Strategies that start with the customer set the stage for daily behaviors that are customer-centric. Ironically, most strategic planning templates, consultants’ models, and business and marketing textbooks begin with other topics. (!) They address serving a customer need much later in their prescription for success. This causes self-centered or competitor-centered, or Wall Street-centered thinking, rather than customer-centered thinking. If customers are paying your way, why would you dare center your thinking on anyone else?
SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) is an often misunderstood strategic planning tool.
The goal of SWOT is to align your strengths with market opportunities, within the context of what matters to your target customers.
Why is customer-centered context skipped? First, habits. Second, assumptions that managers know everything already. Third, lack of useful CX insights readily available to all managers involved in strategic planning across your company.
How to center strategy on customers:
- Know your company's primary and secondary target customer segments. You increase actionability when you report customer insights according to the segments focused on by Marketing, Sales, Business Development, Finance, and Revenue Operations. Also, since these top segments are expected to grow revenue the fastest, you'll generate higher CX ROI by helping your company excel with these segments.
- Know your customers’ priorities and challenges and trends. With crystal-clear knowledge of these customers' expectations and realities, managers at the touchpoints, as well as non-customer-facing groups, are more likely to perform better than other providers. That means market share growth via magnetic attraction to new and existing customers.
- Precede the strategic planning process with key driver actioning workshops. We did this when I was VoC Manager and Head of Corporate Quality at Applied Materials. I noticed during my first year there that our annual customer relationship survey could be more useful if we timed the reporting to occur a quarter before strategic planning. Then, in that quarter, my team and I went to every P&L group around the world and conducted actioning workshops for each business unit's top 2 key drivers of loyalty. This way, every group already knew their customers' priorities and what they needed to do to stop recurrence of costly issues. This was the perfect mindset for them to begin their strategic planning!
- Answer the SWOT diagram backwards. What are customers' views of our Opportunities and Threats? Then, what are customers' views of our Strengths and Weaknesses? You may want to fill-out more than one SWOT diagram, to capture the views of each key customer segment. LATER, you can add your internal views. Start with untainted customers' views.
- What are customers' recommendations? In your data mining of customer comments, are they suggesting what you should do to solve threats and weaknesses? Are there patterns in their comments that give you customer-inspired clues about what should be done to minimize threats and weaknesses? (This is the art of “finding the silver lining in the clouds” or “turning lemons into lemonade”.)
- Finally, add your own expertise: what else can be done to turn threats into opportunities, and weaknesses into strengths?
It’s never okay to lose sight of your customers’ priorities in any step. It’s crazy that we’ve allowed ourselves to forget them in the first place. Think about any personal relationship you have … things always go much better when you remember the other party’s priorities as you make plans and put them into action!
More advice for customer-centered strategic planning:
1) CX Growth in Strategic Plans
2) Growth via Massive Savings in Customer Experience
3) Customer Insights Shape Your Firm's Growth Curve
4) True Value in Customer Service
5) Intentional Customer Experience as Your North Star
6) CX Index: Cracking the Code in CX Strategy
7) Chief Customer Officer Playbook
Note: you can gain all this wisdom in record time via Experience Leadership Mastery.