turn dials for a customer-centric strategy

A customer-centric strategy is about more than just a values statement or a directive to the team. Are your customers truly at the center of your business universe?

A customer-centric culture is one that is relentlessly focused on putting what’s best for the customer at the core of everything you do. Culture isn’t just about one function or department or role. It’s the product of a strategy. And it should extend across the organization and is central to the way you do business.

Are your customers truly at the center of your business universe or are they just a means of keeping your sales pipeline full?

Even for companies that see the value in customer-centricity, it can be challenging to create and sustain a customer-centric culture. Our surveys and discussions with sales leaders over the years have turned up a number of barriers that can make it difficult to get traction and build momentum. Some of the common issues we hear involve:

  • Providing consistency across channels
  • Overcoming employee complacency
  • Finding new ways to connect with customers and accelerate service delivery
  • Time and cross-training
  • Consistent, effective coaching on customer-centricity

As these issues imply, a customer-centric strategy is about more than just a values statement or team directives. Let’s beak down this topic and explore what it takes to engrain customer-centric attitudes and behaviors into the fabric of your business.

What Is Customer-Centric Thinking?

Customer-centric thinking is, as the name implies, taking the customer’s needs into account first. In addition to understanding and empathy for the customer’s situation, a customer-centric organization considers decisions made and how they directly affect their customers.

This customer-needs-focused approach is often thought of in the context of the sales and service teams. But in a customer-centric culture, everyone thinks this way, from marketing to finance to IT to product development. No matter the job, it’s about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and focusing on how you can create value and positive experiences for them, from their point of view.

And by the way, that customer might be external to your organization. Customer-centricity also applies to how people think about and treat their internal customers. In most organizations, there’s a close connection between the quality of internal service experience and the outside perception of service. Without that internal collaboration and alignment, it’s nearly impossible to provide a seamless experience for your external customers.

Understanding the Importance of Customer Centricity

The big question, of course, is whether implementing a customer-centric strategy will help your bottom line. How do metrics like increased wallet share, loyalty, customer lifetime value and referrals sound? Those are just a few of the benefits and advantages customer-centric organizations enjoy, according to numerous studies over the past decade.

A look at research by Zendesk, for example, shows that superior customer service directly impacts purchasing decisions, buying behaviors and long-term revenue. A study by Forrester found that customer experience-driven businesses grew revenue 1.4x faster and increased customer lifetime value 1.6x more than other companies.

While it takes an investment of time and resources to create a customer-centric culture, it’s one that pays off . Internally, a commitment to the customer has been shown to boost engagement, productivity and retention. This, while also reducing inefficiencies and saving money in the long run.

Not only that, focus on the customer motivates people. It provides a clear sense of purpose and a reason to give their all. Even when things get challenging, purpose keeps you going.

How Do You Create a Customer-Centric Strategy?

Successful customer-centric cultures have one thing in common—there is a clear understanding of how their distinctive value proposition makes a substantial difference for customers. They know their place in the market and are admired by employees and customers alike. Even their sales recruiting strategy involves hiring customer centric team members.

As you build your strategy, it can be helpful to visualize what a customer-centric organization looks like:

  • The purpose of any organization is to serve its owners or stakeholders with growth and profitability. To do this, the organization must get and keep loyal, profitable customers and loyal, productive employees.
  • The point of contact includes anyone who touches customers.
  • The pillars of the organization are the people and systems that make up the different departments and divisions. They must view their jobs as supporting those who touch customers.
  • The foundation is the company’s mission, vision and core values.

Here are some of the key principles to keep in mind:

  • Everyone in the culture must believe in the clear connection between the distinctive values of the culture and how it makes a substantial difference for customers.
  • The way the organization leverages its assets — especially its people — to make a distinctive difference for and with customers establishes its way of doing business. It becomes integral to the brand.
  • Employee engagement in customer-centric behaviors must be embraced as a sustainable strategy. The health and vibrancy of an organization’s culture is directly related to its strength in customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Managers must be committed to driving the right behaviors by focusing on creating value for customers. This includes developing, coaching and empowering the team to put customers at the center of their work.
  • Each employee should be supported in discovering their own personal brand (including their attitude, skills, beliefs and values) and understanding how that aligns with their job, their department and organization’s mission as a whole. This is one of the untapped opportunities for building a strong culture and helping people find purpose in their work.

Customer vs. Product Focus

In many cases, developing a customer-centric strategy means letting go of some old habits and approaches. If your team is highly product-focused, it will take a mindset reset to be truly customer-centric. Team members not only should learn how to engage customers based on what they need as opposed to the product, they’ll also have to shift to a problem-solving approach. One that views each situation individually from the customer’s point of view.

This applies internally as well. Functions have a tendency to hunker down in their silos and miss the fact that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t serving the broader purpose. To get everyone on board and rowing in the same direction, you need to implement a consistent value-based approach and process across the organization. Critical to this strategy is a having a clear plan for developing, coaching to, reinforcing and rewarding specific customer-centric mindsets and behaviors.

Why Customer Centric Firms Are Successful

Today’s customers expect more from the companies they do business with. If they don’t feel valued, they have more options than ever to find what they’re looking for elsewhere.

This means, with so much economic uncertainty right now, this is one area that smart companies are laser-focused on because they know it will be critical to their success — through the tough times, but also over the long term. As McKinsey recently pointed out:

History clearly shows the value of investing in customer experience during a downturn. In the last economic recession, companies that prioritized customer experience realized three times the shareholder returns compared to the companies that did not. The time for action is now.

In conclusion, when it comes to creating or strengthening your customer-centric strategy, there is no time like the present.

About the Author
Blake Esterday
Blake Esterday

Director, Client Experience

There are many valuable team members at Integrity Solutions and Blake is among our very best. He works in many...
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