It seems like an obvious thing to point out, but your understanding of your customer needs is a critical part of every businesses strategy.

Over the years, I have seen many businesses claiming to have values like ‘customer first’ and ‘customer centric’, but what does that mean?

There are two trains of thought on this, firstly there is the perception of being customer-centric, and there is the operational focus serving your customer to the best of your ability.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise which will create success for your business. An empty promise to a customer will cost you dearly down the road.

Suppose you genuinely believe in the significance of a robust customer-centric strategy. In that case, it starts with you as a leader and how you create a culture of serving both your internal and external customers.

From a leaders point of view, your internal customer is your team. Once again, obvious, but maybe not so much when it comes to translating it into customer-centricity.

If you are unclear on the principles you will use to serve your customer, how can you expect your team to deliver on the customer-centric strategy you have decided on?

In my experience in both the b2b and eCommerce spaces, you need to include a few simple principles into your strategic planning process to curate an environment that strives for continuous and consistent customer success.

The first on the list is your company values. Your company values should inform how you operationalise your promise to your team and your customer; this will result in a series of actions and expectations to create success.

By operationalising your values, you can design a framework that your team can operate within that creates a consistent customer experience. It might be how you talk to them on the phone or communicate complex information, the small interactions that compound to deliver the way you do things. The result should be a great customer experience.

From that, we can move into the next principle, expectations. Do you understand what ‘good’ looks like? With consumers having such abundant access to feedback tools such as Google and social media, you have to clarify what defines a good customer experience.

It might be as simple as a score out of 5. If we agree that 5 is the perfect experience, then we need to create the expectation of both how we deliver that experience and how we will give the customer the reason to provide that feedback.

I have seen feedback examples using the metric of ‘rate out of 5’ where people will not provide a 5 rating out of principle. No matter how good the service and product, they don’t give 5s. You need to factor that into your review process to not look for perfection and demand unrealistic expectations.

There is no getting away from the nuances of a customer-centric strategy that you are dealing with humans. Once again, a clear set of expectations need to be set for customer interaction; this is where empathy will play a significant part in your success.

Imagine your customer calls and can’t pay their bill; they are stressed and upset. You could say, well, we need to get paid; we have bills to pay too. How do you this is customer-centric?

As part of your strategy, you need to factor in the emotional state that your customer will be in at different stages of their journey with you. If they are in a diminished state, you can choose to support or sink them.

Their bill for $79.04 might not be a lot to you, but it might be the most significant stress in their life that they can’t solve. Your understanding of that situation will enable you to move the relationship forward positively where both parties leave with their needs met.

The net gain from employing empathy means your team operate within your values system, and you have served the customer who will share that experience and become loyal to your way of doing things.

I have heavily focused on your people, but how do your people and your customers align with a customer-centric approach? Right people, right customers.

It’s a critical part of your’ people’ element of your strategic plan. If you have a highly complex product that needs a high level of support, you cannot expect to deliver on customer’s needs with untrained staff. Equally, you cannot expect a great team to support the wrong type of customer.

Serving the wrong customer will inevitably cause challenges and misalignment of expectations from the start. While we want to be customer-centric, we need to be realistic in meeting their expectations.

You can’t have a customer team to support a $3 sale as the value of that item to the customer is so small they will move on. But if you are selling something like a car for $40,000, there is an expectation of a high support level.

In the first instance, you would use your strategy aligned with technology, but you would use human support to wrap around the customer and fulfil the customer journey in the second.

These principles will give you the foundations of what an excellent customer-centric strategy should look like. Within these principles, there will be dozens if not 1000’s of small interactions that will influence that highly valued praise from your customer.

Whether you are using technology, people or a blend of both, don’t lose sight as a leader that you are a human; serving humans – serving humans, and technology will only ever go so far.

By definition, we are a tribe and thrive on human interaction and, where possible positive experiences, so don’t leave that to chance in building your culture around the customer. Because if you don’t, someone else will.

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