Is your organization sufficiently customer-centric? Spoiler alert: If you are pausing to reflect on what this means, the answer is probably “no.”
Welcome to the age of customer experience, customer satisfaction, customer happiness and heightened focus on customer-centric practices designed to differentiate the most successful companies from their competitors.
Why are we writing about “customer-centric culture”? Because it’s not just a trend; prioritizing customer-centric practices is proven to boost the bottom line.
What is Customer-Centric Culture? [Definitions]
Adopting a thoroughly customer-centric approach to business means much more than the age-old adage of “putting the customer first.” So what is customer-centricity and why do many business thought leaders regard it as essential for 21st century business success?
Definition of terms: ‘Customer-Centric’ & ‘Customer-Centricity’
“Customer-centricity is a way of doing business that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. It builds customer loyalty and satisfaction which leads to referrals for more customers. Anytime a customer-centric business makes a decision, it deeply consider the effect the outcome will have on its customers.”
“Being customer-centric means putting the customer at the heart of everything you do as a business, from marketing to sales to customer service touchpoints across every channel.”
“A customer-centric way of doing business is a way that provides a positive customer experience before and after the sale in order to drive repeat business, enhance customer loyalty and improve business growth.”
Why Prioritizing Customer Experience Is So Essential Today
While we understand there is always a cost to implement changes, intuitively it makes sense that doing everything you can to provide a positive customer experience at every touchpoint would have a demonstrably positive effect on business outcomes.
Here are some statistics to back up the idea that prioritizing customer experience is more essential than ever. According to digital marketing giant HubSpot:
- More than 80% of companies who prioritize customer experience are reporting an increase in revenue.
- 76% of customers expect companies to understand their needs.
- Customers will spend 17% more for a good experience.
- Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that aren’t.
- $1.6 trillion is lost each year due to poor customer service.
Additionally, there is evidence that a customer-centric model:
- Improves customer satisfaction
- Improves customer retention
- Improves potential for upselling and cross-selling
- Increases customer lifetime value (CLV) metrics
- Improves likelihood of building new business through positive word of mouth
Related article: Customer Experience Training — What It Is and Why You Need It
14 Strategies for Building a Customer-Centric Culture
Let’s revisit the question that opened this post: Is your organization sufficiently customer-centric? If you’re not sure, here are a dozen-plus tips and strategies to help you get ahead of the curve and, most important, ahead of your competition.
- Prioritize Customer Empathy
The concept of “empathy” is at the heart of customer-centric philosophy. It may sound like a buzzword in the hard-boiled world of business, but the capacity to truly understand and respect the feelings and motivations of others is actually a game-changing business advantage.
Harvard Business Review, which encourages companies to “operationalize customer empathy,” defines it as follows: “Essentially, customer empathy is the ability to identify a customer’s emotional need, understand the reasons behind that need, and respond to it effectively and appropriately. And it’s pretty rare. According to PwC, only 38% of U.S. consumers say the employees they interact with understand their needs.”
2. Do Some Homework on Your Customers
Building a customer-centric culture requires developing in-depth knowledge about your customers that goes well beyond how much they spent with you in the past year. Doing some extra homework about the customer, their industry and their competition can yield valuable business intelligence.
There are many potential upsides when your team begins to understand the customer better than your competition does. When it comes to your ongoing interactions with customers, demonstrating advanced knowledge of both their operation and the business sector they operate in sends the message that you care enough to dig a little deeper as part of your commitment to helping them succeed.
Additionally, such knowledge can help your team discover ways to deliver exceptional “above and beyond” service and add value in each encounter. Creatively solving a problem or identifying potential barriers to the client’s success helps build a foundation for mutually rewarding, longer-term customer relationships.
3. Meet With Customers In-Person
Though cutting back on service visits and other onsite encounters with customers is one way to trim expenses, spending less time with your customers is not the best way to move the relationship to the next level. Instead, focus on embracing each customer visit as an opportunity to listen, learn, deliver value, and deepen the relationship.
Consider: Service people often have very close, high-trust relationships with their customers, interacting with them around 75 times per month. In an organization with 100 technical service and support people, that’s 7,500 opportunities every month to add value for the customer. This translates into better business outcomes for customers and more revenue and profit for your organization.
4. Collect Customer Feedback
Central to the case for customer centricity is the idea that customer feedback is valuable data that you can use to make your business more successful.
Traditional and newer methods include surveys, calls, emails, message boards, social media, texting and live chat. But perhaps the most valuable customer feedback is that which occurs in those enhanced conversations between supplier/provider and customer.
5. Optimize Your Customer Relationship Management System
Customer relationship management (or CRM) systems are not just something that B2C businesses use to centralize helpful customer data or generate automatic reminders to contact specific customers at key touchpoints. They are also an extremely powerful tool for B2B companies.
“The specific challenge of the B2B environment is that a business is much more complex and multifaceted than an individual customer,” according to Salesforce. “B2B CRM can help B2B companies better understand their customers’ needs. Comprehension is essential in the B2B field, due to the complex nature of the customer relationship.”
A comprehensive B2B CRM strategy helps companies “focus on their organizations’ relationships with individual people, service users, colleagues or suppliers,” according to marketing firm Valasys Media. “This relationship building is a dynamic process and continues throughout the lifecycle of customers including finding new customers, winning the deals and providing support and additional services throughout the relationship.”
6. Strive to Understand Each Customer’s “Big Picture”
When you go the extra mile to develop a deeper understanding of your customers’ most important business needs and goals — of their “big picture” — you increase your ability to help them meet those needs and achieve those goals.
The benefit of emphasizing this aspect of customer-centricity is that your key team members will be better equipped to add value for the customer by connecting technical and product knowledge with new insights about what’s most important to each customer.
What is your customer trying to achieve as an organization? Reduce costs? Ratchet up productivity? Increase growth? Become more competitive? Maybe even all of the above. The point is, if you understand what your customer is trying to achieve, you’re better equipped to find ways to assist in the areas that matter most to them. And what customer doesn’t appreciate suppliers who are focused on helping them achieve their larger business outcomes?
7. Reimagine How You Add Value for Your Customers
Here’s an example. Suppose your company has field service technicians going onsite to supply customers with products or services. In such encounters, techs are often focused on break-fix issues, minimizing customer downtime or just getting the job done and moving on to the next one.
However, a customer-centric approach calls on companies to approach each customer touchpoint as an opportunity to learn about the customer’s most important needs and business goals (their “big picture”) and to delight them by adding value in unexpected ways.
One helpful way to illustrate how this concept can play out in the field is the metaphor of the iceberg. At the top of the iceberg, above the waterline, there may be technical or technology-related issues that are easy to identify. However, at the bottom of the iceberg, deep under the waterline, there are typically bigger problems that are more difficult to uncover.
Reimagining your customer relationships involves tasking (and training) front-line field service professionals to look “below the waterline” — that is, to position them to discover issues that may not be readily apparent to the customer, to discover the root causes of an issue and offer more delightful, permanent solutions.
8. Focus on Providing Proactive Customer Service
When your team brings a heightened focus on customers’ below-the-waterline issues and big-picture goals, you open up a wealth of opportunity to add value in ways that help you transform business relationships from traditional supplier-customer status to that of trusted business advisor.
Here’s an example, drawn from our decades of experience helping companies do exactly that. In this example, a field service engineer who was working with a customer on the rollout of important new technology became concerned that an urgent, but unrelated issue was distracting the customer from the rollout. The FSE engaged the customer in a “big-picture” conversation that helped him address the urgent, short-term issue and return full attention to keeping the technology rollout on schedule — ultimately saving an estimated $100,000 in costs and reducing time spent on escalations.
9. Prioritize Customer Relationship Building
Building a customer-centric culture involves specific strategies like:
- Striving to better understand each customer’s operation
- Researching their competitive landscape
- Gaining insight into their most important business goals, and
- Expanding your vision to look below the waterline for deeper-level ways to help
From a leadership perspective, such strategies must be part of an organization-wide effort — complete with high-level messaging to underscore the idea that customer relationship building is a core part of your business philosophy because, among other reasons, it is good for the bottom line.
10. Focus on What the Customer Really Wants
Integral to the high-value activity of customer relationship building is an ongoing focus on the little things that relate to the customer’s big picture.
Global management consulting firm McKinsey emphasizes the value of customer centricity in the context of an evolving “hypercompetitive” landscape in which “technology has handed customers unprecedented control over the experience of purchasing goods and services.” In this landscape, “the question that every executive asks and that the savviest executives are asking more frequently than ever [is]: What do my customers want?”
Though it may sound overly simplistic, heightened focus on this question is closely connected to revenue gains, according to McKinsey. “Across industries, successful projects for optimizing the customer experience typically achieve revenue growth of 5 to 10 percent and cost reductions of 15 to 25 percent within just two or three years. Moreover, companies offering an exceptional customer experience can exceed the gross margins of their competitors by more than 26 percent.”
11. Seek Ways to Achieve Balanced Outcomes
There are several important shifts that occur in the transition to building a customer-centric culture.
First is the shift from being mostly reactive in responding to customer requests, issues and problems, to being proactive by anticipating customer needs taking action to address them.
Second is the shift from focusing on technical problems clearly visible to the customer and the supplier, to identifying and addressing problems and issues that are not so easily seen and present potential obstacles to longer-term success.
The third shift involves moving away from that aspect of the “customer is always right” ethos that occasionally may involve giving in to unreasonable demands to keep someone happy, and instead working collaboratively with the customer to reach solutions that balance the interests of all sides.
12. Understand That Your Employee Culture Benefits Too
Another benefit of the customer-centric approach to business is that it can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on your own internal employee culture as well.
For example, consider the potential morale boost that can occur when your customer-facing employees are being asked not just to fix problems, but are relied on and valued for their ability to use new relationship-building skills to grow into the role of trusted advisor to key customers.
13. Embrace an Organization-Wide Cultural Shift
A successful shift to a truly customer-centric approach requires buy-in throughout the entire organization, with clear messaging, built-in accountability and strong, consistent leadership from above.
According to the Harvard Business Review (“6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture”), the most common and perhaps greatest barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. “At most companies the culture remains product-focused or sales-driven, or customer centricity is considered a priority only for certain functions such as marketing. To successfully implement a customer-centric strategy and operating model, a company must have a culture that aligns with them — and leaders who deliberately cultivate the necessary mindset and values in their employees.”
14. Invest in Customer-Centric Training
To make the successful transition to a customer-centric business culture, you will want to strongly consider investing in employee training to equip your key team members with next-level customer relationship skills.
We have a long track record of providing customized training programs that are designed to help you position your company as a trusted partner-provider who continually demonstrates to customers that you are committed to helping them achieve their most important business objectives and succeed in new opportunities on the horizon.
Related article: Customer Experience Training — What It Is and Why You Need It
If you’d like to learn more about how advanced customer relationship training can unlock value for you and your customers, take a look at our Total Customer Focus program. Our mission is to help companies like yours use a customer-centric approach to reimagine relationships with your most important customers.