It’s hard to find a company that states that they are not a customer-centric business and satisfying their customers is not their primary objective. They all claim to put their customers first.
This is especially true today, when the world becomes more and more transparent, thanks to the Internet. Treat your customers poorly once, and Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter will show your real company values to billions, in seconds.
Businesses that do not understand these changes will struggle even more in the coming years.
Instead of trying to hide cases of poor customer service, businesses need to provide better customer experience and turn it into a competitive advantage. Big companies change slowly, and their smaller competitors can outrun them by simply providing better customer experience, day in day out.
But customer-centricity is not only about customer-support. It ranges from interactions with the company contact center to providing relevant accessories for each purchase, birthday discounts, and easy navigation on the company website.
What’s important, these changes should not be merely cosmetic. Simply adding “we value our clients” to your website copy won’t cut it. Instead, the customer-centric approach should become the new philosophy of your business.
Benefits of being customer-centric
A customer-centric strategy is not a necessary evil that you have to deal with. It has the transforming power that can actually launch your business to a new level and provide substantial benefits.
Let’s quickly go over some benefits of following a customer-centric approach.
Increased LTV and customer retention
It is a well-known fact, that acquiring new customers is much more expensive, than retaining existing ones. This is especially true today, with advertising prices growing steadily due to high competition.
That’s why many companies are focusing more and more on providing outstanding customer service to their clients in order to increase customer retention and LTV.
LTV stands for Life-Time Value (of a customer) and is one of the most important metrics for any company today. LTV describes home much monetary value each customer brings to the company on average over the whole period of their interaction.
This is one of the examples of what a properly executed customer-centric strategy will bring to your business.
It gives you a chance to escape the commoditization
Let’s put it straight: commoditization is the dead end for any business. Once your product or service becomes commoditized you can only compete by lowering the prices. And you know there’s always going to be someone who’s willing to offer an even bigger discount.
In order to escape this commoditization hell, you have to differentiate your products and brand. Turns out the customer-centric approach allows you to do just that.
Many businesses are actually going through a de-commoditization phase right now. You only need a couple of minutes on Kickstarter to discover backpacks made for dads, or fidget-spinner pens, or even all-in-one charger cables – the definition of a commodity.
If you think about it, phones almost became a commodity too before Apple introduced the iPhone.
It creates brand advocates
No amount of money spent on advertising can promote your brand better than happy customers who are willing to share their advice with their friends.
People are becoming more and more immune to new types of advertising rather quickly. On the other hand, social proof is very important. Potential buyers tend to trust real case studies and feedback on social media more, than your website copy.
There’s no one-size-fits-all guide to creating brand advocates for your business, unfortunately. One thing is for sure: you have to follow the customers during the whole interaction period with the company and make sure they are getting what they want.
Actually, always helping customers who are frustrated for some reason is the best way to turn them into fans of your business. Mark McClain, CEO & Founder of SailPoint, claims that their biggest brand advocates actually were the most problematic clients at the beginning.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should create new sources of frustration for your customers in order to save them later. 🙂
5 necessary steps to become more customer-centric
From the above points, it is obvious that no business today can stay successful without becoming more customer-centric. Now let’s move on to actual steps required to achieve this.
1. Focus on real customer needs
It is a big mistake to create a product based on your ideas only. You might have some high-level vision of what the product should be, but you will never have the combined knowledge and experience of all your customers.
You cannot know all the issues and situations your clients are experiencing and which your product is supposed to solve or improve.
How do you create the product then? Simply. You ask questions! Luckily, many customers are more than willing to share their knowledge with you if you’re listening, that is.
But what does “listening” really means in the digital age? You don’t really speak directly with customers most of the time, do you?
That’s true, but there are still many ways you can allow your customers to share feedback. You can show a popup with a feedback form, use NPS surveys, send emails asking for feedback one week after purchase, add Facebook Messenger widget, etc. Choose the one that suits your product better.
The main rule here is to make the whole process super simple. Remember, by providing feedback your customers are helping you free of charge, so better make it easy for them.
Another important point here is to always follow-up personally when people actually send you their advice. No, automated replies won’t work very well in this situation.
Listening to your customers is important, but in order to create a really outstanding product, you must not follow feature requests blindly. To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Instead of collecting feature requests and adding them one by one, you should try to find out what are the deeper reasons why people are using your product or service?
Do they need a haircut or do they want to feel better about themselves? Do they want a better contact form plugin or easier communication with site visitors? Maybe they need a chat widget instead? Or something completely different.
2. Know your customers
You have to collect data on your clients and use it to serve customers better. I know, this may sound like a piece of bad advice in the light of recent personal data corporate scandals.
But the truth is you have to collect data to know who your customers are, why they are interested in your product, how they are looking for such products when they need them and many other questions.
Each of these questions (that’s only a short list, of course) is equally important to you. If you don’t know who your customers are, you will not be able to define their needs properly and choose which price is appropriate to them.
If you have no idea how your clients found you and what was the customer journey before the purchase you will never be able to choose the appropriate advertising strategy and reduce customer acquisition costs.
Knowing your customers, on the other hand, gives you significant leverage to achieve better sales. One way to know your customers better is to perform customer surveys.
Customer feedback survey example
John owns a small stationery store. He notices that one customer – Lucy – is buying large quantities of pens periodically. Next time she visits, John asks Lucy if she’s satisfied with her shopping experience.
It turns out that she’s working for BigCompany and they have a new office opened nearby recently. She likes the quality of pens, but her management is demanding to reduce the expenses on office supplies. Besides, she often remembers to buy them when there are no pens left.
Knowing that John can offer Lucy a wholesale discount on pens and other office supplies and deliver them to their office each month so that she doesn’t have to carry them each time. Of course, Lucy is more than happy now and will continue to buy from John.
But John can do even more with that information. He can contact all the similar companies in the nearby area and offer them the same. As you can imagine, this has the potential to increase his sales dramatically. And that’s the result of a single feedback survey.
3. Simplify everything
You might think that your website or product UI is easy to use, but in reality, it’s probably not, unless you can prove it by hard data. It’s surprising how different people are, especially when it comes to their approach to technology.
There’s no knowing how easy or hard your product is for the clients unless you have some sort of analytics. You think that the “Buy now” button is easy to find and the checkout process is straightforward? Well, 85% of customers who are running away from step 4 might disagree.
Remember, you (hopefully) use your product or service daily and know all the ins and outs of it. Even if there are parts of it that are not so obvious, you will not ever know this.
One way to escape this familiarity bias is to invite random people who never used your product to try it. You might offer them some reward for this. You might also wish to record the whole process on camera to investigate it later.
Mark Suster, a serial entrepreneur who created and sold multiple companies, describes how this process helped them to discover their new app was not so user-friendly. The funny part is that this new product was designed with simplicity in mind from the very beginning.
4. Be available
While many companies still practice the “hide the Contact Support button” approach in an attempt to reduce customer service costs, it might be beneficial to do just the opposite.
There’s no excuse for not doing this, especially with so many tools available today. If you have a call center, make your phone number visible on every page of your website. Also, remember to make add a proper link on mobile, so that customers can call you by simply tapping it.
You can easily add a Facebook Customer Chat to your site. It’s much simpler for the customer to tap the icon and write a short message than to fill some form and hope for they’ll not be spammed. It’s also much easier for you to answer, especially if the question is not very technical.
A great benefit of a messenger widget is that the client does not have to wait on your site to get a reply. Compare this to typical chat widgets, that interrupt you with “Can I help you?” message from some John Doe with a stock-photo avatar, only to inform you that John is not available right now after you type the message. Very helpful.
As a bonus, FB chat is also good for your marketing efforts. You will be able to use multiple Facebook business tools to better target audiences for advertising in the future, but that’s another story.
As for reducing customer service costs, it’s much better to automate tedious tasks and use tools to make the whole process easy for both customers and employees. You might consider simple steps, like creating an FAQ page or WordPress Knowledge Base for your product.
5. Engage your employees
You need to ensure that your employees have a proper mindset and are involved in customer-centric culture.
This is one of the most important steps. No matter what’s your vision, it’s your employees who are actually in charge of customer experience. They can break all your efforts with one rude remark or indifference, but they can also save the day by walking the extra mile and helping a customer.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are on the same page with your team when it comes to company values and customer-centricity.
If you really plan to employ customer centricity for many years (and you really should!) you might consider adjusting your hiring process accordingly to exclude people who are not well suited for the task.
Not only your employees should agree with you that satisfying customers is the most important thing they can do for the company, but they should have the actual power to accomplish that goal.
Your team member might have the right attitude and be willing to help the customer, but if she has to contact the direct manager for approval on every small decision it will not work so well. Clients want to have their problems solved right now, not in 24 hours.
Another important thing to remember here is to always reward employees for improving customer-centricity. Declaring your company mission on every daily standup meeting might be a good thing, but your team will not be so engaged if their bonuses are still tied to sales metrics only.
Customer centricity success stories
According to Jeff Bezos, the main reason behind Amazon success is actually listening to its customers.
If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word-of-mouth is so very, very powerful.Jeff Bezos
They focus on gathering as much factual data about the buying process as possible. But unlike other companies, they act on it.
Amazon experiments all the time with home page layout, card layout, ordering process, delivery and every other tiny part that makes up an e-commerce business.
Today Amazon tops consumer polls with the best customer rating. A recent study conducted by Visual Objects has shown that Amazon UX is considered the best across all the generations.
It’s not hard to understand why many customers become Amazon brand advocates.
Emirates is another business that has been focusing on customer centricity for years. And once again, this approach proved to be a successful business strategy.
For Emirates, it’s crucial what their customers experience at every touch point, from booking their ticket to arriving at their destination.
Some of the examples of customer centricity in action at Emirates are 24-hour check-in system, frequent flyer reward programs, 1200 TV channels available, e-boarding passes, delicious meals, and fashionable lounges.
This focus on delivering the best possible experience has allowed Emirates to grow by leaps and bounds. Since starting in 1985 with only 2 airplanes, they’ve managed to become the largest airlines in the Middle-East.
In the rapidly growing business world, customer centricity is not only important for better customer experience, but it’s crucial for the success of a company.
Whether selling a product or a service, centering your business on the needs of your customers could be the difference between you and your competitors. It can be what makes you the market leader for years to come or leaves you far behind.
Sure, not every company is Amazon, but you can start small. You might not have drones and Big Data, but improving customer support and experience, for example, You can start by adding an FAQ page to help your customers quickly find the answers.
If you have a Q&A page already – create a knowledge base. It allows you to provide tons of valuable information to your clients and as a bonus collect insights on what your clients are looking for.
But of course you cannot simply set it up once and move on. You have to constantly work on improving your documentation. The key to becoming a customer centric business is to change and improve constantly.