On the day New Jersey closed all bars and restaurants, one South Jersey bar sent out a series of social media posts, telling folks to crowd in and get your “fix while you can” until the state-mandated closing at 8pm.
Down the East Coast, in Florida—where, at the time, there were no curfews or closures ordered yet—the owner of an Irish pub decided, on his own, to not open on St. Patrick’s Day, his busiest day of the year. “I have made this decision with the best interest of the health and safety of my staff and guests,” he wrote. “I do not wish to contribute to the spread of the COVID-19 virus by packing hundreds of guests into a confined area.”
Which business would you rather patronize?
This is a time of tremendous uncertainty for everyone. People are scared. They’re confused. Absolutely no one has visibility as to where our nation and our economy will be even a week from now.
Yet, one thing is certain: Executives who lead and communicate based on their values today are sure to preserve and grow customer loyalty tomorrow.
Most of the products and services companies offer really are just commodities. Sure, we talk about differentiation in marketing, but, if we’re honest with ourselves—and social distancing presents us with an ideal opportunity for thoughtfulness and contemplation—we know that most clients and customers could swap vendors overnight with little disruption. Whether you run a bank or a bar, the products you offer can easily be bought elsewhere.
So, what matters? Relationships. Most people don’t make a business decision based on the products offered, but rather for the people associated with them. As much as we talk about the power of a brand, no matter how hard marketers work, the blocking and tackling of brand-building happens in personal interactions. You can’t offer the friendly skies if your flight attendants are miserable. You can’t be a bank built on trust if you are double charging them fees or putting them in risky investments. You can’t own that bar where everybody knows your name if you’re watering down your beer.
Lead with Your Values
Strong relationships are built on one thing: shared values. We don’t have to all have the same beliefs, but we do have to have a common sense of right and wrong, of good behavior and bad. Customers and clients, in normal times, need to hear about who you are, more than simply what you do. Now, in these extraordinary periods of crisis and worry, you need to lead with your values and your people.
We preach this internally at JConnelly. Our own values are based on taking care of our team and encouraging them to support one another. We know that, if our teammates feel valued and supported, our clients will, too. We also are careful about which clients, vendors and partners we work with. We don’t want to do business with jerks. We want partners who elevate us and vice versa. It’s been good business for us.
Now is the time to let people know how your values will build and improve relationships. Communicate to all your stakeholders what you’re doing for your own employees. Tell stories about your own families. Stay in touch with partners and clients. Simply asking how they are doing, and offering help, shows that you consider this a relationship worth preserving and cherishing. Show empathy. Show your partners that they are more than an account receivable.
Most of all, let them know you are there. Everyone is nervous now. You don’t have to provide the answers but meeting their uncertainty with empathy and care shows a lot about who you are as a business leader. And that, ultimately, will define your brand for generations to come.