At some points in your business life as an entrepreneur you must have faced many strategic challenges. Choosing whether to focus on product or customer as a strategy is probably one of them.
This tutorial tries to discuss the strategic challenge and how to design a customer centric business.
Whether you’re starting a business or evaluating an existing, under-performing business you’ll get the benefits from reading and applying my tips for your business.
Let’s start with the what and the why first…
Customer Centric Vs Product Centric
As the name implies a customer centric business puts customers at their core activities and business processes. Not only do the company manufactures positive EXPERIENCE at every point of contact but they also make sure the customers accomplish their job and SUCCEED.
Which competitive strategy is better?
Retail giant like Amazon is an example of an organization with huge staff and resources that allows them to integrate both customer centric and product centric strategies.
Unfortunately, small businesses don’t have that kind of luxury. As a small business owner with limited resources you have to pick one approach. The question is which one?
Which Competitive Strategy is Better? And Why?
A 2014 Customer Experience ROI Study from Watermark Consulting tried to relate the impact of good and bad customer experiences with 7 years of stock market performance (2007 – 2013).
Watermark found that Customer Experience Leaders –the top ten rated public companies in Forrester Research’s 2007 – 2014 Customer Experience Index studies– outperform the market. The leaders enjoy 77.7% of cumulative total return as compared to 51.5% of the S&P 500 Index.
Now that you know the answer is customer centric approach, let’s learn how to apply it in your business.
5 Steps to Creating a Customer Centric Company
Being a customer-centric means understanding who the primary customer is and then aligns all company resources to serve that master. Depending on your size and your industry you might serve more than one types of customer.
Amazon is a good example. It has 4 types of customers: consumers, sellers, content creators and developers. And the company decided to focus on serving consumers as their primary customer because they are aligned with its mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company”.
Now take a look at your customer and your strategy. If you serve two or more types of customers choose one that aligns with your company’s mission, capabilities and that offers longer term profitability than the others.
If you own past data on your primary customer’s behaviors you can segment them based on profitability, purchases and others. But if you’re just starting out, try to sketch the narrowly defined ideal customer with demographics information.
The idea is to collect as much data as possible about your customer. One way is to closely monitor relevant discussions online. Joining the conversations can lead you to discovering their needs, especially if they are willing to share bad experiences with a competitor.
If your site has gained significant traffic you can check your web analytics data to understand your visitors’ behaviors. Alternatively, you can also buy “off-the-shelf” research about your industry’s buying habits and preferences.
A great customer centric company places products and/or services as part of total offerings. This company transforms their offerings from product and/or service based to solution based. And to learn how this works let’s have a look at Amazon again as our case study.
Amazon has used technology to track a customer’s past purchases and browsing behavior. This info is useful for tailoring product offerings the next time he or she goes back to Amazon.
This is the way Amazon learn about the customer and provides “advisory” services as a way to provide a personalized shopping experience.
You can adapt the Amazon case study and choose your business model for your specific industry and offerings. Reduced costs, improved productivity, expert advice are some ideas to differentiate your offerings. But make sure your value proposition is unique and difficult to copy.
Customer preferences, technology and other competitive environment are a moving target. You need to build control system and technology that allow you to control your business performances and changes in the market.
A weekly management meeting to discuss key financial and operating metrics such as revenue growth and customer experience index, followed up with an action plan, is one of them.
You can also set up a separate meeting if the changes are significant –especially primary customer changes– and may affect your strategy.
But those activities would be worthless without reliable data collection using marketing automation tools like Customer Relationship Management, which are integrated with other company’s systems. Only with a clear vision, relevant metrics and reliable systems you’re ready to create a customer intimacy business.
It all starts with how your employees perform at all touchpoints. You’ll want to give them good training and equip them with relevant info for their specific jobs. And they will provide customer experience up to your company’s standard.
If that wasn’t the case, find out whether the causes are strategic or operational issues.
Unclear philosophy about customer and key values to make it a reality are strategic issues. But different level of customer satisfaction index found at different point of contact is an operational problem.
Make sure your company’s staff and resource allocation aligns with the culture you’re building. You will need to execute a customer focused strategy with the right business processes and customer-obsessed, cross-functional teamwork.
Building a customer centric business needs strong commitment and hard work. But many researchers have shown us that it’s a proven strategy for differentiation and, of course, for success in business.
Your job now is to apply that approach to your small business.