Empowered customers are shaking the foundations of industries everywhere. Compared to the old way of doing business, today’s customer revolution is driven by a set of self-reinforcing, customer-first paradigms.
In this new order customers set the agenda by establishing the terms of engagement; customers increasingly provide inputs for new products and services, which they assume will come personalized for them; customers expect companies to listen and learn from their everyday experiences and get respect when things don’t go as planned. In this emerging world a customer-led marketing culture can be a company’s competitive edge.
While a few companies “get it”, most still need to adapt to these unusual and fast-changing times. At such firms CMOs and other business leaders should consider several steps to develop and foster a customer-led company culture:
Identify your primary customers
Recognizing who your main customers are sounds obvious, but at many companies marketing and sales teams often address multiple buyer groups at once. A drawback to this marketing-to-many approach is making sub-optimal decisions, leading to thinly spreading limited resources in various directions. For example, Amazon.com prides itself on being a customer-obsessed company. While it serves various distinct customer groups – consumers with its Amazon stores, CIOs and IT managers through Amazon Web Services and digital marketers and Web publishers through Alexa its Web analytics service – it’s primary target is and remains consumers. It has focused the bulk of its resources and efforts on addressing consumers’ needs by investing in offering the best possible customer experience through its Amazon storefronts and related stores like Amazon Fresh or the Book Depository. This sharp focus has enabled Amazon to developed a strong, consumer e-commerce expertise, leveraging a common set of back-end IT, logistics and marketing automation systems, which have in turn been developed into adjacent businesses, which other Web companies can now benefit from. Without its a consumer focus Amazon wouldn’t be where it is.
Develop a deep understanding of your customers and their expectations
Becoming a customer-led company requires developing deep knowledge about your customers – both buyers and users – their everyday context and their evolving demands. Done right, this in-depth understanding will lead to actionable insights, which will generate more relevant client propositions and an overall experience that resonates with your clients. For example, to gauge the response to new programming options, US television networks have traditionally relied on a mix of Nielsen ratings and ad-hoc market studies. However, today’s on-demand video services providers like Netflix promise customers stellar service. To deliver on this promise they monitor and analyze each user’s viewing behaviour and preferences in real-time, allowing it to provide relevant content suggestions to each user. Aggregated at a global level, such user data has helped identify viewing preferences and trends among their customers, which are then used to characterize the types of shows that viewers enjoy. This has provided unique insights for acquiring original content like ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The lost missions’ and even developing original series like ‘Orange is the New Black’.
Invest in the right touchpoints for engaging with your customers
With the proliferation of channels used for reaching consumer and business customers, the challenge for most companies is finding the right mix that maximizes the ROI. Ultimately this hinges on offering a seamless, contextualized experience tied to each customer’s journey. For example, Cloud-based enterprise computing provider Salesforce.com addresses its clients’ needs as they move through the buying-decision cycle, using a blend of on and offline channels. They address potential buyers – IT Managers/CIOs, CMOs and business owners – using diverse media including print and Web ads and social media sites, drawing them back to their Website. Their site offers prospective buyers a range of useful, self-serve information like product overviews, business advice, client success stories and service demos, each delivered using formats like eBooks, blogs and social media, videos and interactive online demos, respectively. To obtain further details buyers can contact a live sales representative, register to dedicated Webinars or even attend a live company event. Service users can not only access to Salesforce services using any Web browser, but also through dedicated smartphone and tablet apps, that offer everywhere, always-on convenience for accessing to their valuable business data. Users requiring assistance or support can get it via self-serve, online tutorials, customer support forums, social media channels or live support, depending on their needs and preferences.
Integrate your business tools and processes to deliver on your customer promise
Companies wanting to develop a customer-led culture need to empower their front-line staff to deliver on their customer experience expectations by ensuring they have access to actionable data. This not only means investing in a range of adapted tools such as a CRM, a digital customer-marketing platform or a logistics tracking system, but also ensuring that relevant data can be mined and accessed, on-demand, regardless of what system it’s on. For example, express courier service FedEx has become a market leader in large part thanks to its globally integrated logistics system. It offers its clients worldwide the ability to quickly plan, send and track packages of all shapes and types, while ensuring that delivery guarantees are met. For FedEx this means coordinating the transit of millions of packages a day through a network of thousands of land vehicles and aircrafts, while ensuring customers get access to real-time updates on the whereabouts of deliveries in light of unexpected delays, natural events and other on-the-fly changes. Without the right integrated tools and process, FedEx wouldn’t be able to deliver as promised.
Create a work environment that recognizes and rewards staff that place customers above all else
Besides targeting the right customers across adapted channels using integrated tools, in order to create a customer-led culture company, leaders need to foster a work environment that places clients at the very heart of what they do. To achieve this they first need to communicate and encourage a customer-led vision among employees. Amazon.com strives to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company”. In the words of CEO Jeff Besoz, “We start with the customer and work backwards; as opposed to competitor obsession”. This driving philosophy has become central to this Web company’s ability fulfil its customers expectations, time and time again.
Company leaders also need to reinforce a customer-led culture by rewarding staff who systematically demonstrate customer-first behaviour. Like many leading companies, Amazon has established a reward system that encourages a customer-driven service attitude. Employees delivering stellar customer service are rewarded in a range of ways, including with financial bonuses and gifts, job promotions, flexible relocation possibilities and other employee benefits.
Customer satisfaction must be a key indicator of business success. Much like they give shoppers the means to recommend products they’ve purchased, after Amazon provides customer support, they explicitly ask their clients “Did I solve your problem: Yes or No” and solicit related feedback. By monitoring the satisfaction and ease of doing business with them, Amazon has created a constant feedback loop to ensure that its employees focus on what’s important: satisfying and delighting its clients, time and time again.
Today’s customer revolution is changing the face of business as we know it. Companies that can adapt will benefit by forging closer links with customers, gaining their trust with a best-in-class customer experience, and winning their business through a customer value-led relationship.
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