There’s a lot of talk these days about companies becoming “customer-centric.” It means putting customers at the center of the business.
The idea is to build positive consumer experience both before and after the sale, with customer retention and repeat business as the goal.
In a highly competitive age, when attracting and retaining customers has never been more vital to business survival, being customer-centric takes on added importance. But not all businesses truly put the customer first in the long run, and they might suffer for it.
“While ‘customer-centric’ sounds great, the truth is that many of these efforts are nothing more than sophisticated marketing campaigns,” says Sallie Sherman, co-author of Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships and an expert in growing critical business relationships to create a sustainable, competitive advantage.
“Because these marketing campaigns often are so powerful, they can over-promise and actually cause the customer experience to be more frustrating,” says Sherman.
Recent research by Deloitte showed that customer-centric companies were more profitable than those not as focused on the customer. As Sherman points out, a company putting in the consistent, genuine effort to keep a customer happy and coming back is often rewarded.
“Customer-centric companies understand that being customer-centric is a detailed performance game,” Sherman says. “They align every part of the company around their customers’ needs and expectations. They view their customers as valuable and build the business around them.”
Sherman lists four ways businesses can become more company-centric:
• Put the customer front and center. “Start by thoroughly understanding the customers’ needs and expectations. Then communicate those throughout the organization before building business strategies and plans. Finally, build and implement processes throughout the organization to ensure the company meets or exceeds customers’ expectations,” Sherman says. “This sets customer-centered standards and ensures the customers’ needs and expectations are being met.”
• Build customer relationships. Ensure customers feel appreciated after the initial interaction. “Rather than bombard them with endless advertisements and marketing questionnaires, build a meaningful, ongoing relationship with them,” Sherman says. “Strive to communicate with them the way they want so you can provide information that meets customers’ expectations. Recognize and reward customer loyalty. The internet has made customer relationships even more important; consumers can easily inform one another about good and bad experiences, influencing a slide or boom in business.”
• Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to be different. There are always creative ways to take good treatment of customers to a higher level. Make things easier and more appealing for them through catalogs, online ordering, or customizing your products to their needs. It is during problem-solving or dispute-resolution situations that customer loyalty is most often impacted. “That’s why listening to your customers’ needs and being flexible is the key to a great customer experience,” Sherman says.
• Don’t make your employees a distant second. The customers come first, but without good, dependable employees who believe in the work culture, the product and their customers, there is no link to bring in the business. “Employees are the face of the company, and if they’re undervalued it will show up in being uncommitted to serving customers,” Sherman says. “Recognize and reward the efforts of your employees and empower them to grow your company.”
“You know companies are customer-centric by the way they perform,” Sherman says. “As customers we get what we need, when and how we expect it, and we genuinely like doing business with them because it is easy to do business with them.”