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How do you personally define a customer-focused company?
I’m not talking about a company that claims to be customer-focused but one that genuinely obsesses over improving their customer experience.
Year after year, we hear of companies of all sizes wanting to focus more on their customer experience. While some actually use the appropriate resources to be more connected to their customers, others continue to give lip-service to it. After all, it’s very easy to say you are customer-focused when, in reality, you’re not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve studied the operations of companies across dozens of industries to make sense of it all. I believe that genuine customer-centric companies exhibit the following five traits.
The CEO Is The Flag Bearer
No customer experience program will be sustainable if your CEO isn’t your greatest flag bearer. I’ve seen it time and time again, an executive claims to be customer-focused but when push comes to shove they allow sales and marketing to reign supreme.
I’m a HUGE fan of Westjet airlines, based in Canada, for several reasons. A key reason why I’m bullish on their success is because of their leader, CEO, Gregg Saretsky. I’m a fan of his because he has humanized the way he leads his team. Perhaps, it’s because he use to be a flight attendant before his climb to being the CEO of the second largest airlines in Canada. I have a friend who works at Westjet’s HQ who speak very admirably of him. I mean, it’s very rare for me to go to a party and have someone talk to me about their CEO for 30 minutes, while I drink my scotch, but this happened to be earlier this year when one of his team members did so. The CEO, entrepreneur or business leader within your company can’t just wake up one day and care about the company’s customers. They must have it within their DNA as a person because caring about strangers isn’t something that comes natural to most of us.
It’s very easy to gain media attention and claim to be customer-focused but does your organization continue these efforts at the end of the quarter when you must hit your numbers? Does your company sacrifice the customer experience to save the numbers?
You Must be Willing To Think Long-Term
An organization must understand that if customer experience is going to be at the core of their company then they must be patient.The ROI of customer experience doesn’t develop overnight and is a long term play.
Your customer experience is a collection of events your customer experiences when doing business with you from beginning to end. For example, if you go to a movie theatre, the experience may begin with you visiting their mobile website to see what movies are playing. When you arrive at the theatre, you will purchase your ticket, visit the bathroom and buy popcorn at the concession stand. Even before you have watched the movie you already have experienced four customer touchpoints that involves marketing, operations and sales departments. To be able to recreate or refine your customer experience you must include all departments. This takes time. For some companies, this won’t ever happen because of silos that exist within the organization.
Now, think about how long it takes to develop a marketing campaign, a part of your business that is given a far larger budget than your customer experience efforts. I believe traditional marketing, such as radio, tv and print, has trained us to be impatient because we can have a marketing campaign up and running in a month or two. If you work with an agency, you can have your radio campaign aired in no time. If you’re a small business, you can have your direct-mail sent out next month.
My argument is this: you will never be customer-focused if you don’t practice patience. Customer experience WILL grow your business, however, you must be in it for the long haul.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says it best,
“We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”
What he means is that he will invest to improve Amazon’s customer experience even if the ROI is 12-24 months away.
Are we going to argue with his success?
Understand Creating Micro Customer Experiences Is Worth The Investment
When I was invited to speak at Tangerine Bank’s executive retreat earlier this year, I introduced them to what I call micro customer experiences. How I define a micro customer experience is a small, subtle, memorable and affordable gesture that will resonate with your customers for years.
Starbucks understands micro customer experiences by writing your name on your cup. A local small business practices micro customer experiences by writing their customers hand written cards that include personalized messages.
When I introduce this concept to my clients or audience, I can always plan on someone asking,
“How do you scale this?”
The answer to this question is quite simple: How much do you care? If you care enough you will find the resources or workflow to scale it.
I’m sure the Starbucks operations team questioned how this would scale as I guess it adds 3-5 seconds to each customer interaction. For the most part, they were able to figure it out.
A small business owner may think,
“I can’t afford to pay someone to write hand written cards to every customer!”
You can afford to pay someone to do this! After all, don’t you spend 5-15 percent of your top-line revenue on marketing? You can allocate a percentage of your marketing spend and reinvest it into becoming memorable, which will bring you organic revenue through repeat business and referrals.
For a company to be successful in 2015, customer experience and marketing teams must work together to improve the customer experience and increase customer acquisition through organic marketing such as word of mouth.
Recognize That Customer Experience Is Marketing
Take a moment to answer this question to yourself before you move forward.
What comes to mind when you see Zappos’ logo?
Do you think of their customer experience or what font they used?
Do you smile because of the call centre employee you spoke to when you ordered your pair of sandals, or do you think of what hue of blue was used to create the footprint in their logo?
Forward-thinking marketing pros understand that customer experience is marketing. You may have heard this before, and agree or disagree, whatever your opinion is, allow me to help you think differently.
The Next Web, one of my favorite tech and business websites, published a post titled, “Why I’d Rather Email than Pay for Ads.” If you have a moment to read it, please do. The columnist explains that as an entrepreneur, she’d rather focus on building a double opt-in email list to provide value to her community by producing exceptional content; we know this to be content marketing. Before she pushes a ‘buy from me’ email she first provides value through content on several different occasions, and then asks for a sale.
Seth Godin refers to this approach of marketing as “permission marketing.” Gary Vaynerchuk, wrote an entire book on this approach called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.
Providing valuable content to make your customers smarter or more efficient can also be considered customer experience. If you can educate your customers through the content you create, isn’t that providing a better customer experience?
One of my clients, one of Vancouver’s largest auto dealership groups, is doubling down on their content marketing this year to better educate their customers on their industry. The auto industry has a massive opportunity to make their customers smarter. Personally, I don’t know much about my SUV other than that the right pedal is for go, the left pedal is to stop and that my SiriusXM radio has more than one pre-recorded hip hop channel. As a consumer, when I receive an email from them about “5 Things Your Car Needs to Prepare for Winter” I will read it and become a smarter customer. For me, this is a better customer experience than seeing one of their competitors ads on the back of the bus.
Content marketing is powered by producing educational content that enriches your customer’s lives.
Does your marketing team understand that customer experience is marketing? If not, please share this post with them.
You Must Continuously Invest In Employee Experience
I come from a very traditional family, and I still go to my family home once a week to have dinner with my parents and sister. A few weeks ago, my father admitted that he doesn’t fully understand what I do. He knows my subject but didn’t understand what steps I take when I consult for a company to improve their customer experience.
I began to explain to him that I first audit the company’s employee experience. Where do they recruit their employees? What questions do they ask during the interview process? What’s their on-boarding experience like? How do they motivate and reward their team?
I chose to explain this to him first because it’s what I do with my clients. It’s typical for me to receive an email from an entrepreneur or executive who says,
“Help us increase our customer loyalty.”
I never start with the customer. Ever!
The most successful companies understand to be successful you must: find great people, give them the tools and education they need to succeed and then get out of the way to allow them to navigate the customer experience.
The other day, I read this Business Insider article about Nordstrom’s. The article explains “how Nordstrom’s became the most successful retailer.” The number one reason was because of their dedication to customer service. Within this point, the columnist outlines that they hire “nice, capable people.”
This is exactly why I always start with the employee experience. How on earth are you suppose to deliver a memorable customer experience, one that your customers obsess over, if you don’t have the right team to push your effort forward? Company’s that are customer-focused first become employee-focused.
Does your company focus on your employee experience to improve the customer experience?
We make business complicated.
Business is as hard as we want to make it for ourselves. Many of you are familiar with my story about how I learned my greatest business practices from my grandfather and his fish market in Lima, Peru. If we truly want to be successful, we must be able to take a step back, analyze what is not working in our business or department and trim the fat. After you have done so, review these five traits and ask yourself if you are truly customer-focused.
Now, here’s a tough question. What one trait is the most important to become customer-focused?
Great article. My brother in law works at Tangerine. Customer experience is paramount there. Always has been since they came to Canada as ING many years ago. Go figure a bank with no branches would be so successful... But when you call them, they're super helpful and pleasant. They're not for everyone, but those who do business with them certainly get a refreshing experience. That seemed to scale well.
Hand written notes are well received in my book.. When I see an email to me means they automated a process. It's not necessarily genuine. But you can see Markelle has a completely different feeling, and that's OK too...
But the real important part to being customer centric, IMHO, is to know your customers. As individually as possible. You hand me a note and I smile.. Keep doing it... You hand Markelle a note and she brushes it off... Don't bother next time.
I love Starbucks for that reason alone. It's not the coffee... It's OK, but I'm not going there for the taste... Starbucks not only knows me, but the make a point of making my experience positive, because they genuinely want to. A quick hello from Eric the manager as I walk by... My coffee on the counter before I even order it... Offering a little sample of the newest pasty now and again... Very small things that are genuine, or at least come across as genuine. They just seem to enjoy coming to work and add a little spark of light to my morning.
Why else would I have gone from a quick drive thru coffee on the way, to driving out of my way, getting out of my car, standing in line, basically preparing the coffee myself and paying a lot more... Because I'm treated the way I would treat someone if it were my coffee shop. Trust me I've got better things to do than take those 10-15 minutes out of my day for a coffee... But I do it because it pleases me.
Same thing with my favorite restaurant... It's not the food (not terrible, but not haute cuisine either) that brings me there, it's the people. If I'm craving something really nice, I go somewhere else... But there are few places that will top my experience at my favorite.
Really, that's the key... The little things... Scalability is a crutch... If you have good people and a great culture... And your people genuinely care about the client... Scalability will solve itself. Worry about hiring great folks and show them the way. Make them feel valued and that will be passed on to your clients.
thanks for posting. I agree that scalability IS a crutch. If you want your company to be a certain way bad enough, you CAN make it happen.