A Service-First Mindset is the Key to Rebounding from the Crisis with Customer Loyalty Intact


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During these times of global health uncertainty and business unpredictability, keeping current customers is the top priority. The necessary shift from a “sales first” to a “service first” approach puts even more emphasis on customer experience (CX) and also establishes companies for long-term growth. Why? Because it is widely recognized that customers are willing to pay more for products that come with a great experience and multiple studies confirm CX leaders generate a return that is nearly three times greater than that of the CX laggards.

Organizations can and should adapt today’s customer journey to embrace a service-first mindset. At Sugar, we’ve found it helpful to think about this shift in three phases: initial response, adjusting to the new realities, and planning for the rebound.

Phase 1: Listen, empathize, and meet your customers where they are

Acting with empathy while still moving your business forward can be quite the balancing act. In the current economy, companies across different industries are being affected differently, making it impossible to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Like in any new customer situation, finding the optimal path forward starts with listening.

Our own chief customer officer at Sugar, Chris Pennington, personally placed dozens of phone calls in the past weeks to our customer base to understand their specific challenges and ask how we can help. Answers of what we can do for our customers vary, but we have been able in many situations to put resources and ideas behind helping them recalibrate and expand their use of Sugar to meet their own rapidly changing customer experience expectations.

Phase 2: Calibrate your sales and marketing strategy

New realities for businesses vary widely depending on their sector. Clearly some businesses have more obvious paths to recovery or success than others. Yet, innovation and a nimble mindset are key in helping any company realign their business model in the current environment. For example, hair products upstart Madison Reed was able to rapidly pivot its in-store color bar staff to their online hair color consulting services with those same stylists now available for at-home phone consultations and hosting Zoom hair coloring parties. Because of their adaptation to the current market and providing value to customers, Madison Reed reports a surge of 750% in sales.

An overall shift from sales to service is also an opportune time to evaluate how you keep your customer dialogue going strong. In a subscription economy, renewal emails reminding customers that their next payment is coming due are often more prevalent than educational content helping customers get value out of their purchase. But now is the time to lean in with educational content. In our own calls to customers, we learned that they are looking for more peer-based forums, CRM best practice sharing, and also informal “water cooler” conversations to help them calibrate their marketing strategies and innovate. In response, we are providing more opportunities for customers to engage through new virtual events, new free training and new communities.

Phase 3: Plan for the rebound

Every downturn has an upturn. We are all certainly very focused on the challenges of the moment, but we know recovery is coming as it always does—the question is only when. Companies need to do what they can to invest in projects that were once put aside and nurture their talent pipeline to be prepared for the rebound. This can range from the physical, like the reorganization of company office space to prepare for social distancing, to digital transformation such as migrating solutions to the cloud to increase flexibility and scalability.

A McKinsey report on how CEOs are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic confirms this approach. The report includes an example of one major bank finally working on a large-scale CRM project because it has more time to focus on this task due to the economic slowdown and other day-to-day business priorities that are currently on hold.

New business models, new online engagement, new educational content… these new efforts in response to COVID-19 are frankly going to be part of the fabric of business for the foreseeable future. Now is the time to think through how this services-first approach can be the foundation of your rebound plan. In the end, customers will reward the companies who clearly give them value with their loyalty and their business.

Clint Oram
Clint helped found SugarCRM in 2004 with the goal of enabling companies around the world to turn their customers into loyal fans. Today, he leads strategy and acquisitions for the company. Clint was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on building out the product, company, partners and community in a variety of executive roles.


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