The outpouring of love on Slack’s Twitter timeline is the stuff of any tech entrepreneur’s dreams. From cute Jerry Maguire-inspired declarations of fulfilment to boisterous chest thumps of solidarity, the tweets indicate the impact Slack was making just a couple of years into its launch. But as founder Stewart Butterfield noted, this was always the plan.
“To put the customer at the centre”
Every update the company introduced in its landmark team collaboration software was the result of listening to user feedback and needs. While most tech start-ups stuck to usage figures or sales numbers to measure success, Slack focused on metrics like the NPS and CES. This differentiation extended to its customer support processes as well. For instance, the company measured its support teams on the ability to resolve problems in a human way, which made its customers feel valued and respected.
To say that this customer-centric approach has paid dividends would be an understatement. As of January 2019, Slack had almost 10 million active daily users and 85,000 paying organizations. What these stupendous numbers show is that customer-centricity is more than just an abstract idea. In fact, Gartner reckons that going forward, customer-centricity is essential for a company to remain competitive and successful.
But how does one initiate a customer-centric approach to problem-solving in their organization? How to change track from being a sales-driven or product-focused business? How to put the customer’s needs at the centre of every decision made at a company?
In this post, we explore the answers to those questions and help you paint a roadmap to make your company more customer-centric.
Make Customer-centricity Part of Your Values
“By putting forth the effort to better understand the habits, tendencies, and value of each and every one of our customers, you can build better, stronger, and more profitable companies” - Peter Fader, Professor - Marketing, Wharton University
Moving away from a product- or sales-driven culture requires not just a change in processes, but also in philosophy. Although this might look like window-dressing, it’s important that your company formally adopts customer-centricity as part of its core value system. Doing so engenders a deeper understanding and appreciation of customer satisfaction among your employees. This can positively influence how they deal with customer issues while also instilling a greater degree of ownership.
Slack again offers a great example here as it lists empathy and courtesy among its core values. Both enable an employee to not only understand a customer’s needs better but also the emotions and reasons driving them.
Train & Empower Employees to Be Customer-Centric
“Without great employees, you can never have great customer service” - Richard F. Gerson, author of Positive Performance Improvement
Having adopted customer-centricity as a core tenet of your company, the next step is to train your employees to put the customer first. You can take a leaf out of the book of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who made it mandatory for Amazon employees of all designations to undergo a two-day call-centre training. Or consider the workflow automation firm Zapier, which requires every employee to spend at least 10% of their weekly working hours interacting with customers and answering their queries.
If you are a tech company, you can encourage a similar approach by enabling different departments to interact with your customers. So whether its web application development company, front end development company or online marketing, every employee should be trained to put the customer’s needs first and foremost.
At the same time, it’s also important to empower employees as they strive to improve customer experiences. For instance, The Ritz-Carlton encourages all employees to come up with ways to improve the guest experience. And to do this, the luxury hotel chain allows employees to spend up to $2000 per guest. That’s right, no red tape or jumping through hoops of any kind to improve customer satisfaction.
The innovation and discovery of new ideas that a customer-centric culture fosters can pay rich dividends for companies looking for new avenues of growth.
Align Hiring & Growth Strategies with Customer-centricity Goals
“To achieve consistently terrific customer service, you must hire wonderful people who believe in your company’s goals” - Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin
Since an employee is the flag-bearer of your company’s values, it’s important to align your hiring process with those values. Any person that joins your company should be fully aware of the premium you place on customer satisfaction. You need to ensure they embrace the idea of going the extra mile for customers. This also means parting ways with employees who do not believe in either your vision or your company’s core values.
That said, customer-centricity should also reflect in the partnerships and acquisitions you enter into as part of your company’s growth strategy. When there’s a cohesion in the way you and your partnering entity perceive customer problems, the result is better integration, products and customer experiences.
The acquisition of Halogen Software by Saba Software is a good example of customer-centric acquisition. The customer-centric approach of both companies resulted in a smooth integration process and made the combined entity one of the world’s largest talent management companies.
Encourage Every Employee to Understand Your Customer
"Customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company” - Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
Many tech companies today are still stuck in the traditional silos style of working, which comes in the way of fostering a customer-centric outlook. Customer-centricity has to permeate every department of your company for it to be truly successful. Focusing on customer service or after-sales teams alone isn’t enough.
Every employee and department, from product development to sales and support has to be on the same page when it comes to what a customer wants. For instance, your web designers and front end developers should be able to collaborate with the SEO and marketing teams to ensure a higher ROI for the customer. By adopting methodologies like DevOps, you can pivot employees around organizational objectives instead of departmental focus.
Measure Customer Satisfaction
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” – Peter Drucker, Management Guru
A customer-centric culture is a process and requires consistent and conscious effort. To sustain employee motivation after the initial euphoria, you can rely on key metrics to tell you how satisfied your customers are. There are several ways to measure customer satisfaction that go beyond the traditional metrics like ticket volume and backlog, resolution rate, response times etc.
For instance, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores use a feedback survey to estimate the number of customers satisfied with a specific experience offered by your company. The metric helps you understand how your company is perceived by customers and which aspects matter to them the most.
Another metric is Net Promoter Score (NPS), which helps measure the likelihood of a customer recommending your brand.
Quality of Customer Interaction (QCI), Churn Rate and customer behaviours like repeat buying, reviews and referrals are other metrics that can help keep track of your company’s journey towards a customer-centric culture.
Celebrate Customer Successes as Your Own
“The biggest barrier to customer success is CEOs not making it an important part of the culture” - Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight
In a customer-centric culture, the relationship between a company and a customer doesn’t end with product or service delivery. The company is equally invested in the value it delivers to customers. Such a company celebrates the success of its customers as its own. It also steps up to the plate when a customer doesn’t derive the full value out of its product/service.
When a customer finds value beyond their expectations, you can use the opportunity to reward employees involved in the effort. Such an appreciation and recognition boosts your company’s move towards a customer-centric culture, where every customer acquisition, onboarding, retention and renewal is a cause for celebration.
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