What a crisis looks like

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.  In the world.

1: This week in RiseWithDrew we’ve been exploring the mindset and practices of Ritz Carlton, which has elevated the guest experience to the highest level.

At PCI, two of the five pillars of our notthebigcompany culture are client-specific:  our goal and our client promises.  

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of my grandfather Rocky Clancy starting our predecessor firm, the Rockwell F. Clancy Company.  The last ten years have been good ones at PCI (we feel very Blessed!).  But if you last 100 years, there are certainly going to be challenging periods as well.  One of these challenging periods occurred in the mid-2000s.  

It was out of one of this periods that our goal and our client promises were created.   

PCI was an early leader in providing online communities for colleges and universities.  In the early 2000s, 18 of the nation’s top 25 universities, as ranked by US News, were PCI clients, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Northwestern.  We believed this was the future of our company.  

We stumbled.  

We began by creating an online community website for each of our clients.  The benefit of this approach is we could customize each site.  The disadvantage was it was difficult to roll out new features to all clients.  We added new functionality one site at a time.  And, each code set was different.  What worked well when we had ten clients became a nightmare as we grew to 50, then 75, then 100 clients.

We needed a technology platform.

Turns our creating a technology platform is complex.  And, expensive.  

We had two sets of developers: one working on the existing sites responding to client requests; one creating the new platform.  

The old business adage: “It always takes longer and costs more” was our reality.  One year turned into two.  As we started our third year of developing the new platform, we were in trouble.  Clients were impatient.  Clients were leaving.

An even bigger problem was we were neglecting our traditional business of collecting data and publishing alumni and membership directories.  With the two development teams, expenses were climbing as revenue was falling from $10 million to $6 million.  

That’s what a crisis looks like.

2: But, we are a resilient bunch at PCI.  To last 100 years, that’s a requirement.  

We realized our traditional business of helping our clients collect data from their constituents was still valuable.  [Side note: still is today].  We finished the technology platform which also became the technology platform for our traditional business, too.

And, we doubled down on pleasing our clients.  We have always taken great pride in serving our clients at the highest level.  But we had slipped.  And, we knew it.  As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, great companies “confront the brutal facts.”

We started having difficult conversations.  What did we need to do to reclaim our reputation and become the company we wanted to be?

“Every client should be referenceable.”  That was a phrase that came out of these conversations.  That became our rallying cry.  That became our goal.

We wanted to delight our clients so each one would say good things about PCI.  Every client would refer us internally to their colleagues and externally to their peers.

Every client.  Every call.  Every interaction.

3: The next question was: How?  How do we do it?

One of the tenets of our notthebigcompany culture is we create it together.  So, we asked all of our associates to write down their very best ideas on how to make every client referenceable.  They did.  We received over 500 ideas.  [One of our associates actually wrote two chapters of a book on the topic – true story.]  

Next, our then VP for People Deborah Dale and I sat in a conference room and took all the ideas and began sorting them.  Five themes emerged.  These five things became our five client promises: Be proactive. Be accountable. Be trustworthy. Be positive.  Be passionate.

We start every meeting at PCI by stating our goal: Every client should be referenceable.  We make every client referenceable by living our five client promises each and every day.

More next week.

_______________________

Reflection:  How can we elevate the client experience in my organization?  Is there an idea that has worked in the past that could be re-introduced?

Action:  Do it.

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