A Strategy Doesn’t Implement Itself


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You’re listening to customers, right? What are you doing with the feedback? How do you ensure that it is properly socialized and operationalized? Do you incorporate action planning into your follow-up work?

What is Action Planning?

Action planning is a collaborative process during which companies address an identified root cause or issue, outline actions to be taken, and assign responsibility and accountability for each action, ultimately driving toward some desired outcome, e.g., transforming the experience for the customer.

Why Action Planning?

Customer listening efforts often end with closed-loop processes and service recovery efforts that are tactical at best. These act merely as bandages for the organization, when what is really needed is an overhaul of policies, processes, and infrastructure. Real customer experience transformations require organization-wide adoption and execution of strategic initiatives that lead to meaningful change.

Action planning unites teams, departments, and, ultimately, the organization, as it allows for cross-functional collaboration to ensure that the next best actions uncovered through their data analysis are prioritized, operationalized, and tracked over time.

Your analytics tools identify actions to take, but often users become stuck and wonder, “Now what?” “What next?” “How do I fix this?” “Who fixes it?” Action planning helps managers dig for root causes, assign ownership, and make the improvements necessary to achieve desired outcomes.

Who Is Involved?

Action planning is a collaborative process, as noted earlier. Invite cross-functional stakeholders to participate. It will be important to have that cross-functional representation because you’ll bring in some “outside” perspectives and work toward breaking down silos, which can inhibit any progress you hope to make. Also, oftentimes the affected department is too close to the issue; while other departments may not know the issue as intimately, they will bring in other perspectives that open the minds of those most-immediately impacted, especially when it comes to brainstorming and ideation.

You’ll also involve key frontline staff in the process, especially those with relevant experience to the improvement area. They are more familiar with the day-to-day processes and interactions than back office and managerial staff. And they’ve heard from customers, so they can bring the customer’s voice and pain points into the discussions.

You may want to include some customers and get their perspectives on the root cause analysis; it’s their issue, too, and perhaps understanding better what they were trying to do and exactly how they were doing it will provide some insights into the root cause and how it needs to be improved. At the very least, ensure their voice is heard through their feedback; bring feedback, especially verbatims, into these discussions.

You should also either set up a governance committee specifically for this process or have the overall CX governance board involved at a high level. (I recommend the latter.) They can:

  • Make sure that action plans and roadmaps get created
  • Provide oversight and monitoring in order to help drive the projects outlined in the action plans and roadmaps to completion
  • Design and implement a measurement program to evaluate and to measure the customer’s experience after improvements are made
  • Educate the organization on the why behind the improvement efforts
  • Communicate progress against the plans to their respective departments
  • Share outcomes with executives and the entire organization

How Do I Do It?

There are various approaches to action planning, but they ought to all ultimately outline:

  • the issue/improvement area
  • the root cause
  • the intended outcome
  • steps to achieve the outcome
  • feasibility and impact
  • ownership/accountability
  • goal dates
  • success metrics

Gather a group of stakeholders – and others (see Who Is Involved?) – associated with the improvement area to work together to develop a plan for the corrective actions.

The first step you’ll take is to conduct a root cause analysis of the issue to get to the heart of what needs to be fixed. One of the approaches used for root cause analysis is 5 Whys, known for its simplistic nature, i.e., easy to explain and to understand.

5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each question forms the basis of the next question. The “5” in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

Source: “Five Whys Technique.” adb.org. Asian Development Bank. February 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2012.

Simply state the problem, and then ask “Why?” five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. Don’t focus on symptoms of the problem, focus on causes. You can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking “Why?” five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times. An example that is often cited is Jeff Bezos using 5 Whys to understand why an employee was injured on the job.

    Why did the associate damage his thumb?

    Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.

    Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?

    Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor belt.

    Why did he chase his bag?

    Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise.

    Why was his bag on the conveyor?

    Because he used the conveyor as a table.

As you can see, the root of the problem is that there was no table for the employee to use to store his bag. (And the Why you ask could vary from the ones he asked or the order in which he asked them.)

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can then outline the intended outcome, i.e., what the corrected process should look like. Then you’ll brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the root cause and achieve the outcome. That ideation is important because not every idea is feasible from a timing, cost, or resource perspective, yet they should all be explored.

For each solution/idea, assign a feasibility rating based on cost to fix, time to fix, resources to fix (including availability), impact on customer, and impact on revenues. Prioritize each idea based on that rating and relative to other solutions for other issues/change initiatives. Select the “winning” idea and assign ownership and accountability.

Next, the owner will outline a step-by-step corrective plan, or strategic roadmap, that spells out exactly how the solution will be executed, when, and with which specific resources (human, financial, and other). A budget will be developed and needs to be approved before the team can move forward with executing the plan. Outcomes need to be stated and clarified. Project plans with timelines need to be established and ownership for each milestone will be assigned. Progress touchpoints and success metrics need to be identified. And a final deadline must be established.

See the template below that I created to get you started on your first action planning exercise.

Next Steps

A strategy, even a great one, doesn’t implement itself. -Unknown

What’s next?

Let’s assume you’ve received executive approval to forge ahead. Congratulations!

Now the work begins. It’s time to execute. You’ve created a project plan with clear steps, timelines, and ownership assignments. Rally the troops and go do it. Implement the changes, test them with customers, and modify as needed. Educate employees on new tools or processes, and communicate to customers about the changes that were made. Close the loop with all essential parties.

As changes are being implemented, the governance team ought to provide oversight. Employees will need to be held accountable for their assigned parts and pieces. And it will be necessary to measure the impact of the improvements on both the customer and the business.

In the end, just listening to customers or just saying that you’ve got data is meaningless. Uncovering insights and not doing anything with them is sinful. Customer experience is the most powerful business differentiator today, but, as you know, transforming the customer experience is a lot of work. Listening to customers is only half the battle. Doing something with what you’ve heard wins the battle. Don’t get stuck focusing on the numbers. Customers are telling you what you need to do; do it. Use their feedback to transform the experience; the numbers will follow.

Planning without action is futile. Action without planning is fatal. ~ Cornelius Fichtner

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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