How To Tell if a Company Is Really Customer-Centric

Almost every company claims to be customer focused. Some, unwilling to settle for such mundane levels of customer attention, go further, claiming to be passionate about or even obsessed with customers. It can all start to feel a little bit “Every Breath You Take.”

In practice, there can be a chasm between the marketing claims and the actual behavior of companies — their actions reflecting a true focus not on customers but on products, shareholders, or owners.

If you prefer to do business with — or work for — companies that act internally the way they claim to act externally, here are a few ways to help you identify them.

The definition of “customer-centric”

Every business needs customers, in some form, in order to survive. That does not mean every business is centered on those customers. To be customer-centric means focusing every aspect of your business — from marketing and sales to product development and support — on customer needs and interests, prioritizing customers' long-term successes over short-term business goals.

By comparison, companies might instead focus all those aspects of their business around generating profits for their shareholders, on market share growth, or on building a specific product as the primary goal.

No doubt you can think of some companies you have dealt with where every interaction feels shaped for the company’s benefit and not your own. Creating a genuinely customer-centric business takes real work, time, and resources. 

Why being customer-centric matters

Whether you are a prospective customer about to spend some money or a prospective employee considering a job opportunity, determining whether a company is truly customer-centric is a useful practice.

Dealing with a customer-centric business as a customer means using less effort to get your job done: Less effort to sign up, less effort to use the products and services, and less effort to stop using them when you no longer need them.

When something goes wrong, dealing with a customer-centric company is vastly preferable. They will be more responsive and take on more of the burden of solving your issue. 

As an employee, working for a customer-centric company keeps every role closer to the people who are paying your salary. If you are in a customer-facing role, you are much more likely to work with customers who like your company and who assume positive intentions from the beginning of an interaction. That will make your working life much more pleasant. Even for non-customer-facing roles, a company that is trying to be customer-centric typically understands that they need to care for their employees first. Richard Branson puts it this way: “Put your employees first, your customers second, and your shareholders third.” In addition to creating a healthier and more enjoyable working environment for their staff, focusing on customers is good business. Research shows customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that do not make decisions with a customer focus.

The business that consistently treats its employees with respect can expect those employees to do the same for their customers. 

How to tell if a company is customer-centric

Sadly, there is no simple diagnostic test to determine whether a company is customer-centric. Instead, we must use a range of externally visible signals to make an educated guess. 

In general, a customer-centric company should listen carefully to its customers, spend effort to understand them, and commit serious resources toward delivering value for them. Here are some sources of information and some specific behaviors to look for:

  • Product and service reviews: Review aggregators like G2 and Capterra are a good place to start, especially for software companies. Look at ecommerce store reviews for products. Examine not just the ratings, but also the review text. Look for mentions of their customer service behavior, especially when things have gone wrong. 

  • Employee reviews: Sites like Indeed and Glassdoor can reveal how employees have been treated, which is an excellent proxy for how the company treats its customers. 

  • Social media posts: Look for their interactions with customers, particularly how well they handle complaints and questions. What attitudes are displayed publicly?

  • Published policies: Visit their website and read through their cancellation and refund policies and information on how they handle complaints. How easy do they make those processes?

  • Experience their products and services: In some cases you will be able to be a real customer, at least for a time, without much cost. That’s the best way to understand how they value their customer base. Consider how easily you can get started, and compare that to the effort required to cancel. How interested do they seem in understanding your specific needs?

  • Contact their customer service team: What channels do they offer, and how responsive are they? How accessible are those help options, and how quickly do they respond? A customer-centric company should be reducing customer effort rather than trying to put the work of solving problems onto their customers.

  • Read their knowledge base documents: If they offer self-help, how well-written are those documents? How easy are they to find and browse? How up to date is the information? The effort put into those documents reflects the value they put on their customers’ time.

  • Talk to employees: Current and former employees will give you insight you could never get from the outside. If you can find someone via LinkedIn or in your professional communities, ask for their honest feedback on how customer-centric the company really is. You may be surprised by what you learn.

Customer-centric business is better for everyone 

As customers, we’d all prefer that the companies we deal with are making a genuine effort to be helpful and useful. As employees, particularly those in customer-facing roles, working at companies that are looking to deliver value for customers makes for a vastly better working environment.

When there is a choice to be made, let’s all take the time to identify a customer-centric company and vote for it with our time, money, and effort. 

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