Lots of companies say they’re customer-centric. But are they really?
The fact is, most companies think more about profits than how they treat their customers.
That makes sense on the surface — after all, any business needs to be profitable to stay afloat. But in the long run, it’s much healthier for the bottom line to put customer needs in focus.
Let’s take a look at how putting the customer at the center of your company’s orbit can change your business for the better.
Customer-centric (also known as client-centric) is not always about making the customer happy. Customer-centricity is about doing what’s right for customers and creating trust.
“Customer centricity is literally putting the customer at the center of everything you do.” Jonathan Brummel, senior manager of premier support engineering at Zendesk
Building great customer relationships are key to success. The entire company culture is built around delivering exceptional customer experiences, not just delivering company profits. This shift in mindset takes time and patience, and isn’t easy, but the benefits can be enormous.
Importance of customer centricity
A single angry customer can create a social media firestorm with a complaint. Word travels fast, and it can take a toll on your brand’s reputation.
Customer-centricity takes hard work and dedication, and for companies that do this well, it pays off.
- Research from Deloitte and Touche finds that companies with a customer-centric culture are 60% more profitable compared to companies that aren’t.
- Research by Zendesk and ESG revealed that companies best prepared to weather the COVID-19 storm lead on customer-centric agility—meaning they constantly adapt to customers’ needs and expectations. These companies were more likely to steal market share, grow their customer base, and increase customer spend during the pandemic, compared to organizations that weren't as strong on customer-centricity.
How to become customer centric
Here are 7 tips to help you build a customer-centric business.
1. Cultivate a mission of customer service
There’s one sure way to put the customer at the center of your company culture: make it part of your mission. Customer-centric companies look for people who are driven to deliver a great experience, and make it part of their hiring strategy.
Zappos started as an online shoe business and became a billion-dollar company. They live and breathe their #1 core value, deliver WOW through service, in everything they do. Zappos values protect their company culture fiercely.
This idea permeates through the entire company, and they are slow to hire and quick to fire as a way to ensure someone’s the right fit for their service culture. Because their values are focused on delivering exceptional customer experience, all new hires (including executive leadership) spend two weeks on the front lines answering customer calls, and go through a month of culture enrichment training.
2. Get your data out of silos
Have you ever called a company with a question, only to be bounced to different departments and then had to repeat your story a bunch of times?
If you said it’s frustrating, you’re in good company: according to the Zendesk CX Trends Report 2020, 68% of customers are annoyed when their call is transferred.
With so much data to manage, it’s no surprise that companies have it stored in a lot of different places.
Unfortunately, that can lead to bad customer experiences when your support agents can’t access critical information because it’s saved on someone’s desktop.
To solve this problem, businesses are starting to realize the importance of having a customer relationship management (CRM) system that arms employees with context and conversation history.
3. Personalize the customer experience
If your customer experience is one-size-fits-all, you aren’t tailoring to their needs.
To deliver a truly personalized experience, you need the right technology to zero in on each customer’s behaviors and build good relationships.
It takes work, but the investment pays off: companies that personalize experiences have better customer retention and reduced churn rates, and they gain new shoppers.
A great example is Mizzen + Main, a direct-to-consumer men’s apparel brand that promises “the perfect fit for every body.”
They wanted to deliver highly personalized service to their customers — and to do that, they needed to make all of their customer insights easily accessible to their agents.
Mizzen + Main integrated their customer data so agents could make sales with personalized recommendations about the company’s products while chatting with a customer.
“We’re obsessed with customer experience, and data helps us interact with customers on an individual basis,” says Mizzen + Main’s director of e-commerce Sabrina Abney. “The last thing someone wants from a brand that’s all about personalized is to be treated like they’re just a number.”
4. Take customer feedback and act on it
If you want to put the customer at the center of your business, you have to listen to what they have to say.
Dig into the data. Are there any common complaints that keep popping up in your customer feedback?
We’re not just talking about customer satisfaction surveys (though those are important), but in all points of communication like messaging, calls, emails.
Immerse yourself and take it all in. If you say you’re listening to your customers, but you’re not hearing their problems, then you’re not listening hard enough.
You need the right customer data to fuel your business. It doesn’t mean saying yes to every customer whim, but it does mean shifting internal mindsets to grow with the times, whether your company is a startup or a 100-year-old brand.
Levi Strauss & Co. was launched in 1890, and only made denim from “shrink-to-fit” cotton. It was woven into their brand’s DNA.
But when the popularity of athleisure clothing like comfy yoga pants triggered a decline in denim, Levi’s put their customers at the center of their design by going beyond feedback and observing denim-wearers in their everyday environment. The team discovered a significant number of their customers rode bikes every day, and that insight led to the development of a new active collection. It was a strategic shift that revitalized the centenarian brand for a new generation.
5. Track and analyze customer behavior
While it’s important to be open to customer feedback, you need to delve into where it’s coming from (and why). Is a small group of vocal customers asking for something they want?
It might catch your attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you should hop on to change. Do more in-depth research first.
Reach out to a meaningful number of your existing customers and ask what they think. But filter their feedback through your data.
If your customers keep saying they love your red t-shirts but keep buying the blue ones, take their actual behavior into account before making any big changes. By acting on your insights, you can create personalized features and recommendations.
But don’t stop there.
Keep the feedback loop going to make continuous improvements, and be open to change.
6. Aim to surprise and delight
Companies that take customer service to the next level aren’t satisfied with just doing well--they aim to exceed customer expectations.
This might mean adding a little something extra to their package or sending a handwritten note.
It’s a high-touch approach to customer service that aims to build relationships and make memorable experiences. And that takes more than technical savvy.
“They have to really love helping people,” says Brummel. “You can teach the technical stuff, but it’s not as easy to teach heart.”
Zappos sometimes sends flowers to customers when things don’t go quite right.
And contrary to the customer call duration metric, Zappos doesn’t rush customers just to hit its numbers.
Their record-breaking service call time clocked in at over ten hours with a single customer. And while that purchase ended with a sale, the real point creating a customer relationship.
7. Deliver proactive customer service
As competition heats up and economic uncertainty is a wildcard, one thing is for certain: customer loyalty can help drive the success of a business.
When you gather and understand these valuable insights, you can proactively engage with your customers.
It helps your employees anticipate needs, resolve issues faster, and even fix problems before a customer even knows they exist.
Taking care of your customers helps you build brand loyalty. That’s important because more than half of customers report going out of their way to buy from their favorite brands, according to the CX Trends Report 2020.
The value of customer centricity
Customer-centricity is no small task, but it’s worth the time and effort spent to get there. Putting your customers in focus helps your company build better products and services to meet their expectations. And when your customers are happy, that means a happy bottom line.