How to Build Customer-Centric Companies

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Sophia Bernazzani Barron
Sophia Bernazzani Barron



Who is responsible for customer experience?

If you can list one specific person in your company, and you can actually get consensus on this from the rest of your team, then you're doing better than most.

Bain & Company's report on the service delivery gap found that 80% of the companies they surveyed believed they delivered a "superior experience" to their customers, but the customers they surveyed stated that only 8% of companies were really delivering. 

A focus on the customer should be at the core of any company's initiatives, but even still, few companies actually hold themselves accountable for the experience they are delivering -- or they don't have a plan for improving their customer experience in the first place. Some don't even realize how far reality is from their own perceptions.

The challenges to becoming a customer-centric company aren't easy to overcome alone -- which is why the entire team needs to invest in customer centricity, from the ground up. Keep reading to learn more about customer centricity and exactly how companies can achieve it.

What Is Customer Centricity?

A customer-centric organization should be easy to recognize. It starts with this simple mindset: When you make a decision, any decision about the way you think about a product, the way you market a product, the way you sell a product or service, the conversation starts with an understanding of who it's for and what they need.

It means that you start with an informed perspective on who your customers are, and work backwards from there to help them achieve their goals, at all costs.

That should be a logical starting point for any company, but it's much more challenging when put into practice -- especially at larger companies where silos and divides create disparate views of who the customer actually is.

And when that happens, companies might find themselves marketing to one persona, selling to another, and providing customer service to yet another.

A Forrester report cites three main pitfalls companies face when transforming into a customer-centric organization:

  • Lack of clarity. Even though parts of their organizations strove to be customer-centric, employees lacked a shared understanding of the intended experience they were supposed to deliver.
  • Failure to get broad-based buy-in. Some companies failed to transform their cultures because they didn't embed customer-centricity into all parts of the organization.
  • Loss of interest. Many companies embarked on a cultural transformation journey, only to lose focus before they've completed the job.

The problem is that customer experience spans the entire organization and the end result -- the experience -- is defined by both the larger organizational initiatives and the smallest decisions. A focus on the customer isn't a project -- it's a mindset and a way of doing business at every stage of the buying process and beyond.

How to Build  Customer-Centric Companies

1. Define a shared vocabulary and definition of who the customer is.

While many organizations had buyer personas, few used them at all or with consistency. Other organizations maintained separate or conflicting personas in different departments.

Organizations need to build personas based on actual conversations with customers and don't overcomplicate them. Make them simple enough that everyone in the organization can understand and remember them. 

(And if you're looking for help with this, get started creating buyer personas with our template.)

2. Create a comprehensive view of customer experiences.

The customer journey is not defined by just the marketing team, and it's not linear. Companies need to at least attempt to map out the various different interactions a person has with that company both on the path to purchase and after becoming a customer -- and fixate on improving the customer experience.

Identifying these points will help a brand or agency to understand where the experience is lackluster, what conversion paths need to be adjusted, and how to create an overall better experience.

3. Create a multi-dimensional view of customers and their needs.

Building a better experience means not only an understanding the company's customers' demographic information and behaviors, but also understanding what the customer's needs and motivations are -- this is at the core of creating a better experience. If you can anticipate the emotions or desires of customers, you can tailor the experience to address these needs in the most personal way possible.

4. Measure the customer experience.

Until we can measure the quality of the experiences we deliver, we're guessing our way toward customer-centricity.

Determining a metric that's can be used to prompt action, rather than worrying about whether or not it measures every small interaction, is the key.

Whatever metric a company uses to measure customer success -- be it Net Promoter Score®, customer satisfaction, or customer happiness score -- measure it frequently, and obsess over customer feedback. Work it into compensation and bonus packages for your employees, and make sure each and every one of them is aware of it and can play a role in improving customer experience.

5. Make executives and leadership accountable for customer experience.

If no one knows who is responsible for the experience, that likely means that no one is.

Because a customer's experience spans the breadth of various different departments, ultimately, leadership needs to be accountable for that experience. Otherwise, different departments will either ignore the customer experience or create their own, which may not be in line with the brand's goals, or the department that is in charge has no authority to make changes that impact another team's work. The leadership is also what determines priorities and budgets, and typically if an initiative can't secure a spot on the budget, it's not a priority. All these can hinder the spread of customer centricity in a company. 

In addition, customer experience needs to be a factor in all company decisions -- down to the shipping company used by a brand. Build answering this question into every decision you make -- from your choice of vendors to the emails you send to customers to notify them of a service outage.

Do you consider your company to be customer-centric? Share how you achieved it with me on Twitter.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

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