Strategy is essentially planning for the future of your business. It is great to have this grand plan that sets up the blueprint for future growth and sustainability. The challenge today is that we find ourselves in a world where change outpaces any form of planning or learning, making our world very uncertain. As a business, not only are you depending on a well-crafted strategy as you go forward, but the awareness to keep on track and make the necessary adjustments when required is as important as the inception of your current strategy. The volatile business environment makes it imperative that you respond to new developments by making the necessary adjustments to stay on course.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic that plagued our world so severely just over a year ago. Businesses had very little by way of response from their existing strategies. Everything had to change, and so the experience agenda of many were revisited. Prices flew through the roof as shortages emerged, queuing was common in parts of the world where this practice was uncharacteristic. Gin 5, the well-known Gin brand, had answers for keeping its customers happy when the pandemic struck. By creatively developing their brand of sanitisers, they were on point in their bid to keep loyal customers and others happy.
Who would place a premium on gin when lives are at stake? The need then was to develop a solution that would resonate with the public in a time of distress. They came up with a branded version of sanitiser named ‘Gintizer’ to keep the brand visible. Fast forward – following the initial scare that led to lockdowns and shortages of sanitisers and so on, they have bounced back having kept their loyal customers happy. Out of this has emerged many other variations of their products. According to research carried out by Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based economic tracker, as of May this year the number of U.S. small businesses that are open decreased by 33.8% compared to January 2020.
Small businesses were the hardest hit as needs changed suddenly in response to demands of the time. Many suffered disruptions variously; however, it also opened up a lot of opportunities, prominent among these the new virtual environment and possibilities this has opened up for both pioneers and laggards. The lockdown’s aftermath has seen the emergence of technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx to name just a few offering great platforms for virtual engagements. Among the hardest-hit by effects of the pandemic are employees, and this has occurred across all industries. Many have been displaced by the crisis impacting the way organisations operate and engage with customers.
A key lesson from the pandemic’s effects is the need to match our experience agenda with a work environment that enhances employee performance and growth. According to Rowena Westphalen, Vice President-Innovation, the Asia Pacific at Salesforce: “You can’t give your customers an optimal experience if you haven’t given your employees an optimal experience”. Your strategy must holistically address both customer and employee needs to gain currency for your business goals. Your goal is to shorten the gap between business goals and customer needs to deliver an outstanding customer experience.
The following 3 steps shared by researchers will help draw attention to the key triggers in your strategic planning process. Firstly, a plan for failure: as unusual an approach as this may seem, it is the way to a well-drilled plan with a robust recovery process that keeps the customer happy. Secondly, empower employees: great customer experiences are delivered by highly motivated employees who have ownership of the strategy and are willing to ‘put themselves on the line’ for it. Thirdly, be quick to fix the issue when things go wrong.
Plan for failure
Regardless of how careful we are at crafting and delivering great plans, we must accept the fact that things may sometimes go wrong. In business, we are frequently confronted with issues and outcomes that are unexpected. Technology may fail you; your suppliers could disappoint you at a crucial moment; external events may occur that are completely out of your control. Katie Stabler, a customer `experience specialist, proposes a few tips to help us navigate murky situations. She asserts that you prepare your team adequately to deal effectively with customer issues by ensuring they have enough guidance on how to recover from a poor experience. Where possible, empower them to react flexibly – but give clear guidelines.
Additionally, let them know what they are supported to do; lay out very clearly what is and isn’t possible – e.g., in your retail business where there is a compensation policy, ensure that you set clear levels of compensation permitted for each category of issue. Outline clear policies on how quickly you want your team to act; speed is critical in remedying a bad experience before the customer is compelled to take an action of their own. Years ago, in my support role at a multinational in the UK (and this is very common) I followed clear policies on client issues from normal to urgent. The response levels were prescribed, I knew which issues to follow-up and which ones to escalate based on the reported severity level.
Avoid working in silos; an issue that one customer experiences could be an issue confronting many customers, so work with your team to fully understand the situation to deliver consistent experiences across all your touchpoints. Promote an issue-tolerant culture to avoid a situation where they are brushed under the carpet. Ensure that your team is confident in raising concerns without fear of repercussions. Where possible, always keep your customers informed. A problem may be reported by only 2 of your customers, but many others may have experienced it. Acknowledge the problem and render an apology; customers appreciate honesty.
If you want to put your best foot forward when dealing with your customers, ensure your team is well-placed to deliver amazing customer experience recovery. Their ability to quickly spot an issue and speedily remedy it will earn great plaudits for your business. Your quick responses will even ensure that you prevent a possible complaint, leaving the customer feeling fantastic. Set your team up to become ‘Recovery Heroes’ by providing clear guidelines, enabling them to act with authority by providing the right guidance and support. This will place them to act quickly in situations by using their initiative.
Support creativity and personalisation. The boss of a Moves company who observed a loyal employee walk some miles to work on his first day and decided to give his car to aid this employee stands out as a creative move. You could see in the employee’s facial expression on receiving the car-keys from his boss that he was blown away. Ian Golding makes this clear when he says, “Employee experience drives customer experience. Make it your business to understand the picture of engagement in your organisation…and help maintain or build it. Develop customer-centric profiles to create and maintain a link between employees and the business goals.
Empathy with the needs of your customer is what will keep them coming back. The story is told of a CEO who waits on tables because he is keen to understand for himself what the customers go through when they are engaging with his business, and for him the best way to understand this is to experience what his employees go through when serving them. When you drive a positive employee culture, you influence an environment of comradeship wherein your team members are willing to support each other. As they build trust with each other, their actions earn them trust from customers. Ultimately, your business earns trust from customers.
Fix the Issue
After you have worked tirelessly to turn a bad experience into a great one, you now have a happy customer. However, your work isn’t finished yet. You now have to do everything possible to prevent the same incident from occurring again. Take advantage of the learning to install a robust process which ensures you don’t go down that road again. Plan the recovery! Katie Stabler recommends the following steps in your recovery:
- Identify the root-cause of the problem
- Understand its impact – is it a one-off or recurring issue? Has it impacted a few or the many?
- Work with your team to fix the problem – here, collaboration is key to ensure that the wider team is involved in identifying and fixing the issue fully.
- Throw in some additional quality assurance to ensure your ‘fix’ has worked – monitor that experience; map the journey your customers are taking to make sure the experience you intended is now the experience they are getting.
Your quest in all this is to ensure that you retain your existing customers. As we all know, effects of the pandemic have been very harsh on businesses – especially those in the small and medium space. It is known from research that it is more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. More importantly, loyal customers are your best assets as they are the ones likely to tell friends and family about you. Furthermore, organisations which excel at providing a great customer experience are more likely to have engaged employees; thus completing the much-coveted cycle of the happy customer.
|The Writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],