We talked to Fabienne Hille of huellendirekt.de about phones, tablets & laptops accessories, and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Fabienne Hille: Well, it’s a tough time for anyone! My family and I live in different countries, so we did not see each other in the last months. But it is fine; we try to do the best out of it and FaceTime a lot.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined huellendirekt.de.
Fabienne Hille: Actually, my career here started one and a half years ago. I was looking for a job in the Netherlands, and I found this company named huellendirekt.de. They wanted to join the German market with mobile accessories, and they were actually looking for a German-speaking person. After an interview, we noticed that it’s a match, and I was moving here. From the first talk to me working here, it only took like two months. It was quite cool to see the improvements we were able to make in a short amount of time. The German website just recently opened, and I was the very first German employee. That was so amazing and scary at the same time. After only a few months, we noticed that the amount of
work for the German shop could not be handled alone anymore, so we hired a new colleague. That was a huge success because I was able to help make this shop so big that we actually needed a new employee.
When I moved here, I never imagined I would run the online marketing department and have multiple German colleagues. I was studying psychology and not Online Marketing; it was a bit scary to start here. I started at the customer service and doing a bit of marketing in between when I didn’t have any phone calls or e-mails left. After 1.5 years working on our German website, huellendirekt.de, I got promoted to Marketing Manager to manage the whole Marketing department for both huellendirekt.de and hoesjesdirect.nl. We are such a great team; there has never been one day; I didn’t learn something new. It doesn’t matter if it is about the Dutch language or about online marketing itself; I have great colleagues helping and supporting me. For me, this is the best success one can have!
How does huellendirekt.de innovate?
Fabienne Hille: This is quite difficult to answer! I mean, we don’t have this one product or that particular process that we are dying to improve. For us, innovation is a continuous process in which everyone is involved.
Our superiors always have an open ear and are happy when we suggest improvements to the websites. Everyone who works here loves their job and wants to offer the customer the best possible shopping experience. To do this, we actively get feedback from our customers and read through the current reviews. So we know what should be improved from the customer’s point of view.
We, my colleagues and I, also use many products from our shop ourselves, which means that we can always give our superiors active feedback on the products. Our boss trusts us so much that colleagues can sometimes test new products. The product is only included in the range if the feedback is positive. But we also go through the ordering process at regular intervals to see which buttons or views we can make even more user friendly.
In our meetings, we then discuss the things we noticed, and together we try to find the best solution for everyone. After a short brainstorming session, it is usually the case that a certain person or a small team takes care of the improvement. As soon as this has been implemented, the new process will be tested in everyday life and further improved if necessary.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Fabienne Hille: Coronavirus primarily affects our daily work. We were/are no longer able to work in the office and are all alone at home. It was very difficult for my colleagues and me to find the right way of working at the beginning. That might sound ridiculous, but we had to learn how to best communicate with each other so that everyone is happy with their work. In the office, we sat next to each other or quickly called something to each other, but it was no longer that easy in the home office. Sure we all have an internal chat system, but it’s just a chat. For example, if we had a customer on the phone, we couldn’t just call over quickly for a question. We had to write a message and hope that the other person would read it quickly.
Another example is the process of how the returns are handled or how we answer a customer’s product question most easily. Before we could still work in the office, we unpacked the returns, processed them, and put the goods back in the warehouse. For product questions, we took the corresponding product from the warehouse, and we were able to process the request. It wasn’t that easy in the home office! When we were allowed to go back to the office in April, I think, we talked in detail about the problems that arose. In retrospect, that really helped us the most! When we got the news in September, we all had to work from home again; fortunately, there were only the known problems: too little communication, types of communication, checking products in the warehouse, etc. Since we had already talked about these problems, it was relatively easy to cope with.
We managed to become more digital and communicative in a very short time. The small adjustments to the individual processes also showed us where we could save resources. Digitization eliminates many unnecessary process steps, which means that we can concentrate on new great projects.
Besides all the bad experiences, it was really great for us to see. If we don’t just look at the situation of the employees, but also at our pure business, we really can’t complain! The people in Germany and the Netherlands were in lockdown. People were at home and couldn’t go into town to shop or into a shopping mall. Suddenly there were so many people who had the time to search for products online. As with any other webshops, our number of visitors to websites has increased significantly. While the situation is still very bad, we try to positively see these things, especially as business people!
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Fabienne Hille: Every day, we have to make a lot of choices. Especially in this time, where we can’t see our colleagues face to face, it’s quite hard to make choices. At the beginning of this pandemic, we just made our daily choices like usual, but we notice quite fast that we have to change our way of working.
You know, in the office, you can hear colleagues’ conversations and have a rough idea of what is currently important or what is being discussed in general. Of course, this also applies the other way around. When I make a decision, my colleagues automatically notice. But since the corona pandemic, we have been in the home office and don’t see each other anymore. Each of us had to learn overnight to make our own decisions and not first discuss them with colleagues. That made it very difficult, especially at the beginning. With the second wave, we were back again in the home office. We tried straight away to keep in touch and share all information with everyone. Even though we did our best, it was very difficult. Everyone sits at home and does their own thing. Unfortunately, something first had to go wrong so that we could find the right way to deal with each other again. From the whole situation, we learned that we need to talk to each other a lot more. During working hours, we exchange ideas intensively through phone calls, chats, or video calls. To not lose sight of each other in private, we have set up a WhatsApp group in which we can laugh a lot together, almost as if we were sitting together at lunch.
But what was also really exciting to see was that it was very difficult for our superiors at the beginning that we were no longer in the office. It took a moment before they saw that everything at home could also be set up in such a way that we can cope with the work really well despite Corona. I believe that this was the biggest lesson learned for my superiors.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Fabienne Hille: The best thing about our company is that no one has to deal with this stress or anxiety alone, which pops up, especially in these weird times! We try to care for each other a lot. For my part, I know that I can always talk to my colleagues or my two superiors. That is already helping a lot. Everyone in the team knows that you do not have to deal with problems alone. In our company, it’s normal that you get help if you ask for it if you have to ask. Most of the time, colleagues are so attentive that they can see straight away if you are feeling uncomfortable or have a problem. But it was not always like this, of course, we had to learn as a team that we can always count on each other and that we are talking to each other so much.
You know, there is a reason for the saying “People who talk can be helped”! We grew so fast that it was quite surprising for all of us, and we really needed to learn how to deal with so many new colleagues. Already after the first wave of corona, we noticed that we need to talk even more to each other to avoid anxiety or stress. Like I already mentioned, that was our biggest lesson learned. Since April, we have weekly meetings where we get all the information we may need for your work. We also have a WhatsApp group where we can just chitchat with each other. I am on good terms with everyone at work that it’s so much fun to also talk about private things. Everybody knows about the things going on in our company, and we know the other persons so well, which makes it so easy to deal with upcoming problems. For my part, I am not afraid and certainly not of the coming time and Corona. Due to the openness in our team and through the superiors, I can see the situation as a challenge, which I do not allow myself to be stressed by and, above all, do not allow myself to be intimidated by. Our secret: we talk to each other!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Fabienne Hille: Well, we are an online shop. Almost every other shop on the Internet that sells phone accessories is our competitor, but one of the hardest is Amazon. It’s really tough to stay in the game next to such a giant! Our strategy is to not overthink about your competitors. Of course, we have a look at their lessons learned as well as we can, but we still try to do our own thing. It’s really important to us that the whole team has a lot of fun at work and that the quality of services and products are constantly high. We know that the customers really appreciate the fun we have as a team. You know if you have fun at work, things are improving automatically, and customers can feel this. We do not want to be just an online shop; we try to give the customers a feeling like in a real shop they are physically in!
Your final thoughts?
Fabienne Hille: The most important thing nowadays is that we stick together! In our work-life, we have to maintain daily contact with colleagues and talk to each other a lot. It is even more important that we also pay attention to our fellow human beings and colleagues in these times. Many of us sit at home alone and have no contact with other people. As a team, we have the responsibility to look after each other! Just write your colleagues a message or give them a call. So you can put a smile on everyone’s face, we need that more than ever!
We have to start paying more attention to each other and respecting and implementing the rules of the government. We all want the corona pandemic to finally come to an end, and we can only do that together! Especially now that we are also struggling with the dark season, we have to try to focus on the positive things. For me at work, this means that I’m happy that I have such good contact with my colleagues, even though I don’t see them in person at the office. I’m also happy that I didn’t lose my job and that I didn’t have to go on short-time work. But most of all I am happy that neither my colleagues nor my family has seriously contracted the Coronavirus so far!
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