How to align your company to a customer-first approach
You may have a compelling product offering, enough cash flow to sustain your business through any shortfall, and the best talent at your disposal. But none of this would be of use if your business didn’t have a customer-first approach.
Statistics support this claim: 64% of customers believe that customer service is more important than price.
But what is a customer-first approach? Why is it important? And why and how should you adopt it?
Understanding a customer-first approach
The term is pretty self-explanatory. You put your customers first, above all else. This means doing business around them and doing what’s important to them.
But why adopt a customer-first approach?
More and more customers today are taking business to competitors who make it evident that they care about them and are focused on their needs.
It’s not unlikely to find that a majority of your competitors have already adopted a customer-first approach or have a strong customer engagement strategy in place.
If you don’t want to lose business to other contenders, knowing the importance of a customer-focused culture and how to think customer-first, is a must.
Following are a few pointers to get you going in the right direction:
Know your customers, and use the knowledge well
You can’t successfully become a customer-centric company if you don’t know who your customers are. And without you making an effort to understand them, you’ll only be taking a shot in the dark with what you think you know. That’s a mistake you don’t want to make.
Knowing who your customer is will allow you to tailor your offerings to the people meant to consume your product. That’s why one of the most critical steps in becoming a customer-first organization is building an intimate understanding of your customers.
But how do you collect the information needed to get to know your customers, and impart this knowledge to key players of your organization?
Fortunately, technological tools allow you to gather information on the right customer profile. Data insights can help create a defined picture of your target customer.
The next step is to leverage that understanding and create messaging that connects to your customers on a personal level.
Let’s look at an example. Say you sell sports apparel, and the data tells you that most of your customers are male, and between the ages of 21 and 45. You’ll want to make sure everything from branding, to messaging, to your customer vision focuses on this target group.
Look for ways to make your customer experience inclusive and personal. For instance, you might invite men who fall within the right profile to shop at an exclusive event or gain their feedback as you shape your next product targeted to their demographic.
Creating this intimacy with your customers makes them feel appreciated and they will develop a deeper connection with you. It also keeps you at the forefront of their minds, ahead of your competitors.
Most importantly, as you’re getting to know your customers also make sure to implement best practices in your interactions with them. This includes taking time to consider their feedback, finding ways to boost empathy towards them, and conveying your appreciation of them every other chance you get.
Define a customer-first culture, and practice it
You have to have a culture that is centralized around customers before you attempt to be known as a company centralized around them.
Culture is what drives your company. It determines the mindset and actions of your employees and leaders. It also defines your values, which will translate to your customers in your interactions with them.
That’s why culture is the integral part of all your company’s efforts, including when you’re aiming to develop a customer-first approach.
To create a client-centric company, you must first define your culture. The rest will fall in place.
When you’re in the early stages of establishing your company culture, ask yourself these questions:
- What do the customers want?
- How can you act on that feedback?
- How can you make life easier for customers?
- How will you ensure that you’re being empathetic toward them?
- How will you reward/show appreciation toward customers?
- Is your team trained to understand how to deliver on your company’s customer-centric goals?
That last point is particularly critical. If you want to deliver a customer-first approach, your employees must be trained to deliver on that goal; otherwise, your goals are just wishes. Spend time, money, and resources to train staff on best practices that showcase your appreciation for and respect toward your customers.
Chick-Fil-A is an example of a company with a strong culture that has been known to influence customer experiences. The company itself is embedded in strong values and shows appreciation toward their employees. In turn, those employees do a great job of serving customers, earning the restaurant chain a remarkable 87 out of 100 points in customer satisfaction. And when you visit any franchise, you will instantly be able to see the value and emphasis they place on training their associates to embrace a customer-centric culture. You’ll immediately notice that Chik-Fil-A’s employees are quick to greet customers with courtesy and warmth. They’re encouraged to smile and use friendly language, like “It’s my pleasure” as they serve customers.
Most importantly, you see these practices implemented uniformly across any restaurant you visit in the franchise.
Convey your vision
Vision and goals are great, but they’re not impactful if no one knows about them except you. Make your vision of becoming a customer-first organization known to everyone in the company. Make this vision the very fabric of how you conduct and practice business. Plaster it on the walls all around your staff. Have a slogan that ties well to your customer approach. Let everyone know, see, and perceive your vision.
People are more likely to comprehend and remember things they hear repeatedly. Merely expecting them to internalize your vision after just one discussion is unrealistic.
Most importantly, a vision only works if everyone in the organization is on board with it, understands it, believes in it, and sees it in action. That’s why it’s better to over-communicate and demonstrate repeatedly what you’d like to see rather than under-communicate and assume that everyone knows what your vision is.
For instance, The Rule of 7 says that people need to see your message seven times before they take action. Originally, this rule was made to apply specifically to marketing efforts, but its principles are applicable in a general sense too.
Once you effectively and boldly convey your vision, there’s still one more step to remember: applaud your employees for any progress they make toward it.
Get the right people to advocate for a customer-first strategy
To make sure your company is effective in its goals to embrace a customer-first approach, you must gain buy-in from the right people: managers, C-suite individuals, and key stakeholders.
These people are going to be the ones who successfully implement, encourage, and oversee the roll-out of your strategy.
Key influencers to get onboard include those who have evident influence, credibility, and expertise within your company. These are usually your managers, team leads, and executives.
Once you identify the right people, arm them with the information and resources they need to advocate change within your company.
It’s almost always near impossible to affect change from just the top. Instead, attempt to have further conversations at all levels of your organization to make further progress.
Drive metrics around clients
If your metrics are based on profits but your vision is to be a customer-first company, those are conflicting goals. In this case, the chances you’ll achieve either of them are slim. So what should you do?
Understand that customers drive every aspect of your business, including profits.
Happy customers make for loyal customers and loyal brand advocates. So even if your goal is to increase profits, you can still achieve it simply by being customer-centric.
Because when your customers are happy, the first place you’ll see this reflect is on your bottom line.
That’s why it’s important to centralize your entire company’s metrics around customers, including your employees’ performance metrics.
Instead of encouraging them to save pennies so you can see the effects in your bank account, encourage them to please customers.
By developing customer-centric performance metrics, you’ll ensure your vision and execution are both well-aligned. Before you rate staff against these performance metrics, however, make sure you discuss the expectations with them first.
For instance, if you have client-facing employees, you might rate their performance against anonymous client surveys received about the standard of service the customer representative delivered. Some companies aim for a score of at least 9 out of 10, and that should be communicated to employees beforehand.
Or you may require that your phone customer service reps resolve 98% of customer issues within 48 hours. Quantifying goals and relaying them to your employees is key.
Once they’re clear on the expectations, they’ll be more likely to deliver on them. Then you can proceed to measure performance against the established metrics on a regular basis, maybe quarterly and annually.
A customer-centric philosophy is not only good business practice, but it’s integral to keeping your doors open. More and more customers are keen to give business to companies who appreciate them and are centralized around customers needs.
You can easily implement a customer-first approach in your company by starting with a few simple tactics and then building upon them over time. The five main ones we’ve covered in this post are the following: knowing your customers, creating a customer-centric culture, conveying your vision, getting the right leaders onboard, and driving metrics around customer experiences.
In the end, embracing a customer-centric approach will allow you to centralize your company around what matters most: your customers. And once you do this, you’ll augment your chances at sustainable success.
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