So you think you’re customer focused, but what does that actually mean?

A lot of companies claim to be ‘customer centric’ or ‘customer focused’ or to ‘put customers at the heart of their business’ and yet few companies really seem to stand out in this way.

If you asked a number of people which companies they think are truly customer centric, chances are the responses will be the same – John Lewis, First Direct and Apple.

So how should companies go about achieving this winning formula?

Here are a few questions to consider: 

Why is it so important?

An initiative to become more customer centric will stand a better chance of success if people can clearly see how it contributes to the business objectives and strategy.

Why is being customer centric important to you? Is it about customer retention? Cross selling? Shortening sales cycles? Gaining a competitive advantage?

Who are your target customers?

Which customers are you trying to focus on? What are the problems they have that you resolve? The more they can relate to you, the more attractive you are to them.

What is your customer proposition?

What are you offering to those target customers?  In your business, does being customer centric mean being flexible, or offering the best product or service or being the cheapest? Or perhaps it is something else?

What is really important to your target customer?

It may not be feasible or cost effective to optimise every aspect of your proposition.  So what aspects of your processes and products really count with your target customers?  Which elements of your proposition really matter most to those customers?   What makes them want to do business with you rather than your competitors?

How committed are you?

Being customer focused has to start with a commitment from the leadership team.  Being customer focused means everyone understanding why it’s important and what it means. If the leadership team don’t ‘walk the talk’ and demonstrate that, then the initiative won’t get traction.

What needs to change?

There will normally be a range of possible changes from the obvious and easy, through to the more difficult options. Understanding what good looks like, what’s currently broken and what possible actions can be taken, is critical. Deciding how much change to make is a real test of leadership team commitment.

What are you prepared to give up?

As ever, there will be competing demands on resources. At the least, the leadership team needs to decide how much resource they are prepared to put into customer centricity and what other initiatives they are prepared to give up.  At most, some actions to achieve customer centricity may be at odds with other goals, such as cost reduction. It is important to make these decisions clearly, as it is too easy for people to just support ‘customer focus’ as something you can’t disagree with!

How will you stay customer focused?

Clearly this needs to be about much more than just saying that customer focus is the goal or that the organisation is customer focused.  What can the leadership team do to signal their commitment? How will engagement with the customer be measured? How will staff be rewarded?  How will you embed the behavioural changes that are necessary to sustain the culture of putting customers at the heart of your business?

How will you develop staff capabilities and ensure consistency in their actions?

When skills development is tailored so that it is relevant to your company’s proposition, issues and systems, the learning process is more powerful.

Using real situations that reflect the day to day responsibilities of your staff, rather than theoretical scenarios, enables the new skills to be implemented immediately.

Companies that develop their staff using specifically designed solutions see tangible results much more quickly. Further coaching to reinforce the skills learnt ensures new skills are continually used and are consistent across the teams.