Strategic planning is critical to every successful organization, on multiple levels. No matter if planning activity happens in an overarching, organizational sense, or in team- or client-specific scenarios, leaders have to make important decisions toward achieving a desired future business state.
The planning process is rarely simple, and, due to organizational complexities or time constraints, it can be easy to leave customers out of planning conversations. However, it has never been more important to include customers in planning activities. Think about it for a moment. Does it really make sense to leave customers out?
In a past life working for a B2B firm, I facilitated account teams, also known as multidisciplinary client teams. Annual account planning for priority clients was critical in the eyes of firm leadership from a development perspective, but regarded as a time-consuming compliance exercise to the people on the account teams. When I started helping these teams, it was taboo to even talk about bringing actual clients into actual planning sessions. Of course, that made no sense to me. It felt as though our team was on a bus, driving blindfolded to an unknown, yet mandatory destination with no GPS, no directions, and no money, with the gas tank on "E."
Finally, I convinced one team leader to bring the CEO of a long-time client into a "mini" planning session with the account team. I pulled together the meeting agenda and a list of questions our team needed to ask. After just one hour, we came away with clarity on the timing, nature, and frequency of the services, training, communication, and talent we needed to plan for, if we wanted to keep that client's business. The actual plan, with quantifiable, measurable goals, came next.
How do you know if you're in-step with customers during planning and goal-setting activities? Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
- How have customers engaged with the organization over the past 1-2 years? Look at key data points: revenue, numbers of new customers, lost customers, repeat business, referrals, contact center KPIs, event participation, and social media interactions, for example. Not all organizations will have a full repertoire of data; however, you can leverage what is available to better understand the breadth and depth of how customers have and have not engaged with your organization.
- What do customers expect? The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore evolving customer expectations, or hope those expectations will go away. Use current customer survey data and feedback from employees to understand what customers expect from your organization. Perhaps you conducted a survey and response rates were low--so low that you believe there is nothing to glean from the results. But, there is a story being told by the non-respondents. Are you listening?
- What will it take to retain customers? This isn't a question about marketing. A multimillion-dollar ad budget will get you nowhere without the right staff, training, web platforms, content, and the leanest business processes available. If you're really listening through data and feedback channels, customers will tell you exactly what you need to do organizationally to keep them coming back.
Customers aren't outsiders to your business. They are part of your business. Without their voice at the table in one way or another, your strategic plans and goals may be little more than expensive, ineffective conjecture. Take the time to bring customer insights to planning activities. It just makes sense.
All views are my own. Follow me on Twitter: @stephaniethum#CustomerCentricCulture #CXStrategy #ProjectManagement #WashingtonDC