From Winner to Judge: Why I Brought my Expertise to an Awards Judging Panel

March 21, 20189min

Mandy Holford is Director of Customer Services at contact centre solutions firm Echo-U, and recently judged at the 2018 UK Complaint Handling Awards. Here she describes, in her own words, how she went from an award winner herself, to a judge deciding the fate of others seeking recognition for their own business success…

Happily, I have felt the pure joy of hearing my business announced as winners on a number of occasions throughout my career in customer service and customer service outsourcing; heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, pure delight at achieving such success.

It’s such a wonderful feeling and, like a proud mum, I have seen similar excitement and pride in the faces of the teams around me when they realise they’ve won. That always touches me the most – seeing others relish in that moment of confirmation, of achievement, of brilliance. It’s such a powerful blast of emotion when you and your team connect with the winners’ announcement and release that tension of expectation, of want and urgent desire to win.

So it was with some early reluctance that I decided to leave entering awards to others in our business and challenge myself to sit on the ‘other side of the fence’ and judge whether or not people like me got to have that rush of positive emotions and achieve award success.

Has it delivered on emotion and excitement? Has being an awards judge offered a buzz and a sense of success and accomplishment? Bizarrely, yes!

I didn’t expect it to; I am not sure what I expected of the judging process but it’s been a great and different experience I have relished, and one I’d recommend.
My first choice for judging was the recent 2018 UK Complaints Awards, hosted by Awards International. Why complaints? Well, who in the consumer world doesn’t get complaints? Where there are customers, there are invariably complaints, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage in a world with a common purpose of learning, implementing new ideas, and managing complaints better. I have no problem with pinching great ideas and making them work for my business. Why re-invent the wheel, eh?

I really connected with the opportunity to learn from other great brands and emerging businesses. What did they do that was worthy of entering an award process? How did they manage complaints differently? Was it good processes, new technology, strong leadership, emotional intelligence, or emerging training techniques that offered them a different perspective and approach to managing unhappy customers? And so it began – I paid my fee to judge, followed the webinar to learn ‘How to Judge’, and set about enjoying my new responsibilities.

The first stage of this judging process was online – reviewing documented submissions with standard entry forms, presentations, and accompanying support materials. To be honest, this was an uninspiring start to the process; I wanted to see and hear people, feel their energy and emotions, but I had to wait a few weeks for that to happen.

On day one of the judging process, I and the other judges, had to be happy with a webportal, downloads, and endless paper spread across my desk. However, it didn’t take long though for the ideas and concepts to captivate me. In a category of just four entries, I spent two afternoons reviewing the content several times – I wanted to be sure I had understood, fairly evaluated, and not missed a single thought from those precious entries.

While the judging process itself was in full swing, there was another hive of activity going on with Awards International promoting the event. There was a real social media flow of new names, new connections, and great conversations happening with likeminded people. My LinkedIn pinged several times a day with ‘new connection’ requests and fabulous messages from these new contacts. Several online magazines @mentioned both the awards and specific judges and Twitter was alight with award promotion. There was quite a party going on!

The awards finals date – February 22 – arrived and at the gorgeous Park Plaza Hotel in London there was a buzz of activity and energy as the registration started. So much noise for 8am! After a coffee and chat to get to really know my fellow judges, we took our seats and the entry presentations began. I loved this part of the process – real people sharing their precious stories of challenge, determination, and success all in their own unique ways.

Entries that I had scored conservatively in the documented stage suddenly emerged as new favourites – video clips, storyboards, and animated presenters captivated us with their uniqueness and personalisation.

I have to admit to being energised and exhausted all at the same time when the final number went onto the final scoresheet. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning and with a rumbling hunger, ate our delicious lunch and waited to see if my favourites won their categories.

It’s important to note that we as judges do not see anyone else’s scores, either in the documented review or on the day. All scores are kept private, giving a real sense of fairness to the process, so I had no idea who would win.

With over 400 people in the room, the winners were announced and excitedly took to the stage with all of those trembling emotions I have enjoyed many times before. I felt so happy for the winners; to see their faces and excitement was such a reward. One of my category favourites won several awards which also made me incredibly happy (and validated that I had judged appropriately) but another one failed to make either winner or silver (runner-up). I was personally gutted for them and made a point of offering some personal thanks and thoughts to this team, who had given us a really worthy entry. Some you win, some you lose as they say!

There were many whoops of joy, fist-pumping moments, and a few tears of shock, and I wouldn’t have missed it for a moment. I thought I would miss being a winner but felt so connected to the event and its purpose that I was totally elated with just being a part of a special day for so many.

One of my mottos is, ‘when you give, you gain’ and this is so true of the judging activity. I paid my fees to judge, costs of travel to and from London, hotel costs, and gave a couple of days of my time, but in return I gained so much more. The buzz and emotion is priceless, the opportunity to connect and talk with likeminded people is highly rewarding, and there were great opportunities to learn and bring new ideas back with you. I even picked up two leads for our business on the day, so all in all, judging was a superb experience, highly emotional, and blooming exhausting!

However, I shall be back and look forward to many more special moments with other excited and anticipating audiences.


Mandy Holford

Mandy Holford

Mandy Holford is director of customer services at Echo-U, an established owner-managed UK contact centre which is committed to creating growth for its clients, including many of the UK’s biggest brands such as DPD, Sage Plc, Sky and National Careers Service, by managing their customer relationships through combining quality conversations with the best customer experience.




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