Click on the icons below to subscribe.
Guest: Kevin Hamilton, a founder of NuEnergen, a New York-based provider of energy management and consulting services. Kevin is also an entrepreneur coaching client at CEO Coaching International.
Episode in a Tweet: You can deliver high-touch service during the pandemic — but only if your service is high-quality to begin with.
Quick Background: If you’re in IT or supply chain management, you might have made a relatively smooth transition to WFH. High-touch businesses that depend on face-to-face client service and close-knit culture are having a tougher time adjusting to the pandemic environment. Keeping your team and customers safe while also safeguarding what’s special about your company should be a priority item on your annual planning agenda.
On today’s show, Kevin Hamilton discusses the five key adjustments his high-touch company made to keep its culture and its business thriving.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Keys to Running a High-Touch Business During the Pandemic from Kevin Hamilton
1. Adjust the client service model.
Kevin’s company is based in White Plains, NY, which is just a few miles from the epicenter of New York’s original Covid-19 outbreak. And although Kevin knew energy management would remain a valuable service to his clients, including dozens of hospitals, he also knew he was going to have to change how he delivered that service.
“A very strong point of differentiation for NuEnergen, relative to our competition, has been a high-touch, high-service model,” he says. “It’s something I’m very proud of, and it’s something that I believe has resulted in our company having an unusually high client retention rate. But when everyone went remote, face-to-face connectivity was no longer an option. So, we started to rely upon Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and just good old-fashioned phone conversations. And it was a challenge. I was very concerned about it because I am a believer in the value of face-to-face conversation and the value of that human-to-human connectivity that comes from those meetings. I had to pull my team together on a conference call very early on and say, ‘Folks, it’s okay. Our company is strong. We’re going to be okay. The needs of our clients are greater today than they’ve ever been.'”
As client feedback started to roll in, Kevin discovered that his clients still felt they were receiving the high-touch service they had come to appreciate. Many WFH-skeptic CEOs have had the same realization as the pandemic continues. But succeeding during Covid-19 has less to do with technology than it does with the company’s values. Kevin’s team isn’t delivering five-star service because Zoom is easy to use — they’re delivering that quality service because that’s what NuEnergen does, online and in-person.
2. Explore new growth strategies.
Right now, stalled companies are still asking, “How are we going to survive this?” Top companies like NuEnergen are planning their Q4 sprint by asking, “How are we going to keep growing?” Kevin says his company had been enjoying a robust organic growth trajectory due to high-touch prospecting. Covid-19 forced the company to consider alternative strategies.
“We knew we had the balance sheet to support potential acquisitions,” Kevin says. “And so, we endeavored on that front. And that took a measure of just being honest with ourselves and saying, ‘All right, how are we going to push this organization forward? How will we lead it forward on a continued growth trajectory?’ We had to have this kind of a candid and honest assessment of what we thought that the balance of 2020 was going to look like in this environment where it was difficult to onboard new clients the old-fashioned way. The biggest trigger came from myself and the leadership team. We started spending more time on it. And I think it’s going to pan out nicely for us.”
Kevin and his team didn’t just spend time on this strategy — they spent cash too. And they’re in the process of closing their first acquisition–during a pandemic. Crises create opportunities when you keep an open mind to what’s possible.
Depreciated assets and displaced talent are abundant right now. If you’re not willing to invest in your company’s future, you might not have one.
3. Match your work environment to your culture.
Early returns on WFH were mostly positive. Once everyone learned the rhythms of an effective video conference, people appreciated losing the daily commute and gaining increased flexibility to manage family pandemic challenges as well.
As we head into Q4, a bit of the sheen is wearing off WFH. Some CEOs are reporting decreased productivity. Some workers are struggling with work-life balance, especially if their homes don’t have dedicated office space. And many companies just miss the camaraderie that drove their culture and inspired everyone to do BIG things together.
After a dozen weeks working remotely, Kevin made the decision to reopen his New York offices. “I really wanted our team back together,” he says. “Interestingly enough, our team was itching to come back together. Now we did have a few employees who had concerns, which of course we needed to listen to very carefully. We needed to take care of our cherished team. So we listened to them. We put in place strategies to mitigate risks associated with being in an office, such as PPE, social distancing, and having a more robust cleaning regimen. And I’m so pleased in hindsight, that everyone came back to the office. I do know there are different schools of thought on this. Some people really enjoy working from home. I have a very strong bias associated with the benefit of having everyone back together. There’s a certain team dynamic associated with ‘water cooler talk,’ if you will. And it has played out with our team. Our team is happy to be here.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to balancing WFH with work from the office. While most of Kevin’s team is back in the office, his company has developed a hybrid approach that allows employees to work remotely as needed. If your business has made a full digital pivot without disrupting your level of service, keep doing what’s working. But stay open to feedback from your team about any high-touch processes or services that you can provide safely face-to-face.
4. Widen your funnel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many panicked CEOs put their marketing and prospecting budgets on the chopping block. But in their rush to save their businesses, these CEOs were just making it impossible for their businesses to keep growing.
Like most of our high-performing entrepreneur coaching clients, Kevin took a different approach. He says, “We decided to make what I think are prudent and wise investments in sales and marketing that will pay off going into Q1 of next year and for the balance of next year on the organic growth side. Our business development folks were struggling to bring new business into the company. So, we invested in a lead generation company, and I’m very, very happy to see the results already. We’ve gotten leads within the target market segments that NuEnergen finds very attractive, and where we believe we can provide the most value. We have begun a fresh digital campaign and refreshed all of our marketing collateral.”
Now is a great time to figure out what services you can outsource. Generating more leads for the top of your funnel could be one of them.
5. Topgrade your talent
The best companies always put the right people in the right positions. But as your business continues to adjust to the pandemic, the requirements for those key positions might need to adjust as well. With so many workers either displaced or dissatisfied with their stagnant employers, CEOs have rarely had such a BIG opportunity to surround themselves with a diverse group of high performers. Companies that continue to settle for B and C players are in danger of being lapped by companies who are aggressively seeking out the best of the best.
“My leadership team and I have placed a higher emphasis on topgrading this year,” Kevin says. “It’s a philosophy of having A players on your team, irrespective of what role they’re in. I’m looking for individuals who are not afraid to stand up and be heard. I’m not looking for ‘yes people.’ If you have an idea, if you see a business opportunity that you think might be worth exploring, don’t be afraid to say so and come to us with those ideas. Together we’ll decide the best course of action. I’m looking for creativity in individuals and folks who are willing to be heard.”
1. Believe you can succeed online. You can provide high-touch service at a distance if your underlying services are strong enough.
2. Listen to your employees. Forcing your best people into a work environment they don’t like will drive them to the exits, permanently.
3. Invest in your future. Cutting costs today will just cripple your business tomorrow.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
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.