The one essential rule for customer strategy

It’s not that complicated

I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity lately, partly because simplification is a major outcome of knitting fog and partly because I am starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by articles with titles like ‘N top tips to improve your Customer Experience’ or similar where N is usually an odd number between 5 and 25 . If I add together the various Ns I have too many rules, tips and hints to keep in my head at once so, as an antidote to tip overload (the tipping point?) I have identified the one essential rule you must adhere to when defining – and implementing – customer strategy.

It’s quite simple

Strategy is often assumed to be an inherently complex thing. It deals with the big stuff: who we are, what our mission is, what our vision for the future is and, importantly, how we generate sufficient value to reward our people, keep shareholders happy and stay out of jail. If you look at the strategy departments of most organisations, you’ll find a high concentration of top-flight MBAs and first-class honours graduates.

But for a topic that tends to attract the top eggheads in any organisation, strategy is quite easy to define. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

‘A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.’

Customer strategy is equally simple. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary – we’re nothing if not even-handed here – it’s:

‘A company’s plan for how it will get and keep customers.’

And therefore it follows that in a business that seeks to be customer-driven, its strategy is a customer strategy.

The law is the law…

Keeping with the idea of simplicity I turn to one of my favourite books, John Maeda’s ‘The Laws of Simplicity‘. There are ten of these and each one of them provides much wisdom and insight, however, given my aversion to being overloaded with top tips and rules, I’m glad to say that his tenth law – The One – encapsulates the concept thus:

‘Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.’

We can apply this to customer strategy by subtracting – or at least taking as a given – that a company will want to:

  • Earn revenue
  • Become more efficient/productive
  • Deliver a profit
  • Return value to shareholders

and achieve many similar obvious business goals. An obvious goal here is one that would not make sense if inverted: no business sets out to intentionally become less productive, for example. These areas of business strategy are critically important but since they’re obvious they shouldn’t require much attention.

What we need to focus on in defining strategy is the meaningful part and this is what makes you as a company distinctive in the eyes of both customers and employees. For example:

  • Which customers, how many of them,
  • What they like and don’t like
  • What do we need to do improve our services
  • How quickly can we improve
  • How we bring everyone along with us

There are many more issues and questions that we can add to this list which means that a strategy focused on these meaningful areas is a lot more interesting to discuss and debate but – here’s the pitfall – it can get a lot more complex as there are a great many more choices that can be made in order to ensure that the ‘obvious’ parts of the strategy get addressed.

The one simple rule

To focus the debate – and in my experience, strategy is best developed in an informed debate by whoever the decision-makers and influencers are – I’m proposing one simple rule for strategy in a customer-driven organisation. It’s this:

Everything relates to delighting customers

The use of the word delighting is important: it means achieving the customer’s desired outcomes. For example, if I go to a bank to discuss a mortgage, my desired outcome is likely to be buying and moving to a new home; if I go to a restaurant I don’t just want food and drink, I want a lovely evening out. If these outcomes occur, I’m delighted; if not, I’ve simply had a transaction and my view of the experience and the customer journey that I’ve been on will be tarnished as a result.

The use of the word everything is even more important and I’ll go on to explore the ramifications of this in subsequent articles.


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