Twice a month, I receive a message at the top of my Inbox from Gusto with the headline: "🎉 Hooray! Ben, you got paid today."

It's a simple product feature, but regardless, it brings a smile to my face. The HR software is celebrating what is normally an insignificant moment for companies, but a meaningful day in the lives of employees.

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Gusto understands that when employees are happy, companies (Gusto's customers) are happy. By going the extra mile, a core value of their brand, they are able to build experiences that please time and time again. Brands that take the steps to please the customer in every encounter -- from in-app copy to email drips and phone calls -- understand the importance of customer centricity.

And today, being acutely aware of service is more important than ever. According to KPMG, 88% of CEOs are concerned about customer loyalty, realizing that mastery of the customer agenda is essential.

So as a leader, how do you build and maintain an organization that not only emphasizes customer service but fosters a customer-oriented outlook at every possible moment? By building customer centricity into the DNA of your business!

Building a customer-centric organization in today's digital world is increasingly complicated. While new technologies have allowed companies to roll out changes quickly, with that speed, there's an expectation from customers of greater customer attention.

Why Customer Centricity Is Important

There's a whole host of reasons that motivate entrepreneurs to create new enterprises -- passion, money, fame, glory, independence. But regardless of the motivation behind the establishment of a company, there's one tenant that's common to all enterprises:

If you don't acquire and retain customers, you won't survive.

And from this simple statement, you can derive the importance of being customer-centric as an entity. An organization that forgets about customers is destined to fail. They'll build the wrong products, invest in the wrong resources, and lose goodwill with customers.

A customer-centric brand proves quite the opposite case. Every team member listens to customers and is aligned on that goal. In turn, the company builds products that meet customer needs, anticipates customer wants, and they provide a level of service that keeps customers coming through the door and advocating for the brand.

So, how do you keep up with this modern workplace challenge? Be customer-centric. Here are six tips for becoming a customer-centric organization:

At Proof, the SaaS company I work for, one of our core values is "be customer obsessed." Everyone knows the value by heart, and we can use it as a reference point every day at work. If we're deciding on a feature to launch or whether to pursue a partnership, we can ask "Does this help our customers?" If the answer is no, we generally stay away from it. That guiding question has helped us build a customer-centric culture.

And when someone does something that benefits our customers, we celebrate that victory as a team -- because a win for our customers is a win for our team.

Another company that built customer centricity into their DNA is Amazon -- the retail giant behind Alexa and Prime. Since their founding in 1994, Amazon has made a outright commitment to customer service, even emphasizing their extreme dedication to the concept in their mission statement:

"To be Earth's most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices."

And Amazon demonstrates the efficacy of this value by leaving an empty seat at every meeting for the customer, having executives regularly hop on phone calls, and pushing for initiatives such as the Kindle (a customer-initiated idea) -- among other initiatives.

Addressing Customer Needs

There's a great quote from Henry Ford that says:

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

You may be wondering why I am bringing this up when it seems counter-intuitive to the concept of customer-centricity. But hear me out:

Ford is saying that if he had only listened to what customers thought he could build, he wouldn't have produced a car. He was thinking light-years ahead of his competition, and for that reason he created a product that anticipated the market's future needs. Ford knew what the customer wanted before the customer knew they even wanted it -- that's a game-changing business move.

We can see similar styles of future-forecasting in Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. These visionary CEOs pushed the envelopes on what people would want in the future, giving the world the iPhone, iPad and the Model X -- and companies with valuations of $1.08 trillion and $48 billion, respectively.

While most customers are able to accurately provide an account of what they want today, gauging what they want on a longer time horizon is extremely difficult for most people. They rely on companies to do that work for them to anticipate their needs -- and make helpful suggestions accordingly.

Collecting Customer Feedback Frequently

It may seem obvious, but to create a great, customer-centric company, you need to communicate both frequently and regularly with your customers.

In today's digital world, there are countless encounters where you can collect feedback. Here are a few touchpoints that you might already use to communicate with customers:

  1. Chat
  2. Email
  3. SMS
  4. Phone calls
  5. In-app messages
  6. FB Messenger
  7. Message boards

Today, valuable communication can occur on so many different platforms.

Every department should be using all of the communication channels at their disposal to learn about customers -- and the sheer volume of quantitative insight you receive from these messages can help you greatly as you adjust your product roadmap.

But there's also a level of qualitative feedback that you need to be proactive about collecting. While the aforementioned communication is likely already occurring at your company, user research is something you might be ignoring.

Here are three customer research techniques to consider if you're not already:

1. Conduct a Survey

By telling your customers that you're not perfect, you can gain insight and track your performance. The most successful companies in the world already know the value of surveys, and by conducting a regular customer satisfaction survey or product survey, you can provide an avenue for great feedback.

2. Launch User Testing

Ask any designer or PM the value of user testing, and they'll sing their praises. Modern digital marketing tools such as Usertesting.com and Hotjar provide a simple framework to collect feedback from real people about your product. In the quest to build a customer-centric organization, this can help validate your hunches and guide your work towards the highest-impact projects.

3. Pick up the Phone

Have a friend that always insists on talking over the phone rather than text? I'd take a gander that that friend is one of your closer confidants. There's something more personal about a conversation outside of the digital realm -- by simply picking up the phone, you're able to get a more robust form of feedback from customers.

And an added plus? You can adjust your line of questioning in real-time to adapt to each situation.

Our CTO J.P. Morgan practices this technique weekly -- and he swears by the feedback he collects from his customer calls:

"Talking to customers is probably the most important thing I do all week. While there's a level of product development that requires you to take a stance and anticipate needs -- it's impossible to do that without an understanding of your customer's current situation."

Making it Easy for Customers to Get in Touch

We all know the concept: make it difficult to contact support, and you'll spend less time servicing those difficult customers.

There's a huge financial and time expenditure used in servicing customers, so many brands (especially digitally-built businesses) hide their support behind many layers of pages.

For instance, try to find a phone number on Facebook's Help Page. It's nearly impossible. They'd rather communicate through help articles and live chat before giving out their number.

On the other spectrum, there's Zappos, the online shoe retailer with a completely opposite approach to customer success.

Zappos identifies that when a customer wants to talk to them, they should make it as easy as possible. Note how they include their phone number prominently on the top bar of every page with the note "Available 24/7."

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, describes his rationale for that decision as:

"A lot of people may think it's strange that an internet company would be so focused on the telephone, when only about 5% of our sales happen by phone. But we've found that on average, our customers telephone us at least once at some point, and if we handle the call well, we have an opportunity to create an emotional impact and a lasting memory … Our philosophy has been that most of the money we might ordinarily have spent on advertising should be invested in customer service, so that our customers will do the marketing for us through word of mouth."

Make sure your ‘Contact Us' page is highly visible and easy to access -- and that it actually answers common customer questions you see crop up time and time again.

Meeting Customers In-Person

One of the biggest epidemics facing modern organizations is the loss of feedback from in-person meetings. Looking back 50 years, before the advent of the Internet and our diversified global economy, it was far easier for a business interact with an end customer.

Direct, human contact happened on a daily basis simply because it was a necessary part of commerce. If you wanted an item, you went to a store, talked to a salesperson, and bought it in-person. That feedback could be used by a business to improve the consumer experience.

Today, in most businesses, this is not the case. Don't get me wrong, the other advances from the digital economy have provided great benefits. While your potential touchpoints for feedback are far greater due to technology, there is less in-depth contact.

How do you combat this? By bringing back the in-person experience.

It may seem old school, but hosting in-person events can be beneficial in your quest to customer centrism. By hosting an event, you provide value to two parties: the customers and the brand.

For instance, consider Sofi's initiative to host community events across the country. While it's likely a substantial expense, there's a positive externality. And they don't hide it, claiming the benefits of:

  1. A direct channel to interact with and get feedback from our members
  2. A way to build brand affinity among our members
  3. Lots of fun

To learn more about becoming customer-centric, read our list of customer success tools to use.

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Originally published Sep 27, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated October 23 2018

Topics:

Customer Success