Much has been written about the importance of companies understanding and addressing customer needs. The majority of the efforts we have witnessed focused on identifying areas of dissatisfaction, planning to address those problems, and resolving them.
As the new period of strategic planning is drawing near, I would like to propose a new perspective: Fix what works, not what's broken. Focus your strategic planning on the areas customers are most satisfied with -- and improve them. No -- do not merely improve: Redesign. Move those elements from consistent to exceptional.
Why bother, if customers are already satisfied with those aspects of their experience? Shouldn't we work instead on the areas that dissatisfy them? Well, consider that every organization has a core competency, an innate ability to produce an experience that makes customers keep coming back. Customers appreciate this experience and reward it with repeat business and loyalty. And yet every organization also has areas of weakness. Each organization seems to perform well in certain areas -- let's call these experience delighters -- and fail in others -- experience disappointers. Customers keep purchasing from a company because of the experience delighters -- and despite experience disappointers. To put it another way: Your customers are willing to endure the disappointers if you provide great experience delighters.
Those experience delighters are your core competency -- and they have to stay competitive and cutting-edge. These are the reasons your customers keep coming back. They expect you to excel in those elements. Therefore, your top priority is to make sure your experience delighters remain top-notch and continue to define your industry.
That doesn't give you license to ignore your experience disappointers. In a perfect world you would excel in them as well. But in the real world, where we face limited resources and time, we may allow them to take a backseat to the experience delighters.
The common mistake is to assume that the customer experience is a destination, an action item that needs to be checked off. In this flawed notion, executives assume that what works should not be tampered with, and that they can safely move down the to-do list to the points of dissatisfaction. In reality, though, the experience disappointers most likely represent areas in which they will never excel. At best, the company might be able to plug the leak and establish a low level of consistent mediocrity. But if the price of doing so is losing the edge provided by your experience delighters, you may have to rethink your priorities and your allocation of resources.
The customer experience is a journey, not a destination. It is not a single peak to be conquered but a multi-peak, ever-evolving expedition. You can never sit still. Today's differentiator is tomorrow's common sense; your current experience delighters are tomorrow's point of entry. So your top priority is to make sure you stay on top -- and differentiated. You are less likely to differentiate based on your experience disappointers; they are not your core competency. Therefore, although you need to fix those disappointers, do not lose sight of your number-one priority: making sure that your experience delighters remain distinct, differentiated, and increasingly pleasing to customers. In this year's strategic-planning session, aim to fix what works. That's what customers want most from you.
Lior Arussy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder and president of Strativity Group (www.strativity.com). He is the author of several books, including Excellence Every Day (Information Today, Inc., 2008), his most recent, an excerpt of which appeared in CRM’s May 2008 issue. To learn more about customer strategies, sign up for his newsletter at Strativity Group's homepage.