Amateurs Talk Strategy, Professionals Talk Execution


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Amateurs Talk Strategy, Professionals Talk Logistics

That’s an old military quote that sometimes gets pulled out at business leadership conferences. Strategy is the easy part. The hard part, the stuff the pros worry about, is the nuts and bolts of getting everything lined up and in the right place at the right time so the strategy can work.

It’s an important message for customer feedback programs, too.

Developing a survey strategy is easy, and a lot of people have a lot of opinions on how to do it (some better than others).

But actually building an effective feedback program requires a lot of attention to detail. You need to:

  • Determine who to ask to participate in the survey
  • Decide what questions to ask
  • Determine the right time and channel to invite the customer to take the survey
  • Offer the survey to the customer in a way that makes the customer want to help
  • Route the survey responses to service recovery teams in real-time when appropriate
  • Coach front-line employees based on their individual survey responses
  • Deliver data to business users throughout the organization in a way that’s timely and tailored to their individual needs
  • Monitor the survey process for signs of manipulation or gaps in the process
  • Adjust all aspects of the process on an ongoing basis as business needs change
  • Focus the entire organization on using customer feedback as an important tool to support both operational and strategic decision making

(As an aside: one thing not on this list is “Track your metrics and set goals,” because tracking metrics is both easy and low-value. Everyone does it, but many organizations stop at that point in the mistaken belief that improved customer experience will magically follow.)

So just as military pros understand that wars are won and lost in the unglamorous details of moving people and supplies to the right place at the right time, survey pros understand that the effectiveness of a feedback program is built on the nitty-gritty of collecting and delivering the right data to the right people at the right time to help them do a better job.

What the amateurs don’t recognize is that you can’t just move an army on a whim, or improve customer experience by throwing some survey metrics at it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Leppik
Peter U. Leppik is president and CEO of Vocalabs. He founded Vocal Laboratories Inc. in 2001 to apply scientific principles of data collection and analysis to the problem of improving customer service. Leppik has led efforts to measure, compare and publish customer service quality through third party, independent research. At Vocalabs, Leppik has assembled a team of professionals with deep expertise in survey methodology, data communications and data visualization to provide clients with best-in-class tools for improving customer service through real-time customer feedback.


  1. A very clear and well-spoken challenge to us all. And the military analogy is a good one here! I have been in combat and on the receiving end of bad intelligence or strategies and tactics crafted by generals from command & control helicopter views and not from on-the-ground experience. The power and promise of customer intelligence smartly acquired and thoughtfully deployed cannot be overstated. Your list of “effective feedback program” to-do’s could be much longer…making your point regarding the complexity of execution.

  2. While this is a solid template for executing a customer information and survey research plan, I’d still contend that being able to complete these steps both consistently and well springs from the right environment, or culture, and moves to successful conclusion as a result of a defined gathering strategy. I’ve seen lots of research programs come up short or go entirely off the rails because of a non customer-centric strategy or off-strategy direction.

    And, for what it’s worth, from my perspective ‘track your metrics and goals’ may be easy as an executional outcome; but it’s only low-value because too many organizations stay with key measures and KPI’s that are neither contemporary nor real-world. Neither are they actionable, paralleling or anticipating behavioral change on the part of customers as a response to delivered value and/or relationship and experience..

  3. you really resonate what I have been witnessing. We have started an association and there is more talk and strategy than action.
    I also find the less you know the more you use powerpoint, and the less you know the more you quote gurus (and often obscure ones), because you have no personal knowledge. So all leads to more talk than a action

  4. Strategy is important, for sure. If your company is going the wrong direction, good execution will just get you to the wrong place faster.

    It’s fun to talk about strategy, and there are lots of great books. Good stuff for boardrooms and CEOs I suppose, and the consultants that work with them.

    My view is that execution is a far more common differentiator between success and failure. Take cloud-based CRM, for example. The basic idea has been around for 20+ years now. Several companies had the same strategy in the 1990s, but emerged as the winner. Why? Execution.

    Southwest is the leader in low-cost air travel — a “strategy” that’s there for all to see and copy. But it’s the only one that has been able to execute well over time. BTW, Southwest didn’t invent the strategy either. Founder Herb Kelleher based the business model on ideas gleaned from Pacific Southwest Airlines.

    Even former GE chairperson and famed business strategist Jack Welch said: “In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and execute like hell.”

    So yes, develop a good strategy and tweak it when needed. But focus more attention on improving execution. Talking about it is a start, but it has to be implemented.

  5. With specific respect to customer feedback strategy (as opposed to a positioning, marketing or experience strategy as represented by such companies as Trader Joe’s, IKEA, Metro Bank in the U.S./Republic Bank and Umpqua Bank in the U.S., Rackspace, Ritz-Carlton, Zane’s Cycles, The Container Store, Zappos, Costco, Amazon – – and, yes, Southwest Airlines) poor execution of a research or survey plan will impair or doom it. But, even excellent execution of a poorly strategized plan, though well-intentioned, may do even more harm to the enterprise.

  6. Hi Peter

    An interesting and thoughtful post.

    Whilst execution is where the rubber meets the road, it is pointless if you are on the wrong road in the first place. Strategy is thus, every bit as important as execution. But neither are as important as ‘the aftermath’. To continue the military analogy, planning and waging war is the easy (but messy) part; it is keeping the peace afterwards that is the really hard part. Just look at the chaotic aftermath that emerged out of the deeply flawed Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

    Strategy, execution and the aftermath are merging into one. As Martin Reeves describes in a far-reaching article on ‘The Self-Tuning Enterprise’, real-time data allows organisations to develop a portfolio of strategies, to execute them as adaptable real-options and to continuously tune the aftermath. And as Porter & Heppelmann describe in another article on ‘How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition’, as smart, connected products (the Internet of Things) becomes more widespread, this trend towards algorithmic self-tuning will only gather pace.

    Professionals don’t talk execution any more, they use real-time data to continuously iterate strategy, execution and aftermath all at the same time.

    Graham Hill

  7. Hi Bob

    As Favaro et al describe in a thoughtful article on ‘Strategy or Execution: Which Is More Important?’, the reality is that without a robust strategy setting out where and how to compete, execution by itself is utterly worthless. Doing the right thing, is even more important than doing it right.

    Southwest Airlines is an interesting case. But not primarily for execution. Herb Kelleher, in his book ‘Nuts: The Story of Southwest Airlines’, describes how Southwest’s strategy was specifically created to disrupt US full-service carriers by creating a ‘low-cost carrier’ offering point-to-point flights, to second-tier airports, flying one type of aircraft, etc. The factors Southwest competed on (described in detail in Kim & Mauborgne’s book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’) were the result of very careful strategy, rather than great execution. With the three biggest airline operating costs being taxes, fuel and staff, Southwest had no alternative if it was to be viable from the start. Today, with increasing competition from other low-cost carriers, Southwest is more of a hybrid carrier – part low-cost part full-service – rather than a low-cost carrier. The king of low-cost carriers is Ryanair with a cost of $3.65 per ASK against Southwest’s $4.97 and US FSCs $6.52 (IATA data).

    As in all things, the devil is in the seemingly fractal detail.

    Graham Hill


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