Congratulations—you’ve been given responsibility for a strategic initiative. Maybe it’s knowledge management; maybe it’s self-service or swarming; maybe it’s a complete service transformation. You’ve being held accountable to outcomes like retention, recurring revenue, loyalty, profitability, or cost reduction. So, what exactly are you going to do? The answer to that must be driven by a strategy.
But what’s a strategy? In this context, I believe your strategy is simply the answer to the question, What do you want your organization to be? I’d break it down further to two sub-questions:
- How do you want to be perceived?
- How are you going to engage with customers and prospects so they see you that way?
How Do You Want to Be Perceived? Your Brand Promise
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” The company’s brand isn’t created by clever taglines or expensive ad campaigns, but by the interactions people have with the company. And, if you’re in Service, Support, or Success, most customer interactions are with you!
We call what we want people to say about us the brand promise. For most companies you do business with, it’s pretty clear what they’re shooting for. Walmart? Low cost and an abundance of choice. 7-Eleven? Convenience: getting what you need when you need it with a minimum of fuss. Nordstrom? High-touch service, luxury, and customer-centricity. (I don’t know if anyone ever really returned tires to Nordstrom, but the fact that people even tell this story tells you how successful Nordstrom has been in promoting its desired brand.)
How You Want to be in the World: What You Do
Astute companies design customer experiences to support their brand promise. Your initiative needs to do the same.
I joined Apple with its acquisition of NeXT in 1997. Whether you look through the lens of financials, stock price, innovation, market perception, or employee morale, 1997 was not a good time for Apple. Shortly, though, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as Interim CEO. And Steve had a lot of clarity about how he wanted Apple to be in the world. To create the kinds of products he had in mind, he made it clear we had to simplify. Steve kept reminding us, “Focus is about saying ’no.’” Apple dramatically reduced its SKUs, divested from non-core product lines, and made just a few big bets in software and hardware, such as the colorful iMac computer.
He also focused on the why. The Think Different ad campaign reminded all of us at Apple that we were building products for creative, innovative people—people who intended to change the world for the better. Keeping these customers in mind made it easy to say no to distractions, and easy to get excited about our big bets.
Can I quantify the ROI from the Think Different campaign? Absolutely not. But having been there at the time, I know it was essential for evolving our identity so Apple could deliver—and profit from—all the innovation that came in the following years. It was a wildly successful leap of faith. Apple knew what it wanted to be, and it became just that.
How To Use Strategy to Drive Success
Back to your initiative now—how can you use this definition of strategy to make it successful? Let me give a consultant’s favorite answer: “It depends.”
Ideally, your enterprise, your business unit, or your organization has done much of this work for you. They should have articulated what they want customers to say and think about the business. Now, you might need to go hunting for this brand promise: if Marketing owns it, they don’t always communicate it well. But hopefully you can use the brand promise as your true north in evaluating approaches to your initiative.
Also, your company should have a statement of who it is and what it does. Do you have a set of values? Repeated refrains from the C-Suite? Strategic initiatives that are more specific than increase revenue and reduce cost? If so, these should be tests for ideas about how to implement your initiative.
Unfortunately, some companies haven’t laid out this kind of vision. If so, it falls on you to take up the strategic slack. You know enough about your business and your customers to articulate a brand promise on your own. Socialize it with the rest of the organization to make sure it resonates. If the company hasn’t provided you with a clear statement of what it aspires to be, then brainstorm and propose something. You have a surprising amount of influence when you think and communicate strategically.
Let’s Put Strategy into Practice
I’ll show you what I mean with some examples. Given the desired brand attributes below, I’ll give you some options for actions you might take. You pick the better of each pair of options.
Brand Promise: A Trusted Advisor
Many of our clients are high-dollar-value, high-complexity B2B support organizations. They often tell us that they want their customers to see them as trusted advisors. As with Apple, this requires a leap of faith, because it’s expensive to become a trusted advisor. The bet pays off because high-value customers stick with, buy more from, and recommend vendors that help them be successful.
Which option would a company that aspires to be a trusted advisor choose?
|Keep product defects confidential||Provide customers access to known issues|
|Deliver support with badged staff||Use a business process outsourcer|
|Organize teams by customer or groups of customers||Organize teams by product or technology focus|
|Hire for experience using products like yours to solve business problems||Hire primarily for technical acumen|
|Implement escalation paths||Implement Intelligent Swarming|
|Centralize subject matter experts in the headquarters region||Distribute expertise globally|
|Create more specific knowledge base articles that may apply to only a small number of customers||Write general knowledge base articles that should be useful to many customers|
Brand Promise: Convenient Help Whenever I Need It
Customers will always need help. We’ve worked with large and rapidly growing clients that struggle to deliver that help at scale. They suffer from long hold times, laggy chat sessions, and big backlogs. Perhaps you’ve heard one of these companies say, “We are currently experiencing higher-than-usual call volumes…”
Initiatives in these companies tend to be built around the need to scale. Which one of these options would you pick for this brand promise?
|Deliver service with badged staff only||Leverage business process outsourcers|
|Keep knowledge base content behind a paywall||Make knowledge base content freely available, for example via Google|
|Front-end chat with a chatbot that can successfully handle a significant percentage of customer inquiries||Guide people directly to a chat agent, or to log a case|
|Allow customers to send email to open a case or ticket||Ask customers to provide some structured content when opening a case or ticket|
|Hire for experience using products like yours to solve business problems||Hire for customer service skills|
|Implement a formal QA / coaching process and function||Have team leads do QA / coaching|
|Primarily use eLearning and qualification exams for onboarding||Primarily use instructor-led training and mentoring for onboarding|
These are all challenging decisions every customer-facing organization faces. But did you notice how easy the decisions were with a brand promise-driven strategy? (BTW, if you think any of these are NOT clear, let’s please discuss in the comments!)