Most companies today have an initiative focused on becoming customer-centric, and if that isn’t the path companies are pursuing, customers will often call the vendor out. Customers are calling the shots and our understanding of value is changing. In the words of Alibaba’s Jack Ma – B2C is becoming “C2B” as customers make the case for the personalization and service they desire.
Successful companies are going beyond conventional industry practices, and committing to ongoing customer engagement at every level.
Create Steadfast Loyalty with Customers
First, assess your offerings and make sure the benefits and changes you make remain meaningful to your customers. This requires really listening to what matters to customers, and having the agility to shift strategy to stay relevant and maintain the relationship. This is not limited to the B2C market; B2B companies need to do this too. For B2B, it’s important to hear from every level within the customer company, just as it’s important for B2C to hear from every buyer type.
Second, embrace and demonstrate a customer-centered mindset in everything the company does. This isn’t something that can happen overnight. The length of the journey depends on where you are now; it is an ongoing effort of listening and adjusting. Here are a few foundational elements to ensure your company addresses to be truly authentic in its customer-centric mindset.
Create a Company Culture that Cares about Customers
Zappos is a prime example of a company that focuses heavily on its culture to drive a successful customer experience. “Service is a byproduct of culture,” Zappos’ former chief financial officer, Alfred Lin, is often quoted as saying. In a Zappos case study presented by CEO Tony Hsieh, the company credits its fast growth to customer loyalty (75% of Zappos orders are from repeat customers), which was built on outstanding service driven by a customer-centric culture.
So it’s important for even the supporting functions of the company—the teams in accounting or the people in your research group—who may never actually speak with a customer, to realize that the customer is who keeps you in business. Siloed approval of your performance within a business unit, within a division, or within a company doesn’t mean anything if people stop buying your product.
Engage with Customers Regularly
There is no substitute for interacting with customers to hear what they are thinking and what concerns them. One of the goals Zappos’ employees set out to achieve is to “wow the customer and establish personal connection.” As a part of doing this, the company doesn’t measure call times or use a pay-per-performance reward system within its company. The company puts the customer’s best interest at the center of interaction and engagement, not the monetary value per customer interaction.
There is no value in collecting comments that are left untouched in a database. If customers take time to provide input, companies need to listen and acknowledge that they are being heard and their feedback is being considered or addressed. Untapped or unanswered feedback can cause real damage to trust and credibility, and set back efforts to improve the customer experience.
Be Agile in Your Strategy
No company can accurately predict exactly what its customers need and how they will react as products change over time. Creating a program for your most loyal customers requires an ongoing effort that ensures you stay relevant to changing customer needs, assess the results, and swap out activities that are less effective. An evolving and growing effort helps balance and incorporate the short and longer-term opportunities for value on both sides.
Respect Your Customers at Every Touch-point
You need to respect your customer’s ability to discern authentic interactions that are in their best interest. They don’t see themselves as a sales lead or a sales funnel, so you need to push past your needs to address theirs, because a happy and growing customer base is how you build a lasting company.
While you build, or refine the foundational aspects of a customer-centric mindset, it’s important not to act in ways that contradict the very thing you’re striving for.
Avoid the Following:
- Only engaging with customers after things go awry. If the first time your customers think you’re listening to them is when they’re upset, you’ll face an uphill battle. Put them front and center from the very beginning, and then when you make mistakes (and you will), it will feel more like you are working together to fix things
- Curating negative reaction when things go wrong. Erasing comments, deleting tweets and complaints is not a sustainable way to improve the customer experience. Today, there is already a screen grab of whatever you deleted, and that will just create a new issue to address. Your best recourse is to dive in and address the problem with a statement, or by replying to comments in a way that owns the mistake and doesn’t extend a dialogue on the issue. This will help shorten the recovery time after mishaps and build some trust into the dialogue.
- Short-term vision. Don’t underestimate what it takes to build an authentic customer-centered mindset and convince your customers your company truly cares. It requires a commitment of time and focus, especially if you’re in a situation where you have to overcome long-term skepticism and mistrust that’s accumulated and gone unchecked over time.
Addressing these important elements and avoiding the common mistakes are important first steps in fostering a company culture that truly cares about its customers. When customers feel like they are being heard, respected, and valued continually, they will reward you with their loyalty.