Business school text books are written around the key tenets of strategic plans – vision, mission, values and strategy. They explain the concepts in depth, often scholarly, occasionally they even entertain but they always fall silent on how to implement them well. And rarely are they well implemented!
Change has to be the thing that most companies mis-manage, most consistently. The reason that companies find it so difficult to effect change is because they do it badly. And the first point of failure is their approach to leadership and strategic planning. Leaders can request change, even demand it but they cannot make it happen on their own. But rarely do they ask themselves some of the most basic, yet fundamental, questions:
- How relevant is the strategy to it’s employees?
- Do the employees know, and I mean REALLY know, what the company is trying to achieve?
- And most importantly, are the employees engaged enough to care about what the company is trying to achieve?
The strategic plan doesn’t have to be glossily corporate or wordsmithed within an inch of it’s existence . But it does have to be engaging, inspiring and clear. Unfortunately, most strategic plans are devised in the rarefied atmosphere of the Boardroom, sterilised by copywriters, distributed in colourful posters and glossy handouts, and filed in the bottom drawer. Like a perpetual groundhog day nothing changes, life goes on as before, but the walls are covered with new wallpaper.
And nowhere is the strategic plan more critical than with customer experience. Customer experience is widely acknowledged as the next competitive battleground yet interestingly only 20% of companies claim to have a well-developed customer experience strategy. And I would hazard a guess that a lot of them are kidding themselves!
Customer experience encompasses every interaction that a customer has with a brand from it’s advertising, to it’s online persona to the actual product. But often it’s all about person to person experiences. The first person that your customers interact with, whether a call centre agent or receptionist, cleaner or salesman, your own staff or outsourcer can make or break their entire experience. However, in a recent survey Gallup discovered that only 14% of workers in Western Europe are engaged in their work – what if your customer first interacts with one of the 86%? The odds are high!
And that brings us back to strategic plans – if they are born in the Boardroom, parented by a bunch of middle class guys in chinos they are unlikely to engage, inspire or even be clear to that critical first point of contact.
So, how do you build a strategic plan that engages and becomes a catalyst for change?
- Start with the customer – use focus groups, ask them online, survey them on your premises. It doesn’t matter how you engage with them but make sure that your starting point isn’t a leader’s assumption or extrapolation from 10 minutes on the shop floor. Remember as Oscar Wilde said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”
- Share the fun – whether you call it co-creation or crowdsourcing you have people in your business that understand how things really are better than you. They are also the people that you need to engage to ACTUALLY make things happen. All the smart isn’t in the executive team, but showing humility and asking for help will bring engagement.
- Think like a child – I have a two year old, and he approaches the world with a sense of wonderment and fun. If your vision and values are stiff and formal your people won’t engage. Give a desired outcome; don’t direct – when leaders direct customers hear messages like “I’m sorry, I’m not authorised to do that” or worse still “That’s not my job.” What about if your people really, and I mean REALLY, believed that anything was possible and you backed them all the way?
The strategic plan has to inform every decision the company makes – recruitment, leadership, customer communications and internal communications. And it has to be lived consistently. You can’t make up rules, policies and guidelines for every eventuality but if you could build a plan that shared the outcome that you wanted the customer to experience, and how you wanted your company to work, then your people would rise to the challenge.
The strategic plan designed in the Boardroom based on the old text book approach really is a waste of everyone’s time and effort. Designing and successfully implementing a customer experience strategy has to be done differently from any strategic plan that you have done before. As the saying goes “If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten”.
How would you build a customer experience strategy to engage, inspire and guide?