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

Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella



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.


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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 off of a mutually beneficial relationship with their customers.

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. If you're looking for tips to better navigate this process, check out these best practices recommended by 10 CEOs who built customer-focused companies.

How to Build a Customer-Focused Company

1. Solve for a specific customer need.

Sarah Nahm built her company in 2017 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.

Paul Burke is the CEO of a digital content creation company called Guru, which helps cultural institutions, like museums, attract guests. Guru is a company that constantly looks for ways to improve its product, and it uses its support channels to encourage an open feedback loop with customers. When asked by Digital Media Update why the company will succeed, Burke noted that it will be due to "always striving to make [the] product better."

During the same interview, Burke said he believes Guru is "a partner to cultural institutions, not a vendor." Therefore, the company can adapt its products and optimize the client's success. This mindset has proven effective, as Guru recently won the San Diego Venture Group's annual pitch-fest in 2017.

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 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, Tony Hsieh, 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. In 2015, Forbes reported the company exceeded $2 billion in annual revenue.

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 this year. 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 around $11 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.

As of 2017, HubSpot has gained more than 23K users in over 90 countries, and the company reported a 39% increase in revenue between 2016 and 2017.

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

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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