Irit Eizips, CSM Practice Chief Customer Officer and CEO was featured by Business Therapy, an engaging series where a number of professional challenges and problems are discussed in depth. Hosts Diane Dye Hansen and Christine Salvo interviewed Irit Eizips and talked about engaging internal and external stakeholders with kindness, support, and community.
01:16 – How the pandemic affected industries differently.
06:10– Irit’s experiences as a CEO during the pandemic.
07:02- Irit explains her company’s experiences with clients during the pandemic.
08:54 – Customer interactions and being proactive in business.
09:49 – Irit gives an insider’s view of company operations.
12:41- Changes in the economy and the importance of kindness to clients.
14:01- Team empowerment through communication and proactiveness.
14:54- Employee empowerment
15:45- Becoming a relationship-oriented executive
19:47- Good company relationships and work-from-home.
Read the full transcript to learn more.
Diane Hansen: (00:28) This is business therapy. Healing businesses from the inside out through communication and emotional intelligence. I’m Diane Diane Hanson, management consultant, and with me is Christine Salvo, therapist, certified mediator, and certified hypnotherapist.
Today we are talking about your business and how to achieve success with your existing customers. With us today we have Irit Eizips, a customer success thought leader whose mission is helping startups to fortune 100 enterprises, establish proactive and scalable customer retention and expansion selling strategy. Irit is frequently featured in podcast books and industry events as a subject matter expert on customer success strategies for both technology and services companies. Irit is known for her unique experience and expertise and launching customer success programs at scale based on best practices, customer value strategies, and churn analysis.
She is the CEO of CSM practice, which specializes in the design and implementation of best of the breed, scalable customer success programs using an optimal combination of strategy, playbooks, and technologies.
Diane Hansen: (01:45) Today more than ever, it’s so important to embrace your current customers and what your current customers value in order to keep your business solid especially now in the times of the pandemic. What have you seen in terms of your clients and how they are facing this really unique time in the business climate?
Irit Eizips: (01:16) If you look at the industries and all the businesses dealing with customers, everybody is affected very differently. Some of us deal with grocery stores and video conferencing companies and have big-box retailers as customers. And of course, in that regard, we’re golden. We are in the growing market share of old businesses because we cater to customers that are doing very very well. And then there’s some of us who have businesses that serve airlines and governments, and entertainment like cinemas or retail and those of us who have these kinds of customers actually have been negatively impacted and are going through a shrinking market type of trends. And then there’s the rest of us who maybe serve the healthcare industry or technology and those are the kind of businesses that, we actually have the most opportunity to shift things around and change things up so that we don’t become either part of the shrinking market but actually attached ourselves to growing our business if we do things right.
Diane Hansen: (03:27) How would a company right now that finds themselves in that opportunity or position go about expanding and improving their customer base?
Irit Eizips: (03:37) Most businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic started and shelter-in began throughout the world, the 1st wave of immediate response was just to secure the safety of the workforce and, establish a very reactive structure to the slew of customer requests for cash flow, requests for maybe just deferred payments or cancellation requests for services that we might have signed up for. So there were a slew of requests from customers and everybody was very reactive to the situation. According to TSIA, which is the Technology Services Industry Association, we’re in the middle of managing the crisis and what we’re seeing now at most companies have established how they’re going to react to the customer requests for a different payment structure, or different offerings. They’re still looking at shrinking their workforce, or even shrinking budgets because they realize now what is the holistic impact on the business with those less revenues coming in and deals being canceled.
So we think that most likely this first stage of the impact is going to diminish by Q2 2020, and the expectation is going into Q3 2020. We’re going to see more and more businesses focused on sort of like the phase two of reacting to this pandemic, which is starting to stabilize how we’re going to be looking into 2020 going forward and that would include developing a very tactical response to the challenges of navigating the COVID-19 normal whether it’s going to include things like restrategizing how we package things for clients, thinking through our pricing.
I interviewed a company that does consulting work for other companies, and they’re thinking about shrinking the scope of projects so that the projects are much more agile and consumable and getting to results faster.
So this is what we’re expecting to see, and then the third phase is going to be designing a strategy to emerge strongly from this COVID-19, and that might include really revisiting how you structure your company and all the services offering, but not in the immediate term, but most likely in the long term, really looking into what did COVID-19 help us think through and then what did work for us that we did not expect and leading back through 2021 and 2022.
Christine Salvo: (06:10): What was the 1st wave-like for you as a CEO? What was your personal experience?
Irit Eizips: (06:24) As a CEO, very positively hopeful. I thought that we’ve done well in Q1. And by the way, I’m not the only one that had an amazing 2019 and a great Q1 2020. You know we’ll be cooked up in the house for a couple of weeks and after that, things go unusual and also, personally thinking our business is mainly online, so I actually expected most of my clients to continue working with us with no interference. I was wrong.
Irit Eizips: (07:02) So what happened was most of the small companies that were working with us, they got hit the most and this is true of everywhere and everyone that I speak to. If you had smaller clients, they had more distress around cash flow than the big clients. The larger clients tend to have larger cash flow reserves, and those are the ones that sustained business with us and thankfully right otherwise we would have been out of business by now. And I think that what we’ve experienced is definitely true for a lot of other businesses until after 2-3 weeks when we started seeing, finally, customers shying away from continuing work and trying to figuring out things for themselves and being very busy about being reactive to the situation themselves and no patience to talk to us about anything for the first 4-6 weeks after the pandemic and shelter-in restriction started. Finally I would say two weeks ago is when we started seeing the first lead of a brand new company coming in. And then the week after that we received 2 new leads, and this week we received two more leads and I think that is an indication that, well, you know, usually we received 10 leads. So we’re not there yet. You’re not completely impacted in a way that it’s going to be everlasting like there’s a hope that if we can get a few deals out there, we can sustain ourselves until the full pandemic effect is going to go away.
Diane Hansen: (08:40) And you mentioned proactive versus reactive, so for our listeners who are running businesses and they’re considering proactive versus reactive approaches, what are some of the best ways to be proactive with your customers right now?
Irit Eizips: (08:54) I can share some of the things that we’ve done. Considering the companies that we work with were in a very reactive mode. They don’t have time to do research on industry trends, and so we started a weekly survey to gauge what other companies similar to them. We specifically work with customer success teams, so we conducted a weekly survey to see what other customer success teams are going through. What are they doing? What are the initiatives? What is the impact on the workforce for that team and then shared it with the community and with our customers? Another thing that not only my business is doing, but other businesses are doing for our survey and research, is we started all kinds of communication channels that are open for our customers to get some sort of relief by talking to other business owners.
Irit Eizips: (09:49) Every tuesdays, at 8:00 AM PT, we’re doing this weekly online session. We’re inviting customer success executives to meet with one another. And every week we find one topic that’s related to COVID-19. And we share what you have done. How does it impact you? Do any other people have tips for you? If you have, like a unique situation? And really build that support for one another, and I think those are the things that we’re expecting other companies to do for their customers to be proactive in sharing industry trends and opening up channels. We had one person participating in those online meetings that said that their company actually opens slack channels to allow different companies that they work with to just talk to one another, they opened one channel for executives to talk about potential job loss or how do they deal with communicating to their internal employees? And then they opened another channel about working remotely and that was mostly designed to end-users.
So those are the kind of things we’re expecting, just like as a first relief to be there for customers without really asking for anything. And that’s really relevant in days where you know there’s a pandemic. There’s hardships and people just looking for a way to survive, sort of like the phase one that I was talking about.
See the full COVID-19 Survey Analysis here:
Christine Salvo: (11:11) What I’m really hearing in there is support. So community members, team members, and all the different levels are going to have different experiences and I think that that’s relevant to what you’re saying. If the executives are talking to everyone, that can be a little bit iffy there. We still have to edit. We still have to watch what we say, but if it’s executive to executive to executive, we’re already kind of speaking the same language. We understand this is between us and batting around ideas, seeing you know, maybe that’s not the perfect idea for my company, but that inspires me to have a new thought, that inspires me to think of a new way.
Irit Eizips: (11:49) Absolutely. There’s another company that actually did proactive calls, and they offered, some sort of like a giveaway. If you are willing to jump on a call with our salesperson only to ask them, how can we help? Do you have a sales deal that stuck that we can introduce you to someone? Is there anything else that we can do to help? They weren’t really even selling anything, they were just establishing this rapport and helping the salesperson take the time to get closer and build strong relationships with those prospects without really asking for anything. And in fact, I think they had some sort of a giveaway, just to incentivize you to get on the phone at that time where everything is going wrong and you really every minute is really precious.
Christine Salvo: (12:35) So how is this different from pre-pandemic? What’s the difference?
Irit Eizips: (12:41) You know I love that question because I think what is happening is that before, the economy was very strong. We didn’t have to do those things. It doesn’t mean that these things aren’t right. I think what showed up to a lot of people on a personal front and on the business front is that there’s a lot of things that we should probably be doing, regardless of the pandemic. You know, offering customers help, regardless of what we do for them, is a great thing to just build relationships and just be human and kind and generous with your time and resources and be more customer-centric. I think that’s something that shows up to everyone. It’s COVID-19, it’s a lot of things are going to change going forward. It’s just that before it wasn’t a must-have and now, to survive, if you’re in the maybe emerging, maybe declining markets because you have these industries that are not doing really badly but not doing really well, this is where you need to step up your game.
Diane Hansen: (13:40) It really is a period of social closening and that social closening not only within, in between businesses and their vendors. But as well as in companies and company cultures as well. Has there been anything that you’ve done specifically within your company culture to refine that within this period as well?
Irit Eizips: (14:01) You know what showed up for me is that we communicate more. Everybody in the company is communicating more. We opened up more communication channels. If before using online communication channels was not a must-have, now it is. Doing weekly calls. I proactively try to communicate with everyone and either call them or text them personally. On all fronts, whereas before maybe you know we would do one, you know a weekly call, so we’re seeing even that is happening in our small company and I knew for a fact that I was also inspired by other executives that have shared the same thing that they’re actually doing now that they’re all remote. There’s no way to just go through the corridor and say hi. They’re actually proactive in calling each and every one of the team members that they have to ask how they are, how they’re doing, what’s a priority for them? What’s challenging?
Christine Salvo: (14:54) What sticks out to me is, a lot of time in the corporate world or in the business world, people can feel like just a number. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. I know I’ve heard that a million and one times, ‘I’m just a number, they don’t care about me’, and when I’m kind of hearing now is when we’re having to make these personalization phone calls when we’re having to connect, you’re actually getting to know your employees on a different level.
That’s the only way it works, when we’re personalizing things, we just get closer. And all of a sudden maybe I’m not just a number anymore, maybe she does actually care. He does actually care that I have a family, that it’s hectic around here, that we have three dogs, and three kids under the age of seven, and I’m really trying to focus. But my work time might actually be from midnight to 3:00 AM. Everybody’s gonna sleep and really having that flexibility in those kinds of things.
Irit Eizips: (15:45) Absolutely! I’d be the first one to admit, if you look at managers, they are either people-oriented or very task-oriented and I would say I tend to be more task-oriented than people-oriented. I like to get things right. Then I have to get things comfortable and this COVID-19 definitely pushes me as a team leader and as an executive to force myself to be more people-oriented and to be a lot more patient as much as I can. My employees would attest that I was maybe not the most patient person when COVID really hit hard enough. And then they found me apologizing for any impatient conversation that I might have had with them either right after or the next day. And saying, you know, I’m also humid. This is also impacting me and we’ll get our stride. Just be patient and ask personal questions. That’s totally something. I’m not like the regular salesperson that gets right into being personal. I’m a bit more formal, potentially so getting it outside my comfort zone. And when I go into a one on one conversation with a client or with an employee, just actually ask some personal questions like, ‘how are you doing’? How’s the family? You know without feeling like I’m invading privacy or something like that because these are the times where most importantly is to ask about how are people doing, how are they playing versus getting business done?
Diane Hansen: (17:20) And it’s absolutely both. I think that trust and that personal connection does equal long term business and true customer-centricity, both whether they’re internal and external customers really does start with the authenticity piece. And the ability to have those customers, again, whether internal-external not feel like just a number or not feel just like an annual subscription or a paycheck of some sort? To personalize that, I think that’s really a great point. And what I see is an opportunity for any of our listeners to examine their organizations and ask themselves both inside and outside my company, how can I tap into that relationship-centric approach to my business? How can I really get to know my customer segments? How can I really get to know my internal segments and maybe the strengths of my specific teams and how to task better to the strengths? Or task better to the time requirements that they have? Or list a lot of opportunities for asking some really introspective questions that we didn’t have the need to ask for before because business was clicking along so well. But now this is really opened up and I hear people talking about the new normal. I tend to think that the new normal will be one that’s much more heart-centered.
Christine Salvo: (18:52) So I’m a solopreneur, but, I’m really starting to pay attention to who’s treated their employees well during this too. So I’m curious about your take on that, as well as how you’re helping coach your clients, and how you act and how you treat your employees is going to matter to the consumer because someone that’s really kind of been pretty nasty about things, I’d rather shop elsewhere. And I know that this is, in so many ways, we’re all just kind of being brought to our knees. We’re all being humbled. We’re all like, maybe, I’m not so great. Or maybe my company wasn’t so good. Whatever the issues are, it’s time to start and rebuild from where we are and even do it better, right? So are you coaching clients like this are what your image is gonna be like during and post and you know if you have to do mass layoffs, that’s not the worst thing we understand? But are you doing it graciously? Are you doing kindly or you right like, how we’re treating people right now really matters.
Irit Eizips: (19:47) I agree. How we treat our employees and how we treat our customers is going to be pivotal to our ability to grow and sustain during this period. In terms of employee look, I think right now, most executives in my position are really facing a hard time because our budget is shrinking or our cash flow has shrunk dramatically even if we have some savings on the side. You know we don’t know when we are going to emerge and then we’re forcing our workforce to work from home using their own computer, using more electricity, using more like Wi-Fi and their own personal phones. And some would question, ‘wait are you going to compensate me for this’ because for hours working in the office using your equipment on top of that we are actually shrinking their salaries. It is not unheard of for people to get anywhere between you know, up to 20, 30, or 50 and sometimes eliminating their job completely.
And so if you are shrinking their salaries by 20%, plus asking them to work from home using their own devices, internet, and electricity, you know whether they’re going to eat more at home. You know we are impacting our employees and people who work for us negatively. So even if we don’t want to, it’s the reality of being a business owner that unfortunately as kind as you want to be to your entire team, you have to make some really hard business decisions that you know would not be very kind to your employees. So the only way that you can compensate for it is by your behavior. And I think the first thing that, as an executive and business owner, we want to do is be very gracious and kind to our employees. Have them involved in some key decision making so that they don’t feel like this decision was made and then brought into them. But actually, they were part of the decision wherever possible. I’m not talking about budget decisions, but.
For example, I thought it would be a really great opportunity to revisit our company’s values and have the team take part of it. So we did an internal survey about, ‘hey, what values do you think we should actually have as a company’? Then we opened up the discussion on “Do you know how often we want to meet?” If it’s once a week, would you feel like it’s valuable for you? And if so, what kind of topics would you like to talk about? And just have more of the team being involved in some of the things that they do have control over and then they can impact. I think that goes a long way. Another thing that was brought up in a recent conversation that I had online with other executives is, there’s 50% of the people we surveyed are actually very concerned about their job either being eliminated or having even more concessions done to their salaries. And you know the one thing that business owners and executives can do is actually communicate, communicate, communicate. Constantly tell people what would be important for them to focus on, what is likely to come if we don’t know what would be some of our considerations, when are we going to make those decisions?
Being very open about it is going to give people some relief. Others have started happy hours every Friday and they get the old employees in. They do riddles and games online, and just to alleviate some of the stress.
So there are things that we have under our control? Like how are we showing up for our team? And then there are things, unfortunately, there are not under our control like budget and cash flow. And the communication piece and how we show up is going to make 100% of the difference as to whether employees are willing to weather the weather with you, right? Are they willing to stick with you through this weird period or are they gonna check out and leave and go look for someone somewhere else? Are they gonna really partner with you to go through this difficult time and come out as a stronger team working together through this problem or are they going to stop believing in you? And I think the only way that company you know, employees are gonna stop believing in you is that you start firing people left and right, not explaining anything. Because people are gonna come up with different theories on why you’re doing that. And once you lose their confidence, I think team members are gonna check out.
Diane Hansen: (24:17) Thank you, Irit for being on Business Therapy! It was a pleasure having you.
Truly, the pandemic is creating opportunities to deepen the relationships between executives and employees, and employees and customers alike. These relationships matter not just during these chaotic times, but also in the foreseeable future moving forward.
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