How to Build a Customer-Focused Company, According to 10 People Who Did

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Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella

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Managers like to tell employees, “the customer is always right” — thinking that this phrase alone will make them a customer-focused company. However, making the customer the centerpiece of your business is a lot easier said than done. Being customer-focused requires a complete alignment with your customers' success.

woman creating customer focused campaign

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But if it‘s all this work, then what’s the payoff? Building a customer-focused company can differentiate yourself from competitors, and help sustainably grow your business.

Being customer-focused isn‘t just a PR stunt. In fact, it can be vital to your business’ success. HubSpot Research found that 70% of companies with growing revenue say customer success is “very important.” For companies with stagnant or declining revenue, less than half said customer success was “very important.” Additionally, 96% of expanding companies highlighted that customer satisfaction is a key component to their growth. This is because they're able to retain loyal customers while differentiating themselves from competitors. By focusing on customer success, companies capitalize on a mutually beneficial relationship with their customers.

How to Be Customer Focused

While it may seem straightforward, creating a customer-focused company isn't an easily accomplished task. Customers' needs are constantly evolving, and keeping up with the continuous changes can sometimes feel overwhelming for your team.

We’ll cover some quick tips for developing a customer focused strategy to help get you started.

Creating a Customer Focused Strategy

Before you can dive into creating a customer focused company, you’ll need to come up with a strategy. It’s important to get clear on who your target audience is and what their needs are — otherwise your strategy will be misaligned.

This step will require you to conduct market research and map the customer journey. Once those aspects are defined, you can develop a strategy that delights and keeps customers coming back for more.

A successful strategy will:

Deliver personalized experiences.

Taking a one-size fits all approach will not cut it if you’re looking to wow your customers. Being customer focused requires that you tailor experiences to suit their individual needs. This is why nailing down your audience is so important. Without a clear idea of who you’re serving, your strategy is doomed.

Prioritize customer feedback.

Take customer feedback to heart and make adjustments when needed. When they bring up concerns or report bugs, do your best to reduce friction. It will not only help you gain sales, but create customer loyalty.

Enable employees to go above and beyond.

In addition to creating products your customer loves, providing excellent customer service plays a role in how customers perceive your brand. Make it easier for employees to find customer solutions rather than creating boundaries.

Now that we’ve covered the basics about what goes into creating a customer centric business strategy, let’s hear some tips from CEOs that pulled it off.

How to Build a Customer-Focused Company

1. Solve for a specific customer need.

Sarah Nahm built her company to solve a nagging problem in the tech industry. In an interview with Business Insider, Nahm said Silicon Valley companies were having trouble hiring and retaining employees, so she created Lever to help. Lever is an easy-to-use tool that helps companies not only identify top talent, but also highlight the people who would be most likely to stay with the company. In the interview, Nahm says she “lives” for connecting companies to the right people at the right time.

By solving specific problems for its customers, Lever has been able to hash out a spot in Silicon Valley. Forbes estimates Lever has over 1,300 customers and made more than $20 million in revenue. Additionally, Nahm has been able to raise more than $62 million from investors because of her customer-focused approach.

2. Always look for product improvements.

For Zoom founder Eric Yuan, building a video conference platform that was easy to use and cost effective for consumers are top priorities. The cloud based tool allows users to communicate through video, audio, and chat — something that became invaluable during the pandemic when virtual communication was the norm.

Learning from the pain points expressed by users of Cisco’s WebEx where Yuan previously worked as an engineer, Zoom has vowed to build a product strategy that revolves around customer needs. To continue with this ethos, Zoom partnered with Oracle to keep up with demand.

“We recently experienced the most significant growth our business has ever seen, requiring massive increases in our service capacity,” explained Yuan. “We explored multiple platforms, and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure was instrumental in helping us quickly scale our capacity and meet the needs of our new users,” said the Zoom CEO in a press release.

3. Make the customer part of the brand.

Glossier is one of the world‘s fastest growing beauty brands that’s acquired over $52 million in investor funding. By first engaging directly with consumers, Glossier's former CEO, Emily Weiss, recognized a need for affordable, high-quality beauty products. In an interview with The Business of Fashion, Weiss attributed her success to how she was able to make the customer feel like part of the brand.

In the same interview, Weiss noted that “60% of Americans rely on peer-to-peer recommendations” when buying a beauty product. So, she developed the Into the Gloss blog to “give women voices to be their own experts.” By including the customer's voice in its content, Glossier gained over one million Instagram followers in just three years. After building a community on her first blog, Weiss then used the platform as an audience when she launched the first Glossier products.

4. Be proactive when communicating company changes.

In 2015, TapInfluence hired Promise Phelon to help accelerate the transition of the company from managed services into a SaaS company. The company already had a large customer base, and Phelon had the challenge of introducing radical change while minimizing customer churn.

To do so, Phelon was proactive in communicating these changes to her customers. She began by identifying the most valuable accounts and then worked with them to ensure they were happy with the new services. In a Forbes blog post, Phelon said, “it was important that [they] worked with them to manage the transition from managed services to SaaS.”

Because of her efforts, TapInfluence was able to undergo a smooth transition into SaaS. It retained around 95% of its customers and, according to Crunchbase, received a $14 million investment a year after Phelon's hiring.

5. Go above and beyond with customer service.

Zappos is an online retailer that uses customer service to set itself apart from its competitors. Every customer service representative at Zappos is expected to make the customer happy no matter the cost. In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, the late Tony Hsieh, then CEO of Zappos, said, “We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for ‘good enough,' because good is the enemy of great. ”

Zappos doesn't shy away from this belief either, as service reps are expected to spend at least 80% of their day speaking with customers. If a customer is unhappy, the rep has the authority to refund purchases, send out free products, or provide a unique accommodation. This builds a strong emotional connection with their customers who feel Zappos truly values their business.

This ideology has paid off for Zappos as the company hit $1 billion in sales during its first 10 years.

6. Build up trust with your customers.

Brendan Candon, founder and CEO of SidelineSwap, is a millennial businessman with a close connection to his target audience. His company helps athletes buy and sell used sporting equipment, and as an ex-college athlete, Candon recognized fellow athletes' concerns of “making sure there is trust in the marketplace.” Candon discusses building that trust in an interview with MarketScale this year.

To create a system of trust in a person-to-person market, Candon focused on solving problems before customers became more frustrated. Employees would reach out to buyers and sellers to get their feedback on the customer experience. Then, employees would discuss recurring themes and set up support alerts for when roadblocks were likely to occur.

This seems to have been effective, as Crunchbase reports that over 17K users download the app each month. Owler also reports that Sideline Swap produces more than $1 million in annual revenue.

7. Respond to the changes in your industry

Jay McHarge is the CEO of a biopharma logistics company called AeroSafe. Due to a change in the biopharma packaging industry, McHarge was faced with two options for his company: either continue what they were doing or change everything. McHarge chose the latter when he saw an opportunity to switch the company from packaging to delivery logistics.

“It was mostly the clients, them telling us what they needed and us listening,” McHarge told the Chief Executive Group in an interview. Instead of sticking to an outdated product, McHarge shifted the company to a discount logistics service which benefited their current customers. By doing so, McHarge saved the company, as Owler reports AeroSafe is now returning over $17 million in annual revenue.

8. Crave your customers' feedback.

Q10 Consultancy is a European marketing consultancy that helps small business grow. Martine Nierman, CEO of Q10 Consultancy, attributes the success of her company to her customers' feedback. She uses roundtable events and NPS® surveys to measure customer experience. She claims this feedback is her company‘s roadmap for designing and improving products. In a video on Q10 Consultancy’s website, Martine says she “needs [customer] feedback to evolve even further to become the best product.”

By craving customer feedback, Q10 Consultancy has grown from an asset management tool into a branding automation platform. Over the course of three years, Q10 consultancy has opened six new offices and has become an international marketing agency.

9. Invest in your employees' growth.

ThinkLions is a software company that develops apps and helps startups get funded. Its CEO, Mike Sims, believes one unique strength of the company is its focus on training employees. Since many companies, like ThinkLions, cannot hire large staffs, Sims focuses on providing thorough training.

Sims constantly creates new trainings and looks for different opportunities to educate workers about the industry. When asked about his approach by Forbes, Simms said, “they are able to build their skills and abilities, which advances them professionally while immediately benefiting [his] business.”

10. The customer's experience is key.

Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, built his company by focusing on the customer's experience. In an interview with Slush, Halligan talks about the shift in power between buyers and sellers. Instead of using a sales rep, customers can now find all the information they need on their own. He notes that, instead of having a better sales pitch, now "your customer experience has to be 10 times better than your competition."

To accomplish this, HubSpot provides an extensive onboarding process for its premium users, along with 24/7 support channels. HubSpot also provides self-service support documents and dedicated account managers for some customers. HubSpot even has a Customer Code that outlines how it aims to treat its customers.

The brand reported an increase in customer growth, up 23% from last year.

Looking to make your company more customer-focused? Check out some customer success tools that can be used with any budget.

Customer Focus Examples

1. Apple

customer focus example: AppleImage Source

Apple has always been at the forefront of technology and is well known for its consumer-centric, user-friendly design. Its operating system is meant to be so intuitive, a novice user could get its devices up and running in just a few minutes.

With each new innovation, customers eagerly anticipate the rollout of new devices. Even visiting the Apple store is a unique experience — one may consumers queue up for. In fact, the tech giant earned a favorable NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 72 — a feat for electronics companies.

What We Like

Apple's focus on innovation and 5 steps of service ensure that the company is always solving for the customer, enabling the brand to continue to retain customers and maintain their loyalty.

2. Fenty

Customer focus examples: FentyImage Source

When Rihana launched makeup brand Fenty Beauty, it quickly became one of the top brands in the industry. That‘s not just due to her star power. She understood that in order to be successful, her brand would need to give consumers what they weren’t getting from other makeup brands — a wide range of foundation hues.

Fenty launched with 50 foundation shades, ensuring everyone could find the perfect match. Soon other brands followed her lead, offering more variation in shades to try to capitalize on Fenty's growth.

What We Like

With Fenty, Rihanna was able to solve a pain point for all makeup wearers, making customers feel seen.

3. Southwest

customer focus example: SouthwestImage Source

Southwest Airlines stands out for its commitment to customer service in the airline industry. They offer no change fees, a generous baggage policy, and consistently rank highly for on-time performance.

With Southwest, passengers can check their first two bags free of charge — unheard of in the airline industry. No wonder those who fly Southwest are so devout.

What We Like

Southwest cultivates a friendly atmosphere, creating a unique flying experience for their customers in the often stressful context of air travel.

4. Going (Formerly Scott's Cheap Flights)

customer focus example: goingImage Source

Going’s entire business model is centered around finding travelers the best deals on flights. Even the free version has plenty of discounts tailored to the customer’s preferred destinations.

In addition to sending out a regular newsletter with the latest discounted fares, Going allows customers to customize their preferred departure airports, destinations, and fare tier (business, coach, first class etc) and tailors all correspondence and deals around those preferences, creating a curated experience for each customer.

What We Like

In addition to their helpful tips for saving on travel and relatable marketing, Going takes personalization to the next level to provide travel suggestions tailored to each customer.

5. Shake Shack

customer focus example: shake shack Image Source

Companies often have to make changes to their products to stay competitive, however not all innovations will be successful. Take shake shack for instance, who took a chance on changing out their signature frozen crinkle cut fries for fresh cut fries.

Customers made it loud and clear that they weren’t down with this pivot and within a few months, the crinkle cut fries were back on the menu.

What We Liked

Shake Shack took customer feedback to heart and moved to bring back the fries its customers loved. It's a great example on how brands can take customer feedback and use it to implement changes.

Cultivating Customer Focus Takes Time

Creating a customer focused brand doesn‘t happen overnight. It takes research, reall getting to know your target audience, and then implementing customer feedback. If you can listen to customers, respond to industry changes, and provide supurb customer service, you’ll be well on your way.

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.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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