More and more companies talk about the importance of customer experience these days. But have you noticed that when it comes to making that happen, it seems to be more ‘talking the talk’ rather than ‘walking the walk’? I don’t think this comes from a deliberate place. Often companies aren’t sure how to deliver on a customer-centric strategy.
I’m a research strategist who consults with clients on how to transform their companies with customer-centric attitudes and practices. In this piece, you’ll learn five tactics to help you achieve your customer experience-focused goals.
What Does It Mean To Be Customer Centric?
An essential part of the process of becoming a customer-centric company is to thoroughly understand what it means So, let’s start by defining customer-centricity. Why? Because it creates both a clear understanding and alignment right away. The sooner that you can achieve this, the more set up your company will be to successfully foster incredible customer experiences.
To be customer-centric means to place the customer at the center of all business activities and decision-making processes. It involves a deep understanding of the needs, preferences, and pain points of the target audience, and a commitment to providing personalized and responsive customer service.
How does this show up? A customer-centric strategy requires a willingness to listen to customer feedback and then use it to continuously improve your products, services, and processes. It also involves creating a culture within the organization that prioritizes the customer and fosters long-term relationships through loyalty programs and engagement strategies.
As you can see, this is no small change in perspective or process. Becoming a customer-centric company will involve dedication and buy-in from stakeholders at all levels within the organization.
Let’s bring our focus back to defining customer-centric strategy. A great way to understand what a customer-centric strategy is, is by understanding what it is not. There are many considerations to centralize your company around, and they can often get confused with each other.
Customer-centric vs product-centric
A common approach that I hear about in my line of work is to be product-centric. This kind of strategy has gained popularity, particularly in the band innovation space. To be product centric is to focus your attention on the product regardless of the customers and demand in the market. That sounds harsh for the customers, but some companies have found quite good success through this strategy.
Think of brands like Apple, or Dyson. They’ve remained consistent in being cutting-edge and innovative. Without the central focus on the product, we may not have ever had wireless earbud headphones that haven’t sacrificed sound or comfort, or purified air produced so quietly and stylishly. If these companies didn’t persist with a product-centric focus, they likely would not be the leaders in their multiple product categories.
Like any approach, there are not only strengths but limitations. While a product-centric approach may result in new and improved products, it can also lead to a disconnect between the business and the customer. This can lead to products that don’t actually meet the needs of the target audience.
Pitfalls of product centricity
Let's think back to the release of AirPods. When Airpods first came out, the product was innovative in that no cords were needed. However, these first few versions were not yet comfortable and fell out of people’s ears when moving a lot. The design did not take this real-world aspect of the customer experience into consideration.
In contrast, a customer-centric approach results in products that are designed and developed with the customer first. The outcome here is products that are more likely to meet their needs. What’s more is that we typically see higher customer satisfaction and loyalty, which are important for stable and smarter growth.
Customer-centric vs business-centric
A business-centric brand has a core focus and offerings that revolve around meeting the needs of businesses. It’s about offering value to the business itself, more than the individual end-users. It understands the unique needs and goals of businesses and develops tailored solutions. It continuously strives to provide value, expertise, and support.
A few brands that come to mind are Microsoft and Adobe. Microsoft offers the likes of operating systems, productivity software, cloud computing services, and enterprise solutions. Adobe offers creative and marketing software suites, the most well-known being Photoshop. These companies help businesses reach their goals with efficiency and data intelligence.
The focus on the business bottom line is most important for these kinds of brands, because the licensing of these products can be very costly, and the decision maker for purchase is often at the executive level. Professionals at this level of seniority are thinking about the success of the business first and foremost. They may not be the ones using the product on a daily basis, so the user experience is not their primary concern. They simply want confidence that the product will help them reach their business goals.
You likely have encountered some business-centric products in your own line of work. I have myself, and also regularly engage with end users for my client in the SaaS (‘Software as a Service’) space.
Something interesting that I have found in the interviews, is that many of the users, though frustrated with their experience, almost don’t expect anything more. There has been less pressure on business-centric products, such as digital banking and accounting. This is likely because these products by their nature are much ‘stickier’. The investment is large, onboarding and change management can take months, and ultimately the end user is forced to use the tool as it’s the only method that their company provides them with to complete their tasks.
Pitfalls of business centricity
Just as fintech disrupted the customer experience in banking, this can happen in other business-centric brand ecosystems.
By contrast, a customer-centric approach can lead to increased customer satisfaction, repeat business, and positive word-of-mouth referrals. This can result in higher profitability for the business.
In the business products and tools world, why not stand out from your competition with a customer-centric edge? Speaking of competition…
Customer-centric vs competitor-centric:
Some companies go the competitor-centric route. In this case, the company creates its strategies based on what its competitors do in the market. This kind of strategy is typically the furthest from the customer focus.
A competitor-centric approach may involve copying or imitating the actions of competitors, or trying to outdo them in terms of features or pricing. Think Coca-Cola versus Pepsi, or Adidas versus Nike. These brands own the majority of their markets already, so for them, they each have one clear threat.
Pitfalls of competitor centricity
For companies with less market share, a competitor-centric approach could result in short-term gains or a temporary advantage over the competition, but it can also lead to a failure to address the unique needs of its target audience.
Alternatively, a customer-centric approach leads to a better understanding of the customer and their preferences. The outcome here is more effective marketing, product development, and customer engagement strategies that build long-term relationships and loyalty.
There is no one perfect strategy. Once you choose which one works best for you, make sure to stick with it. If you are constantly changing your strategy, you will not be able to move anything forward.
How Customer-Centric Is Your Organization?
A 1-Minute Self-Assessment
Is a customer-centric strategy sound like a good way for you to go? That’s great! In order to get there, let’s see how you are currently doing in terms of focusing your business around your customer needs.
Simply answer yes or no to the following questions:
- Do you conduct customer research to better understand their needs, preferences, and pain points?
- Do you develop products and services that are tailored to the needs of your customers and target audience?
- Do you provide personalized and responsive customer service that addresses the specific needs of individual customers?
- Are you building long-term relationships with customers through loyalty programs, incentives, and engagement strategies?
- Are you transparent and honest in all business dealings, including pricing, marketing, and communication with customers?
- Would you call your culture within the organization customer-centric, where all employees are focused on meeting the needs of the customer?
If you didn’t answer ‘yes’ to all of these items, that’s ok. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and the fact that you’re taking time to learn about customer experience is already a wonderful step.
5 Customer Centric Tactics To Transform Your Business Strategy
Let’s work towards checking off more of the above items by diving into some tactics that you can use to get your business more customer-centric. Here are five tactics that are great places to start:
- Conduct customer research
- Create a customer experience journey map
- Implement a customer feedback system
- Develop a customer-centric culture
- Measure and track customer satisfaction
Let's take a closer look at each one:
Tactic 1: Conduct customer research
In customer research, you collect data on customer needs, preferences, and pain points. You can use many methods to do so, such as surveys, focus groups, interviews, and behavioral data. These insights can then be used to develop products and services that better meet the needs of your current and future customers.
Scenario: You realize that you don’t know too much about your customers. For example, you don’t have persona profiles that give each person in the company a good view into who you are building products and services for.
Opportunity: Conduct customer interviews, to start learning about them in depth.
Your Strategy: Create a discussion guide, taking care that you are crafting your questions in a way that will not bias the responses. When you recruit customers for these interviews, try to talk to a representative spread. Be consistent in how you ask questions so that you can compare the responses of each customer against each other. Look for themes, and start creating persona profiles that touch on who they are, their needs, and their pain points.
Tactic 2: Create a customer experience journey map
To create a customer experience journey map, you’ll map out the various touchpoints that a customer has with the business and what you know about how they’ve found their experience in each stage. This starts at initial awareness to post-purchase follow-up. It can help identify areas where the customer experience can be improved and optimized.
Scenario: You think that you have an idea of what touchpoints your customers go through in their journey with your brand. However, you aren’t confident that what you think is the best reflection of what they really go through.
Opportunity: Co-create a customer journey map with your colleagues, and then validate it with actual customers.
Your Strategy: Start by engaging with other people in your company who interact with your customers. Get their take on what that customer journey looks like. Use a tool like Miro, starting with a template and filling in the blanks. Once the journey map is as complete as you can get it to, reach out to customers. Have them map out their journey using sticky notes, real or digital, depending on whether you’re meeting with them in person or online. See how closely their journeys line up with the one that you created, and adjust accordingly.
Tactic 3: Implement a customer feedback system
This involves creating a system for collecting and analyzing customer feedback, such as through surveys or social media monitoring. Many companies look to tools such as a CRM (or customer relationship management tool) that they may already have set up, but don’t regularly look at the customer data.
Scenario: You want to hear more from your customers regularly, and be able to do something with the data that is coming in.
Opportunity: Integrate a customer feedback system into your processes. Check out what tools you are already using, as they may have some feedback and analysis features that you can use.
Your Strategy: Create opportunities for customer feedback both by pushing out feedback triggers to them, and giving customers a space to come to you any time that they want to connect. You can check out tools like Qualtrics to create survey intercepts, or the CRM and customer support platform Zendesk to collect customer feedback tickets. Both tools have analytics features, providing you with ways to summarize the feedback, including metrics that you can track over time. There are many other ways to collect customer data. For example, you can also take a look at what people are saying about you on social media.
Tactic 4: Develop a customer-centric culture
Foster a culture within the organization that prioritizes the customer, and provide training and support to employees to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of the customer at all touchpoints.
Scenario: Currently, people within your organization don’t make mention of the customer experience. They are focused on other matters, such as their own experience, and their key performance indicators (KPIs).
Opportunity: Start every meeting with a customer moment, where someone brings up a real situation that happened, talking about it as if they were the customer.
Your Strategy: Set the tone of meetings by shifting the focus to the customer right away. Repeat this for every meeting, so that it’s clear to your team that the customer experience is of high importance. By repeating this, it will help your teammates start to automatically think customer-first. Come prepared for your meetings with a customer moment of your own. This helps you lead by example, and will also decrease the risk of no moment being shared.
Tactic 5: Measure and track customer satisfaction
Regularly measure and track customer satisfaction levels, and use this information to make data-driven decisions that prioritize the customer. This can help identify areas where the business is succeeding and areas where there is room for improvement.
Scenario: You want some metrics that you can track to see progress over time. You want these measures to also provide you with some context so that you have some direction in what needs to be done to increase performance.
Opportunity: Implement a customer satisfaction survey regularly. Include opportunities for the customers to tell you more about why they scored it the way that they did.
Your Strategy: Find the best-standardized customer satisfaction survey for you. There are many out there, such as the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), that are used across industries. This is great for benchmarking your metrics against competitors. Keep in mind that each survey measures something slightly different, and should be used in the scenarios that they are designed for. Using the surveys properly will help you draw out reliable insights. At the end of the survey, include an open text box item where the customer can explain a bit about why they gave it the score that they did. Even better, give the customer an opportunity to tell you more firsthand with an interview offer.
These tactics are just a starting point. They are integral in laying the foundations of a customer-centric company. In time, your customer relationships will be strengthened, and customer loyalty will increase.
Continue To Build On Your Customer-Centric Strategy
Are you looking to learn more about customer-centric strategy? Check out this post on how to build a service blueprint. It will show you how to use this versatile service design tool to improve your processes—with the customer journey at the center of it all.
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