Blog post

Define the Engagement Strategy First

By Ken Agress | September 30, 2011 | 0 Comments

Contact Center

I recently read Richard Rumelt’s book “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters” and I think it provides an important point to ground discussions about customer engagement and how it relates to the contact center.  Rumelt suggests that all good strategies include a “kernel” that describes common components:

  • A diagnosis of the problem
  • Guiding principles to help evaluate solutions
  • A coherent plan of action to address the problem

When strategies fail, they are deficient in at least one of these components.  There may be a plan of action, but the problem was not defined sufficiently to make that plan of action coherent.  There may be a diagnosis and plan of action, but no guiding principles were available to assist in future decision-making as the plan is executed.  Without all three components available, decisions cannot be truly strategic because they fail to focus analysis and activity towards solving the right problem in the right way.  This type of analysis can be particularly important when contemplating strategies to create a truly multi-channel contact center, particularly in the social arena.

In my interactions with clients, this often appears to be a problem.  While these interactions often focus on strategies to create, support, or extend a multi-channel/socially-enabled contact center, the discussion is really around the plan of action that individuals are contemplating to make this environment a reality.  But when we get in to the conversation, there’s little that’s been communicated about the overall diagnosis of the problem or principles that allow for concrete decision making.  The enterprise knows that it needs to be prepared for “the new world” of contact centers, but lacks a firm understanding of the problems that they expect such a contact center to address or the principles that are applicable to the specific enterprise and its customer base.

This isn’t enough.  The “problem” isn’t “just” enabling a wider array of interactions – that doesn’t actually speak to a business need.  The “problem” needs to be defined in a way that describes how a socially-enabled, multi-channel contact center fits enterprise goals to drive lower churn, higher sales, or lasting engagement.  This will different for a service organization than it will for a retail organization,or for a company that manufactures toothpaste instead of cell phones.  The strategy should identify some specific expectations that must be met or targets to achieve.

One of the points that Rumelt makes in his book is that enterprises often confuse setting a goal with adopting a strategy.  Rather than developing a strategy to drive new sales or reduce churn, the organization merely sets metrics or targets that it expects business units to achieve without describing the problem sufficiently.  “Leverage social media to increase customer engagement” is the start of a strategy, but it requires additional nuance to make it something you can execute.  Will your enterprise publish reviews of products to drive engagement?  Does this mean offering tips about using products or solutions to meet their needs?  Will you provide special offers, coupons, or deals?  Is this a way to solicit input on features, presentation, pricing, or events?

It’s not that the contact center can’t succeed without a strategy described in this manner.  But without such a strategy, it will be difficult to actually judge what worked, what didn’t, and which investments or process changes paid dividends.  So before engaging in execution, it’s worth asking whether there’s a good “kernel” to start from.  Has the problem been diagnosed in a way that ties it to business goals?  Are there sufficient principles in place to provide direction as the strategy is executed?  Is the plan of action coherent and does it involve all of the right right people, groups, processes, and workflows?  If not, then perhaps the project team should focus on defining the strategy more concretely before pushing ahead.  “Driving engagement” is a fine starting point.  But it lacks the clarity necessary to ensure that the technologies evaluated and the processes to support them target the right kind of engagement with the right constituencies.  Define the engagement strategy first, and the investments of time and money that follow are far more likely to succeed by design rather than circumstance.

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