Hope Will Not Be Cancelled.

#CXandLOVE in a time of coronavirus and market instability.

Hi friends. 

I was all set to talk about how I create connectivity in this blog post, but I’m taking an about face to instead talk about the importance of #EX and #CX in times of uncertainty.

Here’s a story from way back in 2008 for you.

I was named the Chief Customer Experience Officer (#CXO) of Cigna on November 5, 2007. My first day on the job, our stock was trading at $49.94. One year later, after the 2008 stock market crash, it was trading at $16.41. I was forced to lay off 75 percent of my newly built customer experience team. 

What we were able to pull off — with a fraction of the people we’d hired, in the middle of a massive recession — was nothing short of miraculous. And I’ll tell you, it was all about my team.

I live in St Pete, Florida now. This means that during those cold, harsh winter months, I get a lot of visitors from up north. In the last three weeks, I’ve seen five colleagues and/or team members from those days at Cigna. And every single one of them talked about the impact of our work on their career.

I had lunch just the other day with one of them, a now-retired Cigna exec. He said that the only time he was fully vested in his role was when we were there, running the customer experience strategy and program for the company. This shocked me, so pushed him on why he felt that way. 

His response was that he was given something to believe in. Something that gave direction. Something to look towards during the incredibly tumultuous times we were living in back then.

I also spent some time with someone who had been one of my direct reports. And, he had very similar recollections. He’d even saved a drawing I’d done for him during our time together. It was a quick sketch on how I created a transformative team — what roles/people types I pulled together. (That one we’ll save for another blog post ? )

These stories go on and on. What I hear from former team members regularly falls into three themes:

  1. That they knew I cared about them
  2. That they knew I believed we could pull off anything — as long as we did it together.
  3. It was the toughest gig they’ve had in their career, but it was worth it.

We hunkered down, my tiny team and me, and we did some pretty outstanding work. We were studied and written about by the analysts. We made the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and every rag you could think of. We won a ton of awards. And at the end of that recession, when we’d rebuilt the team and led a revolution that rebuilt a company, we had a ton of lessons learned. 

The lessons that are most pertinent today, though, are actually all about #CXandLOVE. March 2020 is looking pretty similar in a lot of ways to November and December 2008. And what we learned back then feels pretty applicable to what we’re facing today.

  • The best time to focus on CX is during a downturn. The companies that choose to make real, substantial change during a downturn will actually be remembered by their customers. Everyone expects to have worse service, to have non-refundable events, or to be charged more for less during turbulent times. Very few expect a new, free product or service to be offered. The companies who go out of their way to hone in on a few stellar offerings for their customers will be remembered for it. And the ones who work fast and establish first-mover status can benefit even more.

A few examples: 

CVS and Walgreens are waiving fees for home delivery of drugs, making it easier for people to get their medicines — especially important for at-risk folks (the elderly, the immuno-compromised) — who should stay as close to home as possible.

Some airlines are readily waiving change fees and making it super easy to rebook, while others are making it an incredibly onerous process. I’ll bet that when on the other side of this, we’ll see the airlines that made rebooking free and easy right away soar, while the others will tank.

And, in an industry that so many customers complain about, Comcast is opening free public Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide, as well as eliminating data caps, upgrading low-income customers to unlimited data plans, and has promised to work with anyone having trouble paying their internet bills during. In today’s world, the internet is as much a necessity as medicine, and Comcast gets it.

  • People inherently need something to work towards. This is the time to reset your strategy and go all out on it. Your budgets will be cut, your staff may be reduced, but choose a few key things that you know will have the biggest impact and get the entire team rallied around them. 

    I’ve learned that if you tell people what you’re going to do together, ask them to help you then celebrate the heck out of every single accomplishment along the way that you’ll not only do more, but you’ll have an army of people to help you with the next one.
  • Make people feel valued. I didn’t do one interview, one speech, one Q&A without talking about my team and the contributions they made. To this day, when I talk about the transformative work we did at Cigna, I still call out team members by name. (I left Cigna in 2012 to go onto my next CXO role at Prime.) 

    Even in the depths of the recession, we had quarterly outings that I paid for out-of-pocket. We took time away from work to go do good in the community and have fun as a team. Times were so lean that Cigna had taken away the free office coffee — so there was definitely no money for team outings. But we did them anyway, because I believe that is a part of letting people know you value them.
  • EX does drive CX, so give them your bonus. I’ve often been a proponent of giving my bonus away. There were a few years there where there wasn’t much, if any, money for increases or for bonuses. So I ensured that my team got mine. When people are getting laid off all around you, and you’re having to make really tough decisions about who to keep — you’d best do everything in your power to retain the ones you have left. 

    There is no way we would have had the successes we did without the team members who stuck through the tough times with me. When the economy righted itself, and we were back to being able to incent people with dollars again, I did my best to truly take care of the ones who had hung through it all. Loyalty in times like these should be rewarded.
  • Your number one job is to keep the team focused on the goal and reminded that there are better days ahead. If you’ve been working for any time at all, you’ve seen this. You’ve seen markets sway up and down. You’ve seen pandemics sweep nations. You’ve seen more black Fridays — the stock market kind, not the retail behemoth — than you wish to remember. 

    A lot of people who work with us haven’t seen as much as we have. The arrogance of youth and the arrogance of experience often collide. But this is one of those times where you need to take everything you’ve got, pull your team together, and drive towards something better. 

One of my favorite quotes is: 

“When in an ambush, don’t think about the fact that you’re getting your ass kicked and your troops shot to hell. Pick a direction, start shooting, order your people forward, and GET EVERYONE OUT OF THE FREAKIN’ AMBUSH ZONE!!! THEN think about all that other stuff.”

That’s your job. And don’t forget it.

If you remember that #EXdrivesCX — your team (EX) drives your customer (CX), and you do everything you can to protect and drive that team — then you actually will have a fabulous chance of coming out on the other side of this in a much better position than you are in today.