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Zappos, the online shoe retailer, once had a customer reach out urgently after arriving at her hotel in Las Vegas without her favorite pair of shoes. Although Zappos no longer carried the model she wanted, a customer service rep went to the mall, bought a pair of shoes at a competing store, and hand-delivered them to the customer’s hotel room. It’s hard to overstate the positive impact this level of customer-centricity has on a brand and its customers. But as companies scale, they often lose the special touches that once made their customer experience so delightful. That’s a shame for customers and brands alike since customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than others.

Customer-centric marketing, as the name suggests, is about putting customers at the center of your business and marketing strategy. Many companies start here, only to later fall into the trap of product-centered marketing—obsessed with staying ahead of competitors and launching new products rather than staying in touch with what their target audience really needs.

But here’s the good news:

Any company, from fledgling startups to Fortune 100 giants, can maintain customer-centricity even as they scale by continuously prioritizing their customer’s needs.

By studying what the world’s most customer-centric companies do—from personalization to engagement to getting senior leadership involved—you can create consistently powerful customer experiences that keep your audience coming back.

1. Understand Your Customers Like Amazon

Amazon is well known for its obsessive customer focus, earning it the #2 spot on Salesforce’s Customer Centricity Index.

For most companies, the fickle nature of customer demands is an inconvenience. But for Amazon, the fact that customers have ever-higher expectations is an immutable law of human nature—and it’s better to be on the right side of customer expectations than the wrong side.

Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chairman of Amazon, wrote about this in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders:

“One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’.

Amazon’s mission is to become the most customer-centric company in the world. To do this, they follow the principle of Customer Obsession. Amazon starts with the customer and works backwards, rather than basing its strategy around its current product offerings or what competitors are doing.

By going through this process, you end up with questions like:

  1. Who are our customers and what are their core desires?
  2. What are our customers’ persistent problems?
  3. What are they telling us they need?

At a high level, Amazon stays close to customer needs by focusing on the implicit brand promise that keeps customers coming back to Amazon over the long term:

Price, selection, and convenience.

Understand Your Customers Like Amazon GIF
Source: GIPHY (use code to embed GIF)

But Amazon also has a sophisticated Voice of the Customer program that captures a diverse set of data about the customer experience—not only quantitative data but also anecdotal customer feedback. Even when the data paints a positive picture, Amazon dives deep into negative customer anecdotes to validate what’s happening.

Developing products that customers request is another core pillar of Amazon’s customer-centric strategy. Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing division of the company, gets 90% of its new product features and services from customer requests. Rather than focusing solely on sales, they actively solicit customer feedback and quickly roll out new features that have a guaranteed audience.

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2. Add Value Immediately Like SparkToro

SparkToro, a digital marketing software tool, coined the term “zero-click content” to describe a phenomenon increasingly common across web platforms:

Search engines and social media platforms don’t want users to leave.

Instead, they do everything they can to keep users on their platform. That’s how they make money, after all. Google provides quick answers within “featured snippets” that don’t require users to click again to get answers. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn algorithms prioritize native content and suppress content with outbound links.

Add Value Immediately Like SparkToro Graphic
Source: SparkToro

The way to be successful as a content marketer is to play the game by the rules these platforms are setting—by providing zero-click content instead of pushing users elsewhere.

Most marketers have an adversarial relationship with this fact. They use clickbait to fight the system, providing limited previews of their content on social media and then driving traffic toward blog posts or newsletters.

But the truth is, users benefit from zero-click content. When you’re in Twitter-scrolling mode, leaving to read an article somewhere else breaks your flow.

That’s why SparkToro’s zero-click marketing approach is a brilliantly customer-centric differentiator. Yes, it’s harder to track the short-term impact of your content—but by giving away 100% of the value of your content freely and within the platform users are on, you build trust with users and grow your audience faster.

3. Craft A User-Focused Design Process Like Airbnb

Airbnb now boasts over four million properties around the world, but back in 2009, room bookings were stagnant and the company was struggling. It was only by using the product himself that co-founder Joe Gebbia realized something—the listing photos were terrible:

The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for.

Based on this experience, Airbnb makes extensive use of design thinking with a focus on “being the patient”—AKA, putting themselves in their users’ shoes. One expression of this is the fact that Airbnb requires new employees to book a trip using the platform and report back to the company on their experience.

Airbnb also makes heavy use of user feedback in its design process. Raj Sivasubramanian, Airbnb’s Customer Experience Insights Manager, told the CX Cast podcast that Airbnb has around two million responses per year to its net promoter score (NPS) survey. But with millions of bookings per year, distilling user feedback can be a challenge.

To add context and emotional weight to its metrics, Airbnb also gives users the option to submit feedback via video. From a design and product perspective, these videos cut through the noise and create empathy within Airbnb’s internal team, helping to turn feedback into action.

4. Get Senior Leadership Involved Like Zappos

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, identifies itself as a customer service company that happens to sell shoes. The company relocated its entire operation from San Francisco to Las Vegas in 2004 in order to recruit better talent for its call center.

The only goal for Zappos customer service representatives is customer satisfaction. One Zappos rep sent flowers to a customer who had a death in the family; another helped a caller find the nearest pizza place. Zappos reps don’t read from scripts and are encouraged to be their authentic selves while speaking with customers.

But a customer-centric culture doesn’t develop without a commitment from a company’s leadership team. That’s why Zappos also requires all new employees—including senior leadership—to undergo a four-week Customer Loyalty Training program during which time they work in the company's call center. This hands-on experience sets a customer-centric tone for everyone in the company, regardless of position.

5. Engage Customers Wherever They Are Like T-Mobile

Mobile network customers in the US were used to stodgy, personality-free corporations—at least until T-Mobile’s leather jacket-wearing CEO John Legere came along in 2013. He quickly got rid of the two-year service contracts that had defined the mobile world while taking shots at competitors, like this quip from the 2013 CES conference:

Anybody here from New York? Any of you use AT&T? Any of you who use them, are you happy? Of course not. Their network's crap.

Under Ledger’s direction, T-Mobile’s strategy pivot and customer-centric marketing campaigns quickly added millions of new customers, along with a new sense of transparency.

T-Mobile’s investor calls, which had formerly been open to analysts and journalists, were opened up to consumers and Twitter users. Meanwhile, T-Mobile upped its social media game with specialized Twitter accounts for customer support (@TMobileHelp) and the Spanish-speaking market (@TMobileLatino).

CEO John Legere also gained a reputation for being combative and entertaining on Twitter:

The company’s quirky messaging strategy drew attention to the customer-centric changes the company was making to the industry, from free global roaming to transparent, contract-free pricing.

6. Personalize The Customer Experience Like Wayfair

If you’ve ever shopped on Wayfair, the online retailer, you may have come away overwhelmed by choice. Looking to buy a new area rug? The site has over 500,000 options for you to choose from.

That’s why Wayfair’s customer-centric approach revolves around leveraging AI to create a personalized shopping experience.

The personalization process starts with data.

Lots of data.

Personalize The Customer Experience Like Wayfair GIF
Source: GIPHY (use code to embed GIF)

Over the course of a year, Wayfair tracks 40 billion interactions on its website. Over a hundred data scientists work to make sense of that information, which is then shared across the organization to help with personalization and supply chain management.

By using predictive analytics and AI, Wayfair creates detailed buyer personas that help make sure each customer is shown the most relevant products possible and eliminate unnecessary scrolling on the customer journey.One unique way Wayfair’s AI model works is to monitor the aesthetic of products that customers purchase and browse. The model then suggests other products with a similar aesthetic. Wayfair has also introduced a feature called “Search with Photo” that lets customers take photos of items they like and upload them into Wayfair to find similar products.

7. Relentlessly Gather Customer Feedback Like Fidelity

Investment management doesn’t have the most customer-oriented reputation. Part of the problem is regulatory—financial firms are often focused just as much on compliance as customer service.

But Fidelity, the financial services firm, is the most customer-centric firm in the world according to Salesforce’s Customer Centricity Index.

What’s the company’s secret?

A comprehensive voice of the customer program.

A few years ago, with 2.5 million clients across the globe, Fidelity found itself running 30 separate voice of the customer programs. According to Stella Creasey, Global Voice of the Client Director at Fidelity, customer feedback remained largely siloed within each of these separate programs.

In response, Fidelity formed a single global voice of the customer team to create a consistent worldwide approach and improve data sharing across programs. Fidelity’s analytics team helps to make sense of this customer data, link it to outcomes like sales and profitability, and suggest improvements.Over 1,000 Fidelity employees have been trained on how to take action on client feedback in their day-to-day work. The company also brings senior leadership into the process, inviting executives to call customers to address issues that come up in surveys. This “Close Loop” program resulted in a 5x average increase in net sales for detractors who received a call.

Adopting A Customer-Centric Mindset

There's no denying the profound impact that customer-centricity has on a brand's success.

Customer-centric marketing strategies can elevate companies from niche players to industry giants. From Amazon's deep understanding of its customer base to Wayfair's AI-driven personalized shopping experiences, some of the most inspiring brands in the world have built their success on putting customers first.

To build a competitive advantage, there’s no greater tool in your arsenal than prioritizing your customer's needs and desires. Keep the dialogue open with them, invest in understanding their problems, and create an outstanding customer experience.

Remember, customer-centricity isn’t just about doing what’s right for your customers. Since customers will happily pay a 16% premium for a positive experience, it’s also about increasing customer lifetime value and profitability in your business. The two go hand in hand.

So, go on and study these successful customer-centric champions and let their strategies inspire your own. By implementing their secrets, you can create a powerful, customer-focused brand that keeps your audience coming back for more. Ready to take your customer-centricity to the next level? Stay inspired by subscribing to our newsletter and get the latest CX tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Ryan Kane
By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.