One of the most common mistakes in creating a strategy is to think that documenting “business as usual” (BAU) activities is, or can be, a strategy. Unfortunately, this is a common mistake in organisations in most sectors, whether commercial, government or the third sector. Strategy is all about change, as well as placing big bets about what is going to move the organisation forward. It’s about deciding what not to do, as much as it is about focus.
Going beyond business as usual
Let’s think for a minute what we mean by ‘business as usual’ activities for a hypothetical communications function. In the diagram below, the base layer is work that any function in any organisation has to perform. Perhaps this takes up 20% of all the department’s time over a year. The next layer up is tasks that only a communications team would perform, but any such team would have to spend a considerable amount of time doing. Let’s say that takes 50% of the time. That leaves just 30% for whatever strategic actions are needed. In this example, it is:
- Finding the CEO external speaking engagements and preparing him or her to deliver them
- Determining who the key industry influencers are for that company and taking action to convince them to be advocates for the company
- Improving the social media presence of the company and responding quickly and effectively to any issues raised
This means that decisions have also been made about what the department would like to do but does not have the resources to perform – perhaps running an internal comms roadshow, redesigning the Intranet and so on. There is only a certain amount of bandwidth for an organisation to redirect onto chosen strategic priorities, and so it is essential to do the work to decide about where to place these resources and what they should be expected to deliver.
We have just heard about the UK’s National Health Service bringing forward its vaccination booster programme, but this comes at the expense of routine hospital operations and GP appointments. Big strategic decisions do not come easy.
The other key element in being able to spot when a strategy is more than ‘business as usual’ is to look at the change it intends to drive. Every strategy is about change, whether to respond to a situation (a big opportunity or crisis) or to goals that have been set. If the organisation could simply meet all its goals by doing what it normally does, no strategy would be needed.
Change, of course, is happening all around us and organisations that don’t take it into account will, sooner or later, create a gap between reality and their actions that brings major problems. Changing demographics, technologies, laws, regulations and sustainability requirements are just some of the factors that must be incorporated. Change, therefore, is the other side of the coin when we consider ‘business as usual’.
Growing and winning with purpose
Given the need for change, the question then becomes about what to change. There are so many possibilities that criteria are needed to assess the different options. In order to have meaningful criteria, every strategy should be built on strong foundations. These underpinnings should be the organisation’s purpose, vision and mission.
There isn’t space here to go into the differences between these, but if they are not well defined and understood, it is extremely difficult to find criteria that allow the decisions to be taken about the strategic direction, goals and actions.
A great example of a purpose-based strategy comes from Tesla. Somewhat surprisingly, their corporate purpose is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. This explains the fact that as well as cars, they also produce solar tiles, domestic storage and grid storage products. Their strategy involves decisions that only make sense when the corporate purpose is understood.
There will almost always be competing options that could be taken. Invest in a new product or new markets; spend more on sales and marketing; recruit more customer-facing staff; strengthen the balance sheet; make an acquisition; agree to a proposed merger; re-organise – and so on. The organisation will probably have to do several of these at once, but it won’t be able to do all of them, even if it wanted to.
Developing the unbeateble CX strategy
A customer experience strategy is, arguably, the most important strategy that an organisation can build, given that it is the area where uncompromised success gives the best possible chance of meeting organisational purpose and vision. There should be great synergy between not just formal statements such as purpose and vision, but also values, culture and brand.
These three are the factors that determine whether the strategy can be executed and how well. Of course, they are vital ingredients in any customer experience plan because they are key determinants of how your employees will engage with customers.
Values are guides for employees to assist them when a formal process does not provide an answer on how to behave or what decisions to make. Culture is what actually happens and how well the values are respected. Brand – although it has many definitions – can be thought of as the external manifestation of the organisation’s culture.
The relationship between the internal view of the brand and the external – customer – opinion will play a significant part in determining the success of the customer engagement strategy. Too wide a divergence means a lack of trust and credibility. Keeping them close enhances the customer relationship and willingness to trust, engage and buy.
Writing a customer experience strategy then is a balancing act. It must be based on purpose, vision and mission. It must require significant change, not be seduced by the lure of ‘business as usual’, while also delivering a customer experience that your organisation can fulfil and which reinforces the brand. New customer experience plans must be innovative and bold, but they must also remain realistic.