Customer Experience News & Trends

Plan your next customer experience initiative like a Navy operation – and see success

Before you lay out another customer experience initiative, ensure its success with help from an unlikely source: The United States military.

Nearly every time the military makes a plan, lives are at risk. So you can imagine they take planning seriously. No detail goes unnoticed. No dynamic overlooked. No obstacle forgotten.

They don’t hope for the best — like we often do in business, according to Matthew “Whiz” Buckley, Founder and CEO of Top Gun Options LLC, and former naval aviator, who recently spoke at the PACE National Convention and Expo.

Military units prepare for the worst and plan accordingly.

These are the six crucial steps to mission planning that Buckley shared — and how they can work for customer experience leaders:

1. Determine the mission objective

The objective must be:

  • clear.
  • measurable.
  • achievable.
  • aligned with the higher goal.
  • action-oriented.

When a plan is laid out, or in the making, leaders must make sure everyone understands it and how it aligns with corporate goals. At the same time, it can’t just be a theory. The objectives must be concrete enough that everyone can see the actions they need to take to make it happen.

2. Identify the threats

“Ask yourself, ‘What keeps us from hitting the mission?'” Buckley said. “Are there external factors? Internal? And most importantly, figure out which are controllable and which are uncontrollable.”

For instance, in a military mission — 44 of which Buckley flew over Iraq — an external, uncontrollable factor on the mission would be weather conditions. Pilots can prepare minimally or not at all for that kind of situation. However, they could prepare for harsh altitude conditions (internal and controllable) by conditioning their bodies ahead of time.

In business, you may not be able to prepare for a market volatility (external and uncontrollable), but you can prepare against staff turnover (internal and controllable).

3. Identify available resources

This is when leaders and team members want to focus on the controllable threats and what they have to handle them. For instance, if turnover on a customer service team is a potential issue, cross-train employees to jump in when an account needs attention.

Buckley suggested keeping a checklist of resources for each mission in these categories:

  • training.
  • leadership.
  • people.
  • clients/customers.
  • fiscal resources.
  • existing systems.
  • available technologies.

4. Identify lessons learned and best practices

gears in brainNow is when you want to look back to move forward. Most missions — or business plans — are not completely new. Your organization, like the military, has taken on a similar customer experience endeavor in the past. Buckley suggested keeping a database of “debriefs” you did (or should start doing) after initiatives and programs are done, or goals are reached or not.

“But don’t just have a ‘post-mortem’ of things you discovered were wrong. It shouldn’t be a post-mortem because what does that infer? Something died, right? And who wants to look at it that way?” Buckley said.

Instead, look at what worked in the past, figure out its impact on the current situation and decide if you should move forward based on the probability of success.

5. Develop the course of action

Yep, that’s right: The military typically takes four intense steps before it even decides if it’ll go through with a plan. Assuming all the stars are aligned at this point, and your business plan is a “go,” it’s time to figure out who does what, where and when, Buckley said.

For instance, lay out what customer service reps must do when they sign on new accounts, plus what the manager must do.

Then, with the plan in hand, have another group or person shoot holes in it, Buckley said. In the military, it’s called the “Red Team,” and it’s their job to point out where things might not go as expected or how some ideas could fail.

The most important part here: Respond to the Red Team’s comments with, “Thank you for the input,” rather than get defensive. You can decide later what to do with their feedback — much of which will be valuable and prevent issues that might have come up when the plan is executed.

6. Plan for contingencies

Finally, before launching the mission — or business plan — ask yourself and your team, “What if …” and fill in the blank with uncontrollable threats. Then you can at least plan some action steps for the unexpected.

For instance, “What if the market tanks right after we introduce a high-ticket solution?” “What if the competition steals our new customers?” “What if our best customer leaves this year?”

Just acknowledging what can go awry helps us prepare for it, Buckley said.

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