If you ask a company’s leadership team if they’re customer-centric, chances are they’ll say “yes.” In reality, very few companies are taking the steps needed to be considered truly customer-centric. It’s a topic that’s easy to posture about externally, but as the saying goes, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
True customer-centricity means that the customer is a part of your DNA. Late last year, Bloomberg Media and Salesforce broke down some of the qualities of the top customer-centric companies. These included things like anticipating customer needs, delivering exceptional service, and being easy to do business with, among others. While these are all true, I wanted to learn more from people on the front lines with customers every day.
I recently chatted with some friends in customer experience leadership across a variety of industries to ask about the traits of truly customer-centric organizations. For many companies, it’s the cornerstone of what makes their brand truly “loved,” and the foundation of their entire business.
Here’s what I learned.
They go above and beyond to create brand ambassadors.
It’s easy to rest on your laurels when CSAT scores are satisfactory, but the most customer-centric brands in the world go above and beyond to create ambassadors. Think of the experiences you really love from brands you use on a regular basis. My colleague Sophia Malina and I recently talked about how much we love Grammarly’s end-of-week emails that show how much your writing has improved. A little reminder that your vocabulary is better than 90 percent of the population leaves you feeling good about your progress — and wanting to use the software even more.
For tech companies, it’s easier to bake these experiences directly into the product. But for consumer goods, the journey might look like a formal ambassador program that rewards superfans for sharing the love. Brands like Rothys rely mostly on word of mouth to recommend their sustainable footwear and bags to the masses. They recently launched an ambassador program called “The Collective” to engage a selection of influential superfans in product decisions. This customer feedback is invaluable because it shows customers you’re listening, while creating a legion of loyal supporters in the process.
Their entire company is incentivized on creating value for customers.
You might think customer centricity starts and ends with the customer service team. While these employees are on the front-lines of customer care, everyone should be directly incentivized on creating value for the customer. Value for the customer translates to more revenue, so prioritizing this should stem from management down to every employee at the company.
As Kate Forgione, director of customer success at Redgate Software says, “Over the last 12 months, the fancy offices are moth-balled, culture as a concept has been stress-tested by business uncertainty and widespread redundancy. We these pillars are taken away, what we are left with are uniting around those we serve, our customers.”
Making this a reality at your company may involve some organization-wide changes, such as adding customer-centric or revenue-focused KPIs to everyone’s role across the board. These changes will pay off not only through happier customers, but also in increased sales.
They look for soft skills in the hiring process.
People who interface with your customers every day should be the ones that you’d like to interact with socially (whenever we’re back to all meeting in person, that is). These soft, interpersonal skills can be hard to detect in an interview setting, where you’re laser-focused on the person’s qualifications and competency.
However, customer-centric companies pay attention to the anecdotes prospective employees tell in the interview process. Did they stay in touch with their former managers after they ended their employment? Did they share an experience of making a customer laugh out loud? These types of stories can uncover a lot about a person’s character, and their willingness to go above and beyond to impact the customer’s experience with your brand.
They are transparent.
“A company that is customer-centric is one that is transparent about its product, and gives the customer what they need, not what they think they want,” said Mick Frederick, VP of customer experience at Eaze. For companies in emerging or fast-growing markets, transparency is key to gaining a customer’s long-term trust and loyalty. In fact, 9 out of 10 customers would stop purchasing from brands that lack transparency.
For established brands, transparency may come in the form of admitting your mistakes quickly and being clear about how you’re going to make it right. Or, it may mean having your leadership team reveal more about what’s happening behind the scenes at your company on social media. In either case, transparency can make customers feel bought into the company’s mission, vision and values.
They prioritize employee wellbeing.
Above all else, customer-centric companies prioritize their own employees’ well-being. While that may sound counterintuitive, (“Shouldn’t we be putting the customer first?” you say?) happy employees are more likely to care about the quality of their work and its impact on customers.
As Sir Richard Branson told Inc. Magazine, “If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.” By treating employees poorly, companies risk the negative impact of their decisions on customers.
Even if you’re a fast-growing company like Shopify, you can take definitive actions to put your employees first. The company instituted Fridays off last summer to help alleviate some of the stress of the pandemic. In addition, no-meeting Wednesdays help employees be productive with uninterrupted work time. While these actions may have seemed disruptive to the business, the company still experienced unprecedented growth in 2020.
Making customer-centricity part of your DNA
Being customer-centric isn’t a “fake it til you make it” proposition. It requires real action on behalf of the company to ensure that every employee is bought into the customer experience – even if they’re not in a customer-facing role.
As Kate Forgione aptly put it, “Customer centricity isn’t something we do; it’s who we are.” Nothing could be closer to the truth.
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