Focus on the customer and all else will follow

February 2, 2015

At my old company, I remember the day the new CEO gave his marching orders: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” It was so important that it became part of the company’s philosophy. I remember the impact that had on me.

Without users i.e. customers, there is no company, there is no ongoing concern.

This deeply resonated with me even though it’s clearly not something new. Customer centricity has been around since the 40’s but has found a renewed focus over the past decade.

IMHO, the primary reason for this increased attention is simple; the emperor has no clothes anymore. The transparency of the web has changed the game. If your product sucks, you don’t matter. If your customer service stinks, you don’t matter. If you can’t the product to the customer’s house on time, you don’t matter. Everything is transparent now and forever.

What does this really mean for organizations today?

The concept of customer centricity is quite motivating to me because it can be applied at so many levels of a company. From a macro to micro level, it merits executive attention.

Strategy: Creating a customer focus starts at the strategy level. Strategic planning is an important framework for every company. Most companies still don’t do enough to incorporate customer focus among the company priorities. When you write down your top 5 objectives for the year, make sure to include a customer focus metric to track.

Corporate Development: This point is tougher to conceptualize. How can corporate development incorporate customer focus? A good example of this in action is M&A. If you are looking to acquire or merge with a company, did you take a look into their NPS score? Are they as customer focused as you are? Are they better than you are and can you learn from them? This can cause conflicts with the integration down the road and clash of cultures.

People Operations: Are you employees obsessed with customer happiness? If not, please check out this book. Tony Hsieh from Zappos is a cult-like figure in the ecommerce world growing his shoe company into a billion dollar behemoth. The secret to his success is irresistible – make customers happy. How? Keep employees happy and reward them for customer happiness. Their objectives and bonuses are tied to that one simple metric. No call time objectives, no focus on efficiency. If you satisfied the customer’s needs, you succeeded.

Go to Market: Who are you selling to? Yep, customers. This one should be simple. When selling and marketing, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. A classic mistake companies make is to talk about themselves on social media. Buy my product please! The rule I like to use is 9 to 1. Talk about your industry, your customers 9 times and only 1 time about yourself. Your content marketing approach should not be ‘me’ but rather ‘you’ in spirit.

Operations and Product Management: There are two schools of thought on product innovation and management. The lean start up / product market fit model is one that is gaining a lot of traction. Launch and optimize your way to customer acceptance. The other is the Steve Jobs way of telling customers that they should want. There is no right or wrong way; you need to choose one that works. The product market fit model is easier than ever with rapid iteration that is possible.

Business Intelligence: An industry leader in North American ecommerce spoke to me about a new metric he was obsessing about: customer unsubscribe rate from email. Who cares about email unsubs? Why such a fuss? It turns out that if you are losing valuable customers every day because they are actively choosing to ignore (read = unsubscribe), you have a problem. Knowing the value of your customer churn is super important when it comes to managing your business. This is just one metric among many many more.

Technology & Platforms: Omnichannel madness! I love buzzwords as much as the next guy but this one is getting lots of press lately. Ultimately, this is about understanding the multiple touch points of your customers across all of your channels. Focus on understanding the customer as they interact with you be it online or in store or on mobile. Small tip: if you aren’t providing customers with a wonderful mobile experience, you’re already 5 years behind.

My favorite philosopher once said that happiness is attainable through human effort. For businesses, that effort should be tied to customer satisfaction. Of course, profitability is key but without customer happiness, building a sustainable long-term business is a near impossibility.