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[Interview] John DiJulius, Founder, The DiJulius Group

John DiJulius is an international consultant and keynote speaker on world-class customer service. A bestselling author of three customer service books, his newest book is, “The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in the Digital Age“. John utilizes his proven methodology with world-class companies like The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Nestlé, Marriott Hotels, Chick-fil-A and more.

A successful entrepreneur, John is the founder of three businesses: The DiJulius Group, an international consulting firm, John Robert’s Spa, a chain of upscale salons in Northeast Ohio, and Believe in Dreams, a nonprofit that helps make dreams come true for deserving children.

We talk to him about how companies can approach the relationship economy.

How has the technological age affected company-client relationships?

Today we are living in the “digital disruption era.” Technology has provided us with unprecedented advances, information, knowledge, instant access and entertainment. We have computers, mobile phones, tablets, the internet, social media, apps, and artificial intelligence — assistants like Siri and Alexa, chatbots, virtual concierges, facial recognition and self-driving cars.

However, as convenient as these advances make our lives, they also have changed the way we communicate, behave and think, and they’ve led to a dramatic decline in our people skills. As a society we’re now relationship disadvantaged. We no longer become curious about others or eager to engage in conversations. The younger generation primarily communicates electronically, and the explosion of ecommerce means we go out less and less. In business, multi-channel communication has dramatically reduced phone calls to companies; customers can get answers and place orders via email, on websites or through social media channels.

The pendulum has swung over to high tech/low touch. Consequently we long for a sense of community and belonging — a world in which people actually know our name, what we do, what’s important to us, and where we have trust in one another. Today trust is an endangered value. Those who understand that human touch is the most important part of any experience — especially a great customer experience — will flourish. Personally and professionally, success is increasingly about creating and building human connections.

Why is it important that organizations intentionally train staff in soft skills?

There’s one soft skill that, when mastered will, without question, have the biggest impact on us personally and professionally. That skill is the ability to build an instant connection with others. It’s way more than a mere communications skill. It’s the ability to communicate with a purpose — to build your community at every stage of your life. Building a relationship with someone else, whether an acquaintance, friend, customer, coworker or total stranger, is by far the most important skill every human being should be taught at an early age and then should hone throughout life. Unfortunately, it’s rarely taught in any formal way. 

Make no mistake, the lack of social skills our society is suffering from is the problem for business leaders to solve. As a result, businesses that want to be successful need to address this relationship-building deficit in their employee training. Companies need to find ways to train younger staff members on things they may lack, such as social skills and rapport building. Because of the digital revolution, many members of the younger generations lack the necessary people skills of previous generations. Yet they’re now leading start-ups that have developed quickly into leading companies. This will only accelerate the growing number of relationship-disadvantaged businesses.

Describe the Relationship Economy and how it is emerging?

For anyone and any business to thrive in the future, they will have to master the art of relationship building. Since technological advancements have come at the expense of human connections, organizations now need to reinvent their business model to marry digital and human experiences in the best way possible. The Relationship Economy is where the primary currency is the emotional connection made with customers, employees and vendors that results in your organization becoming the brand customers can’t live without. It ultimately makes price irrelevant.

What are some key components in creating a customer-focused culture?

The 3 strategic ways to dominate the Relationship Economy include:

  1. Use technology to perform basic tasks and as an alternative convenience for customers, enabling employees to focus on what’s most important: Building relationships that result in higher customer loyalty, retention, lifetime value and employee job satisfaction.
  2. Build a culture that creates emotional connections with your employees.
  3. Incorporate relationship-building training for new and existing employees.

No one is born with a rapport-building gene. And not everyone is inclined to be outgoing or to strike up a conversation with people they don’t know. The environment you grow up in plays a big part in how you act. If you had extremely outgoing parents, chances are you’ll grow up to behave similarly. However, even if you weren’t exposed to an outgoing environment in your early years, this skill set can still be developed and mastered.

There are certain sets of characteristics to work on in order to master relationship building:

  • Authenticity
  • Curiosity
  • Great listening ability
  • Empathy
  • A love of people

What internal benefits are organizations seeing from improving customer relationships?

Companies spend millions creating and advertising their brands, yet the customer’s experience is what truly drives customer perception, retention and referrals. If you take really good care of your existing clients, they’ll generate more new customers than any advertising campaign ever could.

Here are some facts about existing customers:

  • Repeat customers spend more than new customers.
  • Repeat customers give higher satisfaction scores.
  • Repeat customers give referrals more often than new customers.
  • You need five new customers to produce as much as one repeat customer.

Think about what might happen if you reversed your budgets for advertising and customer service. The top customer service companies typically spend the least in their industries in advertising and marketing. There’s no denying that technology has amazing advantages to make it easier for the customer in most cases — provided businesses do it in moderation and not at the cost of the human experience. The new paradigm starts with hiring employees who genuinely like people and want to serve, then giving them the training that will increase their service aptitude, making sure there’s a leader with the power to oversee and strengthen customer service across all departments and allocating the budget to make it happen.

Are there examples of companies who are leading in the Relationship Economy, and what are their strategies?

Yes. One example is insurance agency Benson Kearley IFG (BKIFG).

BKIFG is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and it isn’t your typical insurance agency because Stephen Kearley is not your typical company president. BKIFG is obsessed with providing a world-class experience to both customers and employees, and it’s paying huge dividends with exponential growth. BKIFG created an amazing incentive program to help its team focus on collecting information on customers’ families, occupation, recreation and dreams (FORD) — four categories that matter most to people. 

BKIFG gives account executives a $25 allowance they must spend every month on their customers. The program reminds employees to listen and recognize customers’ FORD facts and follow up with delightful surprises. For example, an existing customer might call to ask a question about a policy and in the process mention that it’s their wedding anniversary this weekend. The BKIFG employee could use the $25 to send flowers or a gift card.

BKIFG also came up with a campaign to increase the amount of customer intelligence they collect on clients. Back when one of the new Star Wars movies was being launched, their slogan was: “May the FORDS be with you!” They created Star Wars advent calendars for each office location and drew names of associates each day to open the doors on the calendar. They also awarded an R2-D2 trophy to the top FORD producer. 

Learn more at thedijuliusgroup.com.

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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