What got you here, won’t get you THERE.
In this digital age of connectivity and a seemingly global market at your fingertips, growing and transforming your business requires a truly customer-driven strategy. It’s not enough to simply create products or services that you think your customers should want, and then rely on sales and pricing strategies to grow revenue. The game has changed and, as you’ve no doubt heard before – “What got you here, won’t get you THERE.”
What is a customer-centric business?
Customer-centric businesses place their customers at the heart of their business or service. They focus on providing a positive customer experience before, during, and after the sale. It’s more than good customer service – it’s relentlessly focussing on the creation of fluid, and memorable, experiences at every point in the customer journey.
The keyword here is “experience.” People expect good service and a sense of value when they buy, but to differentiate your business, HOW your customers experience that value is arguably the real key to success.
Years ago, it was the sales team that were the primary gatekeepers of information about a given value proposition. The sheer availability of digital information, truthful or otherwise, has created a scenario where potential customers can come to the sales conversation with a very good sense of what they’re looking for and how your offering might be a good fit.
They can compare what you’re selling with a competitor’s products and services with the click of a button – in real-time, across multiple devices and on social media and review platforms to see what other people have to say on the subject. They tend to select businesses and brands that uniquely solve a problem and do so with a minimum of hassle.
If it’s not desirable enough to your market, viability and feasibility are irrelevant.
Customer-centric strategies can’t just be simplified to something along the lines of “the customer is always right” or Companies need to structure their entire business model around customer insights, believing their business cannot succeed without cultivating a deep understanding of the real intent of their ideal customer. It doesn’t matter if your business has a viable product and a feasible way to deliver it. If it’s not desirable enough to your market, viability and feasibility are irrelevant.
Marks of a customer-centric business
The culture and values of your business are essential to becoming customer-centric. There’s no way to fake culture and your customers will see through any attempt to bluff your way through their engagement. There’s also no point in having customer-centric processes unless the culture and values of your business are focused on your clients. Does your company foster a culture that emphasises a customer-oriented outlook at every level and opportunity?
Perhaps more importantly, how do you know?
Hint: Unless you make every reasonable effort to truly empathise with your market, and validate your insights with a data-driven, methodical approach, you’re really just guessing. Sure, markets can reward a good guess or two but it’s hardly a sustainable model to try and live by.
Remember that your business isn’t the hero – you’re the guide.
A sustainable growth model requires that you religiously devote your resources to making you customers the hero of their own journey. Remember that your business isn’t the hero – you’re the guide. A good guide does everything possible to help the hero transform from someone with a particular need, into someone whos quest for a solution has concluded.
The best marketing strategies are the ones that effectively convey your empathy and insight into their journey. A well-crafted user experience is certainly a necessity, but you must also have the ability to cultivate relationships with your clients at every level of your business. That is something that only comes with a culture of placing the customer at the centre of your strategy.
People remember the experience they had with you, not necessarily your product or service. Customer-centric businesses focus on anticipating their customer’s needs and the entire culture of the company is oriented toward the customer.
Every decision is influenced by the question, “how will this help our customers?” Some of our clients actually have created buyer personas so specific that they have names and physical descriptions.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and take the time to experience your own business from their point of view. In grad school, one of my professors used the example of buying a drill at the local hardware store. What is it that a buyer is really after – the drill, or the hole that the drill makes? How many holes and what size? What are they drilling into and using for power, etc?
The answers to these questions will be markedly different for a DIY homeowner than for a professional finish carpenter. Knowing whether your customer wants to hang a picture frame or two, or reliably make 10,000 precision holes, outside in the elements, is the key. These customer segments will have a very different set of jobs to be done and you would need to have marketing assets and business processes that are specifically tailored to each.
In either case, it’s the customer who defines value – not your business.
Benefits of being customer-centric
More opportunities for growth and innovation:
Customer-centricity allows you to recognise and respond to unfulfilled customer needs that can lead to growth for your business. These days there are many affordable, yet very powerful, platforms that can digitise tasks and processes, and many of these innovations cater to small business.
Innovation is a business process like any other – with inputs and outputs. It’s not merely the domain of creatives and engineers but, these days, an essential part of your business model.
If you’re not constantly trying to learn as much a possible about the real intent of your market, you can be sure that one of your competitors will be. Innovation without the evolution of your value proposition is, to quote that same professor, a form of “innovation theatre.”
When you anticipate and respond to your customer’s real needs, you have a realistic chance to leave them satisfied and, in a way, transformed.
Think of your smallness as your great advantage.
Larger companies – particularly publicly-traded organisations, often struggle to be agile and adaptable enough to keep up with their customers’ ever-changing needs. There can be monolithic structures in place, loads of people who tend to resist change and a collective attitude that “we already know what our customers want.” By comparison, small businesses have few real impediments to an innovative and flexible approach to the customer experience.
Customer insights should actually be easier to come by – and act on. As a business owner or manager, it may well be you that’s the hurdle. If you’re a small business, you can be more adaptable and agile – as long as you can get out of your own way. Think of your smallness as your great advantage.
Becoming a customer-centric business takes time and purposeful practice. It can be a complicated process, but even small changes can bring significant benefits to your business and to your customers.
It’s a safe bet that your biggest competitors are, even if you’re not.