“We won’t be telling our grandkids about COVID,” says customer service expert John DiJulius. “We’re going to tell them about what our life was like before COVID because it is never going to be the same going forward. COVID is not changing the future, it’s accelerating it. And the COVID business mortality rate will be significant.”
On a recent webcast hosted by CEO Coaching International’s Aubry Bracco, John discussed why companies that invest in exceptional customer service won’t just survive the pandemic — they’re going to thrive, strengthen their brands, and leave their competition behind. John also challenged CEOs to help employees and customers manage their feelings about the pandemic and lead those key stakeholders into a BIG 2021.
1. Change the conversation.
“A study showed that people prefer the option of definitely getting an electric shock now versus the possibility of it happening later,” John says. “Uncertainty causes paralysis. Uncertainty causes people to be on edge, react irrationally, and struggle emotionally. Those people are our employees, customers, families, even ourselves. The emotional impact of the pandemic does not discriminate.”
Some people feel that if the pandemic isn’t always top of mind they’re being irresponsible or unfeeling. Maybe that was true in April. But as we head into a new year, your company has its safety protocols down pat. You’ve completed your digital pivot. You’ve settled on the mix of in-house and remote work that’s best for your culture.
Because you have taken COVID-19 seriously, it no longer has to be the first item on every agenda or the first topic in every conversation. Unless you’ve called a meeting to manage a specific crisis, make the first bullet point something positive. Acknowledge an employee who put your values in action. Celebrate a short-term target your sales team just hit. Recommend a business book that you think your C-suite might enjoy.
When the CEO sets a positive tone, that energy permeates every level of the company. You don’t want COVID-19 to be the icebreaker your customer service and sales teams are using either.
“Start a conversation with, ‘Tell me something good,'” says John. “This forces the conversation to start on a positive note. And you end up finding out so much more about the other person by asking that one single question. Be so positive that negative people want nothing to do with you.”
2. Track, measure, and manage customer experience.
“An economic fallout is always the best advertisement for the competitive advantage outstanding customer service companies have over the rest of the industry,” says John. The Great Recession and subsequent 10-year bull market prove that point. From 2007-2017, customer service leaders grew faster than both their competition and the S&P 500. And yet many struggling CEOs are still so paralyzed by the pandemic that they’re not upgrading aging CRM systems, building better digital storefronts, training staff, or exploring a historically deep talent pool.
Some of these poor decisions come down to fear. But bad data is a bigger factor. If you’re not tracking and measuring the relationship between your customer experience and your profits, it’s hard to understand how these investments can pay off in perpetuity.
“You must know what victory looks like in order to understand the financial impact customer experience can have,” John says. “You have to have a return on experience dashboard, which are three to four key performance indicators that are directly tied to the level of customer experience delivered, such as increasing customer attention, increasing referrals, word of mouth, increasing average customer lifetime value, improving first time call resolution, and reducing customer complaints, which also reduces customer call volume and advertising expense.”
One of CEO Coaching International’s clients, NewDay USA, is a mortgage company that serves military veterans. They’ve developed a unique KPI they call VOO: Veteran Opt-Out. Any time a customer who is approved for a loan opts out, New Day loses money. By tracking that KPI and the customer service experiences that affect it, New Day reduced VOO by 7% this year, increasing their revenue by $1.5 million.
3. Improve your brand “feel.”
Remember how old PC advertisements filled the page with tech specs that meant nothing to the average consumer? Apple made those ads — and a few of those companies — obsolete by marketing how their products could make you feel and the amazing things you could do with them.
John says, “The number one customer service we can provide is being a positive escape for every person we come in contact with. You have to create an emotional connection that’s so engaging, so compelling that the customer literally feels something afterwards.”
Again, maintaining a consistent positive tone through all of your communications is so important, especially for your client-facing employees. Between the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, your customers are surrounded by negativity right now. A friendly customer service rep who solves a problem efficiently might be the only positive conversation that customer has all day.
The next step is to use those positive interactions to build a relationship. While some CEOs are getting tired of Zoom, John insists on video chats with all clients so that employees remember they’re dealing with a person. John’s CRM system also includes four specialized fields: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Capturing FORD gives your reps something besides business to talk about on those early calls. Working FORD into subsequent conversations builds a real relationship that customers will value more than your product or service.
As a thought exercise, John suggests, “Tell everyone that you are implementing a relationship tax starting January 1st, 2021. This tax is for the relationships your employees are building with every customer during their interactions. What percentage of your customers will have an issue with your new relationship tax? When you can justify a relationship tax without actually charging for it, then you become the brand customers can’t live without.”
4. Pivot and accelerate.
Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975 but didn’t embrace the disruption it would cause to its film business.
At its height, Blockbuster’s board rejected a Netflix-style subscription model because they were afraid of losing revenue from overdue rental fees.
Contrast that shortsightedness with the innovators who started Slack, Uber, Warby Parker, Square, and Venmo during the Great Recession. Those companies found opportunities in disruption and seized it
“We don’t have to start something from scratch,” says John. “We just have to be totally open and not be stubborn about our current ways. You can lap your competition and crush them and gain more market share.”
Optimize your 2021 plan by dividing your business in half. In column A , list all of the specific, measurable activities you “Do Now to Sell Now.” In column B, start thinking about things you can “Do Now to Sell Later.”
“The huge opportunity, the growth opportunity falls in column B,” John says. “What should we be developing now that will allow us to grow 10 times faster and revolutionize our business model and leave everyone else behind?”
In a sense, finding this balance between surviving now and building momentum for the future has been the essential challenge of 2020. The companies that get BIG in 2021 are the ones that leave survival mode behind for good and start executing on that plan for the future.
“I challenge you to find your gifts in the pandemic,” says John. “Let’s go make some history, some stuff they will talk about for decades, redefining the way things are currently being done.”
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com