How & Why To Become A Customer Centric Company (Like Amazon, Slack & Netflix)

86% of consumers will pay more for products from a customer centric company. Here's a step-by-step guide to turn your business into one that obsesses over the customer.

Customer Centric

Since you’re here on our blog, it’s safe to say you understand the importance of making your customers the star of their own personal journey with your brand.

Such a customer-centric approach has become not just preferred, but expected by today’s consumers. Case in point, Linkdex found that nearly 80% of consumers in the US expect a personalized shopping experience when engaging with a business.

The reward for providing such an experience to your customers is huge. As CMO found, 86% of consumers say they would pay more for a given product or service if they were to receive superior and more personalized customer service in the process.

In turn, businesses that provide a customer-centric experience are 60% more profitable than their competitors. Although most organizations understand the importance of adopting a customer-centric approach to doing business, many fall short in their drive to do so.

“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.” – Jezz Bezos, founder of Amazon

CMO also reports that more than half of marketers surveyed admit being only “moderately confident” in their organizations’ ability to reach and engage with their customers in a personalized manner. Additionally, Acxiom found that 74% of marketers fail to recognize their customers’ needs in real time – a staple of customer centricity.

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And, perhaps most telling of all, digital analyst Brian Solis found that a rather large percentage of organizations that claim to be customer-centric actually fit the criteria of companies that actually aren’t.

“Tomorrow when you come to work, if it doesn’t make the customer happy, move the business forward, and save us money – don’t do it.” – Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix

In this post, I’ll explain exactly what customer centricity is, what it looks like in action and show you how to make the switch to a customer-centric philosophy within your company. Let’s get started…

(Note: Collecting feedback from customers is core to becoming a customer centric company. If you need a way to quickly and easily collect customer feedback, Fieldboom can help.)

Defining Customer Centricity

So I said in the intro that customer centricity is, essentially, making your customers the star of their own journey with your business.

In its simplest form, that’s correct.  But, as you may have guessed, in order to gain a true understanding of what customer centricity actually is, we need to dig deeper.

Before we go any further into the definition of customer centricity, though, let’s take a moment and discuss the difference between being customer-centric and customer-focused.

Customer-Centric vs. Customer-Focused Approach

Now, we don’t mean to imply that those companies that aren’t fully customer-centric don’t operate with their customers’ best interest in mind; the vast majority of them truly care about their customers and want to help them succeed.

The reality is, though: most of these organizations operate with a customer-focused approach, rather than a customer-centric approach.

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Though it might sound like a semantics game, there are a number of significant differences between the two.

Overall, customer-focused organizations think solely in terms of how they can provide for their customers – and nothing more. The relationship between a customer-focused brand and its customers is more transactional than anything else: the customer pays for a product or service, and the company gives it to them. Period.

A customer-centric organization, on the other hand, essentially adopts its customers as if they were new members of the family. Such organizations go above and beyond in order to ensure not only that a given customer’s needs were met – but that their entire experience with the brand was nothing short of wonderful.

Another main difference between the two is that customer-focused organizations tend to think reactively, while customer-centric companies are proactive in their pursuits.

Yes, a customer-focused organization will always strive to give the customer exactly what they expect to receive – but they’ll wait until the customer has made their expectations clear to do so. On the other hand, a customer-centric company is able to anticipate their customers’ needs – and provide for them before the request has even been made.

Clearly, though the service provided by customer-focused organizations doesn’t necessarily disappoint, it does leave something to be desired. That “something,” of course, is exactly what customer-centric organizations pride themselves on.

We’ll dig into the many benefits of a customer-centric approach in a moment. Before we do that, though, let’s discuss the main tenets and challenges of adopting such an approach.

The 7 Pillars of Customer Centricity

As we said earlier, boiling down customer centricity to a single sentence just doesn’t do the concept any amount of justice.

That being the case, the American Marketing Association created the following Seven Pillars of Customer Centricity:

  • Experience: As alluded to in the previous section, providing that which your customer’s paid for is literally the least you can do for them. Customer-centric organizations go the extra mile to ensure that every single aspect of their customers’ overall experience is of the highest quality. Companies that nail this are almost certain to earn recommendations from their satisfied customers.
  • Loyalty: We also mentioned earlier that customer-centric organizations symbolically “adopt” their customers into the brand’s family. One of the ways these companies show this is by celebrating their customers’ brand loyalty by thanking them for their business, and by providing them with highly-personalized and relevant rewards for staying onboard.
  • Communication: Customer-centric organizations stay in touch with their customers whether or not a transaction is currently taking place. These companies deliver personalized and tailored messages to their customers via the customer’s preferred channel or platform. Additionally, customer-centric organizations make themselves available at all times (and via multiple channels) should their customers need to get in touch with them.
  • Assortment: Customer-centric companies don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach when developing their products or services. Rather, they provide their customers with a number of options (in terms of features and pricing) in order to tailor and personalize their offering as much as logistically possible.
  • Promotions: Customer-centric organizations provide relevant upsells, cross-sells, and other deals/promotions to individual customers based on their purchase history, their stated needs, and other factors relating specifically to that customer.
  • Price: Customer-centric companies don’t necessarily provide their products or services at the cheapest price; rather, they provide the fairest price, as determined by their customers. As we said earlier, most consumers are willing to pay more for a better overall experience – as long as the extra amount they pay can be legitimized.
  • Feedback: Customer-centric organizations take their customers’ comments, complaints, and concerns seriously. Not only do they actively seek out feedback from their customers, but they also focus heavily on making improvements based on their customers’ statements (rather than making these improvements based strictly on internal discussion).

Now that we have a much better understanding of all that customer centricity encompasses, let’s look at some of the challenges companies face when transitioning to such an approach.

Challenges of Becoming Customer-Centric

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Here, we’ll address some of the pitfalls that may arise when organizations decide to make the shift toward a customer-centric approach. In turn, we hope you’ll be prepared for these challenges before you begin making the shift within your own organization, as well as while you embark on your journey as a customer-centric company.

A Misunderstanding of Customer-Centricity

We’ve focused heavily on this so far throughout this article, but it bears repeating:

Without a solid understanding of all that goes into becoming customer-centric, you’re liable to head down the wrong path from the get-go. Even if you have the best of intentions in mind, if you don’t truly grasp all that goes into becoming a customer-centric company, you’ll end up missing the mark completely – and wasting a ton of time and money in the process.

Creating a Culture Shift

Another major issue that arises when companies begin shifting toward customer centricity is that it can be uncharted territory for everyone involved. Because of this, friction can easily arise among individual employees, as well as entire teams.

(As an example, consider how a veteran employee with 25 years under their belt might react upon being told their duties and on-the-job expectations are soon to face an overhaul.)

We’ll talk about how to avoid this issue – and illustrate how successful companies have done so – a bit later on in this article.

Siloed Departments

Going along with the last point, companies shifting toward customer centricity often face roadblocks due to a manufactured isolation between members of different teams within the organization.

As one of the main tenets of customer centricity is ensuring a seamless experience to your customers, it’s essential that each department within your organization remain in constant contact with one another. In turn, one team can pick up where the other left off as necessary (such as when handing a prospect over from marketing to sales).

Though customer-centric organizations do still consist of specific departments and teams, each coexists with one another to ensure the organization as a whole is able to meet (and exceed) the needs of each of its customers.

Logistical Issues

Making the shift toward customer centricity requires your company make a number of internal tweaks and changes – each of which cost time and money to implement.

From training and onboarding employees to purchasing and adopting new technology (such as a CRM), your company will need to invest a significant amount of cash upfront. Of course, the more changes you need to make, the more expensive the shift will be.

While making the investment will definitely be worth it in the long run, the immediate cost can certainly be cause for concern if you’re not entirely prepared to make such an investment.

Now, the point of discussing the potential pitfalls and roadblocks you may face while shifting toward a customer-centric approach was not to scare you; it was to prepare you for what’s to come.

As we said, making the shift absolutely will be worth it, for a number of reasons. In the next section, we’ll discuss how adopting a customer-centric approach will be benefit both your customers and your organization.

(Note: Collecting feedback from customers is core to becoming a customer centric company. If you need a way to quickly and easily collect customer feedback, Fieldboom can help.)

Benefits of Customer Centricity

By now, you probably don’t need us to tell you that a customer-centric philosophy is beneficial to the customers in question.

But it’s definitely worth talking about the the benefits such an approach can have on your company as a whole.

As we said in the intro, customer-centric companies are generally more profitable than non-customer-centric organizations. To this end, there’s not much more to say.

That being said, let’s take a moment to discuss the “little things” that a customer-centric philosophy allows you to experience – in turn resulting in this increase in profits.

Shifting your focus onto your customers inherently allows you to learn more about them – both as consumers and as individual people.

Since you’ll be able to flesh out your customer personas more completely, you’ll have a much better idea of what a specific customer will be expecting at various points along their individual customer journey. This, in turn, allows you to :

  • Create content and other marketing/sales campaigns that truly resonate with a given customer segment
  • Provide more efficient onboarding and support services to your customers
  • Become more agile in terms of providing individualized assistance to customers in need

In addition to all of this, becoming customer-centric also enhances your internal processes, as well. As alluded to, adopting such an approach requires that you “de-silo” your organization’s departments – in turn bringing about more cooperation, collaboration, and cohesiveness throughout your company. This will ultimately facilitate a shared sense of responsibility among your team members, allowing the organization as a whole to flourish.

Along with this, a customer-centric philosophy ensures your company will continue to improve as time goes on. In contrast to a company-centric organization (in which improvements and other changes are made based on decisions made at the C-suite level), customer-centric companies make changes based on actual customer needs. As these needs naturally change over time, customer-centric companies will continually be able to adapt as necessary.

The Organizational Structure of a Customer-Centric Company

In a report titled Organization Structure and Customer-Centricity, Merkle provides the following illustration:

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Compared to the more traditional structure of a company (in which, for example, the marketing team is responsible for marketing, the support team is responsible for providing support, etc.), a customer-centric structure – as mentioned earlier – de-silos departments and teams, essentially requiring all employees to communicate and collaborate to fulfill their duties.

Again, though:

Shifting to a customer-centric philosophy requires more than just an “on-paper” structural change. In the following section, we’ll discuss some of the main things that need be done in order to create a truly customer-centric culture within your organization – and provide examples of how a number of major companies have successfully done so.

Creating a Customer-Centric Culture

Throughout this article, we’ve hammered on the idea that saying your company is customer-centric means nothing if you’re not actually living up to your claims.

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We’ve also explained that making the shift to customer centricity isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

That being said, it’s also not an impossible undertaking, either. Done strategically, the transition to customer centricity can be seamless, productive…and even enjoyable.

Redefining Your Organization’s Mission

Perhaps the most important part of shifting to a customer-centric philosophy is the understanding of why you’re doing so.

First things first: You shouldn’t aspire to shift toward customer centricity simply because “everyone else is doing it.” Authenticity is essentially a prerequisite to be considered customer-centric; if you’re merely making superficial changes to your organization in order to capitalize on a trending buzzword, your target customers will surely notice. On the other hand, if you’re truly making changes to the way your company does business in order to better serve your customers: they’ll notice this, as well.

In addition to knowing why you’re making such changes, you also need to have a plan regarding what you need to do to make these changes – and how you’ll do it. You’ll want to think about:

  • How your organizational structure will change
  • The cost of making the shift (in terms of time, money, and other resources)
  • What needs to be added (technology, personnel, etc.) to be successful in the shift

Perhaps the best (and most well-known) example of a company built on a customer-centric philosophy is Amazon. CEO Jeff Bezos is known for leaving an empty chair at the table during team meetings, symbolically representing “the most important person in the room”: the customer.

Beyond the symbolic gesture, Amazon has always operated with the customer in mind. Improvements, adjustments, and changes to Amazon’s services are always made through careful consideration of customer data and feedback (rather than through top-down decisions backed by scant information). Because of the team’s customer-centric approach, Amazon continues to experience unprecedented success year after year.

Involving Everyone In the Transition

As we homed in on earlier in this article, shifting toward a customer-centric philosophy is an “all hands on deck” deal.

We’ve previously discussed the importance of getting everyone within your organization onboard with your company’s mission. But when making the shift toward customer centricity, this isn’t just “important” – it’s necessary.

The best way to get everyone involved in the transition is to give them actionable tasks to complete, and explain tangible results and outcomes to be experienced upon completing them.

This need not be overly complicated, either (in fact, it shouldn’t be). For example, you might have your customer service team work with your development team in order to determine the top three issues your customers bring to your company’s attention – in turn allowing the development team to make improvements to your overall offering.

The main goal for this initiative is to get your employees to shift away from the “that’s not my job” mentality. A prime example of what happens when this mentality gets left behind (which we’ve discussed before) is the account of a family visiting a Marriott hotel, in which multiple staff members came to the aid of a pregnant woman in need of assistance throughout her stay. Each of these employees (regardless of official position or pay grade) focused solely on the comfort of their guest – a true sign of a customer-centric organization.

Hiring and Training the Right People

Earlier, we alluded to the fact that some individuals simply aren’t a good fit for a customer-centric organization.

Ideally, you’ll be able to train your current employees to make the necessary adjustments in their duties and overall outlook in order to adapt to a customer-centric philosophy. But, of course, the need may arise for you to hire on new employees as you move forward.

In either case, you’ll want to be sure your employees have:

  • The necessary skills (both hard and soft) to complete their newly-designated tasks and duties
  • An outlook that meshes with your organization’s newfound philosophy
  • The right personality to “fit in” with the rest of your organization’s members (regardless of department or team)

A prime example of a company that embodies these three elements is Chick-fil-A.

As we’ve said before (in the article we linked to above), Chick-fil-A is not your ordinary fast-food restaurant. Putting aside the actual food being served, the organization sets itself apart from other fast-food restaurants by ensuring its employees know the value of a positive customer experience.

Chick-fil-A’s employees are trained to go above and beyond for their patrons – something which, if you’ve been to most any other fast-food restaurant in existence, you know isn’t always the case.

Reinforcing and Celebrating Customer-Centric Accomplishments

During the process of transitioning toward customer centricity, your employees might be unsure of whether or not they’re “doing it right” from time to time.

So, it’s up to you to model customer-centric philosophies and actions and to identify moments in which your employees have shown progress and promise. This can be done on-the-fly (i.e., calling to an employee’s attention a moment in which they exhibited customer centricity perfectly), or during monthly or quarterly meetings (where you might discuss a number of moments in which teams worked together in a customer-centric fashion).

(Note: This goes back to what we said before regarding making customer-centricity less theoretical, and more tangible.)

Perhaps one of the best ways to celebrate your employees’ customer-centric efforts is to showcase positive feedback received from your customers – especially regarding improvements in service they may have recently noticed.

The main thing here is to reassure your employees that shifting to a customer-centric philosophy and structure wasn’t something done arbitrarily – and that their efforts are making a difference in their customers’ lives.

Conclusion

A customer-centric company isn’t in the business of providing a specific product or service; it’s in the business of providing for the needs of its customers – whatever those needs may be.

By adopting a customer-centric philosophy within your organization, you’ll have basically ensured that your company will always be able to adapt to your customers’ ever-changing needs, and will continue to experience success long after your company-centric competitors have become irrelevant.

(Note: Collecting feedback from customers is core to becoming a customer centric company. If you need a way to quickly and easily collect customer feedback, Fieldboom can help.)

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Matt is one of the brilliantly gifted content contributors at Fieldboom. He helps us whip up useful and interesting blog posts, guides and more.