The "Customer-First" strategy has become every company's business priority, modus operandum, USP, and lifeblood (for good reason). But what does it mean to be customer first?
What factors motivate customers to become brand loyalists?
Is it solely about offering low prices and discounts (as it has always been)?
Or is it about providing a customer experience like never before?
Let's see what the data tells us:
Clearly, having a customer-first approach is not just a win-win for the customers; it is a win-win for everyone—from the business and the stakeholders to the partners and the employees at large, which brings us to the next question:
"What does it mean to put the customer first?"
Stripped down to its essence, being customer first means you think of your customer first in everything you do—from your product strategy and marketing campaigns to your content marketing and customer service experience.
That said, it's also about keeping your internal stakeholders and employees happy so that your customers can stay happy.
If your employees and stakeholders are going to be unhappy, and there's internal chaos within the company, no matter how many CX programs you roll out, your CX strategy will stay amiss.
Now that we've looked at what it means to be customer-first and why it's important to have a customer-first attitude, let's look at what it takes to put the customers first.
"Determine what your customers need, and work backwards." - Jeff Bezos
Logically speaking, you cannot really cater to your target audience's needs if you don't understand what makes them tick. One super-effective way of getting to know your customers is by creating an in-depth buyer persona such as the one shown below:
This type of buyer persona immediately tells you what your ideal target audience looks like at first glance. What's important to note here is that there's no standard template to follow when creating your buyer persona.
However, you do need to create different personas if you have varied market segments and different audiences for each segment type.
The details you include will ultimately depend on your customer and business type (B2B or B2C). That said, here are a few important elements that should make their way into every persona template:
Keywords related to the persona's business position, buying decisions, problems they're trying to solve, etc.
Key takeaway: Understanding your brand's audience accurately lays the foundation for a rock-solid CX program as all your efforts will stem from the customer's data points that you capture in your persona.
One of the core areas where most organizations fail when adopting a customer-first strategy is not empowering their employees to make judgment calls and take ownership of the situation. If your employees feel helpless and stuck and are not authorized to take decisions quickly, it can cost your business.
While adhering to the policies is paramount, they should be allowed to bend the rules as long as the employee is operating within the company's core values and systems.
In this regard, you can train your employees for "if-then” situations (for example: if the customer has been waiting on a call for more than 5 minutes, escalate the issue on priority) and equip them with the right kind of knowledge base, resources, and tools that outline the general company guidelines effectively.
Not every complaint needs to be escalated to the senior management, and not every situation requires the nod of senior leadership.
Key takeaway: For your customer service to be customer-focused, you need to empower your employees to make judgment calls as the situation demands. A more flexible working style will ultimately ensure speedy and efficient service and boost customer happiness.
Get this: Amazon encourages all employees (managers and Bezos included) to attend two days of call-center training each year.
Why? Because it creates a shared sense of purpose and allows everyone to truly empathize with the customers and understand their point-of-view.
You could have the most well-intentioned CX strategies in place, but if they're not communicated regularly through your senior leadership team, your employees might never truly grasp the critical role they place in boosting customer satisfaction.
Here are some of the most important pointers that should be communicated to each and every employee of the firm to make a lasting impact:
- What would your customers think of the decisions you're making?
- Will it actually help them and address their pain-points?
- Who is your one point of contact for all CX related queries?
Key takeaway: If you wish to create a customer-first environment, you'll need to get all the players on the same page and encourage them to collaborate and play their part in your company's CX narrative.
Tying back to the previous point, working collectively can help achieve long-term customer success.
For example, companies like The Home Depot follow the 'Inverted Pyramid' model where the senior management supports its frontline workers (instead of it being the other way round), and these workers, in turn, take care of the customer's needs and laser-focus on delivering customer value. This style of collective working helps one-and-all.
On the other hand, companies like Amazon (yet again) take their CX efforts to the next level by truly being customer-obsessed:
In the earlier days, during meetings, Bezos would leave an empty chair - one for the customer - and allocate an internally trained employee to play the part of a customer. These pseudo customers, a.k.a 'Customer Experience Bar Raisers', were specially trained to reflect the customer’s opinions and concerns. It is this kind of customer obsessiveness that has helped Amazon set an industry benchmark in customer service.
Key takeaway: As we said before, putting your customer first requires a complete change in mindset, attitude, and company principles, which can only be achieved if everyone is working together and supporting each other.
Sometimes customers can be unreasonable. And how you handle these kinds of situations is going to make or break your CX game.
In our opinion, being forthcoming and honest about the extent to which you can accommodate the customer's request will be appreciated and well-tolerated. It also helps to tell the customer why you cannot assist them and explain details about the policies in place, which creates an environment of trust and honesty.
Key takeaway: Providing customers with a reason behind why you're not able to deliver on the promises made can make them more empathetic and understanding towards the company.
The final and most important piece of the puzzle is gathering customer feedback rigorously and in real-time.
The idea is to collect customer feedback and analyze the data so that you can extract actionable insights and make tweaks/iterations to your product development, market strategy, customer service, etc.
These invaluable insights can help you innovate and deliver products/services that your customers actually need. Plus, it can help you reconnect with your customers and build a stronger relationship.
Key takeaway: Gathering customer feedback at strategic points in their journey allows you to anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations in terms of product delivery, service, etc.
So there you go. These were the top-6 customer-first principles to keep in mind when drafting your CX strategy.
It might seem simple on paper, but truly going customer first requires a change in mindset and the business' core culture.
Rolling out one-off CX strategies is not going to help build an army of brand loyalists. At the end of the day, it is all about delivering a consistent and holistic customer experience to the point that customers never second-guess your brand and trust it blindly, as we've seen happen with top global brands like Avon, Netflix, Disney. You get the drift, right?
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