Most discussions of the “customer-centric organization” focus on service-oriented consumer companies such as Zappos.com and Apple®. But a disciplined customer-centric strategy can work for any company, whether business-to-consumer or business-to-business.
At its heart, a customer-centric strategy isn’t about feel-good gestures. Rather, it’s a new way to view your company. Instead of an internal, operations-focused point of view, you evaluate your company and processes from the customer’s point of view. Not only does this perspective enhance customer experience and retention, but in doing so, it can streamline processes—whether customer-facing or back-office—and eliminate inefficiencies.
“A customer-centric approach is very much about being more efficient in what you do,” says Karyn Furstman, vice-chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). “It is measurable, and it does not mean taking your focus away from profitability.”
Here’s how to gear your entire organization toward serving your customers better:
- Invest in your biggest assets. One reason that many businesses fail to appreciate the value of their customers is because they see them as a cost center rather than an asset, Furstman says. Nurturing these assets requires a different mindset than the typical operational approach. On the customer side, the goal is to retain customers and find new ways to serve them, thus increasing their lifetime value.
- Map the customer journey. Before you can improve customer experience, you have to define it. That means charting the path (or paths) along which customers interact with your company and its products or services. Start with how they learned about you (advertising and word of mouth, etc.), to what resources they used to arrive at a purchasing decision, to the purchase itself. Then consider how the product is delivered and used, what the most customer-service issues are, and how they’re resolved. Finally, look at end of product life or service term, renewals, if any, repurchase, or upgrades. Not that the traditional definition of “customer service” – that is a call with a problem – is just one stop on this journey. Your map should consist of various customer touch points, some relatively straightforward, and others, called “moments of truth,” that represent critical interactions in which you’ll either earn a customer forever or lose them to a competitor.
- Listen to your customers—and your employees. From time to time, customer relationships may have pain points or interactions that could be improved, either for the customer or for your own employees. For instance, a minor design flaw in a product that causes confusion among customers and generates multiple service calls. In order to alleviate these pain points, you first must capture them, which you can do in several complementary ways. First, listen to your customers. Depending on your market and resources, this can range from social media monitoring and focus groups to taking your top clients out to lunch.Next, listen to your employees, particularly the customer-facing ones who not only hear the concerns of customers, but probably have a good idea how to resolve them as well. And finally, create metrics around the customer experience, including issue reporting and resolution.
The ultimate goal of a customer-centric organization, however, is not simply to react to customer needs, but to get ahead of them. “Once you move beyond the reactive and become proactive, you’ve created a competitive advantage,” Furstman says. “You’ve anticipated your customer’s needs and found ways to satisfy them before they even knew they wanted them.”