Bringing a 'Customer-Centric' Focus to Life at Your Company
What I call "customer centricity" begins with creating a business culture where the customer is at the center of everything you do. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, it doesn’t matter how great your products are or how exceptional your financial prowess. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote in Return on Customer, “Without customers, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.”
In other words, “customer-centric” isn’t just a buzzword -- in the business world, it’s mandatory. But too many CEOs or entrepreneurs will just add “customer-focused” to their vision statement and call it a day. That isn’t enough, by far.
True, customer-centricity involves rethinking how business is done. It involves everything from strong efforts at insight and analytics to strategy and customer experience. It involves tearing down silos and thinking like a customer. For instance, your customer views all of your departments and functions as a single entity -- and so should you.
Aligning company and customer goals
Creating a customer-focused company means listening to your customers’ needs and prioritizing strategies and processes accordingly. It involves asking your customers: "What are you trying to accomplish?"
"How can we help you accomplish that -- faster, better cheaper?"
Company goals and processes must be guided by the people they’re meant to serve -- your customers. Ideally, you will develop an ongoing partnership that’s mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, though, most companies fail at this because they don’t have the systems or methodologies in place to engage customers. Even when individual employees have meaningful interactions with customers that provide valuable insight into individual customers' goals, there’s rarely a useful way to record and share that data.
Let’s be clear. This isn’t for lack of trying; it results from a lack of tools. To successfully understand your customers’ goals and articulate how your company fits into the achievement of those goals, you need a tool that not only tracks and records this data, but gives visibility to everyone.
This will allow you to tear down the silo approach that hinders so many companies. Instead, every individual within the organization will know exactly what the customer said and what the business is trying to accomplish. It also creates a cohesive overview for the leadership. Do HR and sales have the same goal? Is the entire company trying to help the customer reach his/her goals? By correcting gaps and misalignments, CEOs can intensify both company delivery and customer fulfillment.
It’s very simple: Listening to customers and then providing what they need is the definition of a successful company. The customer experience is the North Star of your company’s strategy and guides your people, processes and initiatives.
Fostering internal conversations on customer and company goals
Once you’ve resolved to pursue customer-centricity, you need to develop an internal conversation on what truly matters to the company and customers. But that’s not all; you have to view it through the lens of an ongoing partnership. The better you understand what employees and customers alike are trying to achieve, both on a personal level and a company level, the more successful you’re going to be.
Let’s say that you’re a software company and you discover through customer dialogue and data collection that customers want more training and onboarding resources: How is your organization going to respond? Are you going to ignore the feedback and prompt them to continue to struggle through figuring out your product? (Or worse, go elsewhere?)
Or, are you going to invest in training and resources, hire new staff to identify and develop these resources and expand your offerings to meet your customers’ needs? If you’re going to make your customers’ goals a priority, you can’t just pay them lip service. You have to collect data and infuse those insights through the company, from your budgeting process to your offerings to your resource allocations.
Here’s an important tip that can make or break a company. The customer is not going to say, “I want more service.” The customer is going to say, “I’m not saving as much money as I thought I would when I bought your product.” It’s up to you to help the customer articulate that feedback into something actionable: “I bought your software because I thought it would save us 10 percent, but we’re struggling with adoption.” Translate the message and actually respond with valuable solutions.
When you do that, you organically develop a culture that focuses on what’s important to the company and the customer. It creates a sense of shared responsibility within the company. Each person feels invested in the growth and success of the business. Do that and you achieve a strong alignment that ultimately builds trust. What company vision could be better?