t have to post that she was coming here, but she was so excited to be a part of it.” And I said, “Let’s go next door to the store. Let’s call her over the PA, bring her up front, thank her for being such a great customer and give her a gift card just for being there and joining us here at our local headquarters.” And we did, we walked over, we called her up to the front and you could see this look of concern on her face, like why am I being paged? But it was great to say hello and to thank her.

Joseph: She didn’t know you were doing this. She’s just like-

Drew: No, she had said no idea. She’s just there to shop. She’s a passionate Joann customer. She’s coming from Kentucky so it wasn’t a short drive. Just came to join us here at our corporate headquarters and she’s shopping.

Joseph: She drove just because she wanted to shop at the main store?

Drew: Correct. Yeah, she was such a fan of Joann and she knew that we were based here in Ohio and she was within driving distance, wanted to come up and be a part of our experience here. Had no idea that we would see her posts on social media, walk over, ask over the intercom for her to come to the front and then thank her for being a customer.

Joseph: So she posted in social media, “Hey, I’m here, the Joann and I’m so excited to be here.” And then someone saw it and was like, “Hey, this person’s over here at the store. Let’s do something for them.” Is that-

Drew: Yeah, one of our team members saw it and brought it to my attention and said, “What can we do?” We ran over, called her up. She comes to the front. We thank her for being a customer. We told her that we saw her on, I believe it was Twitter, and she looked at our team member and she said, “Are you Justin from Twitter?’ We were starting to get a reputation just from the people that on our team that are posting. I said, “Yeah, and she’s like, “I love reading all your responses.” It was a wonderful experience for us to be able to just go over and thank somebody. It wasn’t a problem somebody had that we had to solve. This was somebody just excited about being a Joann customer and us being excited to celebrate that with them.

Joseph: Continue on that, so the context of radically personal, what does radically personal customer service mean to you? When we talk about that, what does it mean to you? If you were to describe it to people, “Hey, here’s what radically personal customer service means.”

Drew: Well, I’ll answer that two ways. The first is when delivering service to a customer in that radically personal is doing everything you can to go above and beyond and exceed their expectations. I like to use the term wow, right? Wow the customer, somebody is reaching out to you for customer service, whether it’s in a store, whether it’s on a phone call through support because they have something that they’re hoping you can assist them with. Yes, you can give them the answer and you can move on to your next task, or you can provide them an answer, and connect with them, and inspire them, and offer solutions, and let them know that you’re here to partner with them through this entire process. So to me, radically personal is exceeding expectations, going above and beyond, wowing that customer.

Drew: The flip side is from a leadership role leading people that are delivering personalized experience. It’s empowering them, giving them the tools that they need to be successful, but also empowering them to make decisions to help that customer right there on the spot. You don’t want to delay a solution, so you want to make sure they have what they need to, to support, but also have the ability to make decisions to improve that experience for the customer.

Joseph: You mentioned self-service before. Oftentimes people will say you want to deliver personalized service. Self-service doesn’t seem like it fits into that model. Yet, our view has been helping customers help themselves as a part of the way that you deliver personalized service. Meaning that if I can get answers on my own and I can just do it on my own, that’s a personal thing.

Drew: Yeah, and I agree that there’s this misconception that offering self-services about moving customers away from being supported with live agents. For me, self-service is a channel that certain customers want to use. They look for. I personally, I talk to customers all day long, whether it’s emails or phone calls. When I need support, I’m looking for an answer at my fingertips. I’m not wanting to engage in somebody else. I’m hoping I can find the solution on my own. My goal is to offer every possible channel that a customer could want, make it easy for them to access it, and have the right team available to support it when needed. From a self-service standpoint, I think that’s invaluable for organizations to have. Somebody may want to reach out to us via chat, but we may have the answer available immediately through our online knowledge base.

Drew: By having that information accessible where they can fill out a couple of questions and the answers prompted to them that often gets them what they need without having to wait for an agent to be online, to ask questions and narrow down to the solution that they’re looking for. I personally feel that we’ve been able to answer questions faster and move people from other channels, whether it’s phone calls, or emails, or chat, by giving them the tools to find answers on their own.

Joseph: So this idea that, self-service is a first class citizen and something that customers opt into is a very different mindset than a mindset of like, “Hey, we’re trying to deflect people. We don’t want them to call us.” I don’t think that’s the right mindset. The way you described it as like, “Look, we want to give everyone the tools that they can get the help that they need, however they want, whenever they want.” That’s a much more enlightened way to think about self-service. I think it’s the right way.

Drew: Yeah, and to me the reality is in my job if I’m being successful, ultimately I’m going to put myself out of work because my goal isn’t just to answer every phone call, respond to every email, create the knowledge information out there so customers can self-service, but my job is to figure out why the customer is reaching out in the first place and solve that issue so they don’t have to reach out again.

Joseph: Get to the root cause.

Drew: Right, exactly. If you’re just deflecting, you’re never solving the issue that caused the problem in the first place. You’re just pushing it to another channel and then forgetting about it. For us, we like the reporting that says this is how often somebody used and looked up this answer and then we find out why they’re driven to ask that question in the first place and solve it for them so they don’t have to ask. So it’s already there when they need it.

Joseph: So the name of the podcast is Radically Personal, Drew. It would be great to actually learn something radically personal about you.

Drew: I love this question, so I’m going to go way back to when I was in high school and many people may not know this, but I both tried out and became my school mascot.

Joseph: No way. What was the mascot?

Drew: Sam the Ram, I was a full size Ram, had the head and had the outfit on. What made that radically different for my school is historically the mascot was another cheerleader in the costume. It was just another cheerleader on the sidelines. I looked at it different. I wasn’t a cheerleader up until that point, but I looked at it as an opportunity to connect with people and to take my school pride and share that with individuals in a different way. As a big Ram, walking around on a football field or dancing in the middle of halftime on the basketball courts. But the reason I bring this up as a story is I think that’s where my customer service skills all started.

Joseph: Wait, with Sam the Ram?

Drew: With Sam the Ram, yeah. Here I am, a high school student in a costume. I’m not allowed to speak because I’m a ram, and rams don’t use English to communicate. I had to connect with people via this costume in my movements and my actions. That’s kind of followed me through my entire career. It’s all about connecting and building relationships. No matter what the confines are, whether I’m a big ram, or whether I’m a person on the other end of the phone, or someone typing on an email. That’s radically personal. I was my high school mascot and it’s shaped me to who I am today.

Joseph: You know my next question is who has the pictures?

Drew: My mom would be excited to know somebody is asking about that because she has all of my senior photos with the ram head and everything else. She’d be excited to know that she could share those with somebody.

Joseph: Drew, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your stories on how you and everyone at Joann are delivering a radically personal experience. You really have made a happy place for makers and crafters. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. Thanks for listening to this episode of Radically Personal, and if you enjoyed the podcast, please be sure to subscribe and rate it at Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or visit us at We’ll see you next time.

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With a proven track record of building companies that don’t settle for the status quo, Gladly CEO and co-founder Joseph Ansanelli is reinventing customer service to put people back at the heart of it. Joseph is also a Partner at Greylock, focused on investing in enterprise applications.