A Founder’s Guide to Building a Customer-Focused Company

When making decisions, do you start by looking at your balance sheet or your customer feedback? If you want to grow your business and keep your customers loyal, we suggest using customer-focused strategies to guide your choices.

The best thing about customer focus is that it doesn’t require fancy tools or skills. It simply requires a dedication to listening to what your customers need and delivering on it.

In this guide, we'll show you how to build a business known for its commitment to the customer.

Customer focus is a strategy that puts customers at the center of business decision-making. Customer-focused businesses make decisions based on how those decisions impact customers — as opposed to focusing on profits above all else. It’s a long-term strategy that develops loyalty and builds trust.

Why is customer focus important?

The rewards of customer focus are two-fold:

  1. Engaging for your customers:

     Your customers want to be listened to. According to research by Salesforce, 62% of customers expect companies to adapt based on their actions, feedback, and behaviors. If you aren’t listening, your customers will find someone who will.

  2. Good for your business: Because of the numerous benefits that customer focus brings to your business, you’ll be more successful overall. In fact, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that do not make decisions with a customer focus.

Making decisions based on your customers’ needs and goals puts you in a better position to build relationships, help customers become successful, and adapt to changes in the market.

3 examples of transformational customer focus

When you build your company around your customers’ needs, it shines a light on new opportunities. Whether those opportunities are simple (e.g., bundling certain features together) or complex (e.g., pivoting to an entirely different business model), understanding your customers will open doors for growth.

Here are three ways that companies have embraced customer focus to grow their businesses.

1. Ecolab

Ecolab’s CEO Douglas Baker Jr. says that listening to customers was the key to their transformation from a $12 billion market cap company in 2011 to $55 billion in 2019:

"The same customers who were buying our core products were also voicing concerns about access to clean water.”

By broadening their strategic vision to address their customers’ needs, Ecolab not only grew their business exponentially, but they also became more proud of their place in the world: “As our teams widened their awareness of global issues, our pride has been enhanced,” Baker said.

2. Mogo

Mogo, a Canadian financial services company, realized that their customers were not happy. The wait times for their customer service channels were causing frustration, leading to angry comments on social media.

So Mogo decided to take action because, as they said, “Making sure you’re happy is super important to us. Like, lose-sleep-over-it important to us. So, we had to fix this.”

Mogo strongly invested in their online chat platform to improve customers’ access to their support team. They made chat available within the app, within the browser, and also on the desktop app. They also invested in a tool that recognized their customers so customers never had to repeat themselves when contacting support.

3. Blue River Technology

Lee Redden was a student of the Lean Launchpad when he came up with the idea for a company that designed large-scale riding lawn mowers. As part of the startup course, Redden was required to go out and do customer development for this idea, talking to 15 customers a week.

Three weeks into the course, the entire company pivoted. Why? Because they uncovered the problems that customers actually wanted to solve. Now, Blue River Technology has received $13 million in funding to develop smart agriculture equipment that solves exactly the problems their target market is facing.

Redden says that the customer feedback they received was crucial in their success:

“Customers had way more insights than we had. They had been thinking about their own problems for so long. If you just go out and try to sell, maybe you’ll find some buyers, but you won’t be learning about what you should be doing along the way.”

How to improve customer focus at your company

Creating a customer-focused company is possible for any business, but it’s not as straightforward as just declaring customer centricity.

A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity.

To become truly customer focussed, you need to be intentional about the ways that you interact with your customers on a daily basis. Every interaction needs to be centered around the customers’ best interests. And as you expand, this gets harder and harder to scale.

The strategies below will help you improve customer focus at your company.

Shorten the distance between customers and employees

As your company grows, more distance forms between your customers and your employees. When you’re a team of one, you constantly talk to your customers. Whether it’s through sales conversations or helping them troubleshoot your software, early employees are extremely hands-on with customers.

But as you grow, you might add employees who never spend time helping customers directly. Managers start to spend more time focusing on the business and their team members than on customers. The C-Suite rarely talks to the average customer, instead only dealing with the biggest or most upset clients.

In some cases, employees might be many layers removed from what customers are actually saying.

Shrinking the distance between customers and employees means that everyone in the company is customer-facing in some way.

  • Consider implementing whole company support as a way to get every employee talking to customers (after some training, of course!).

  • Create a customer-focused newsletter that shares customer stories, support tickets, reviews, and customer feedback with the entire company.

  • Send reviews and customer feedback into Slack channels where the entire company can see them and understand what customers love and hate about your product.

Dave Grow, President and COO at Lucidchart, has seen the benefits of being close to the customer echo across his career. He’s read over 100,000 customer support tickets throughout his time at the company, noting that it’s helped him maintain empathy for their customers.

dave grow linkedin post

Be like Dave and find more ways to connect directly with your customers in your daily work.

Measure what matters

If you’re rewarding team members for actions that aren’t grounded in customer-centric thinking, you’re not building a customer-focused company.

For example, the classic case of metrics gone wrong is the salesperson who crushes their sales goals and makes a ton of commissions selling to customers who only end up churning three months later. They’re doing everything right when you look at their sales targets, so what's not working?

If you want your team to listen to the customer, you need to make customer focus a part of your key performance indicators. Consider using metrics like:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT — yes, even for your sales team!)

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)

  • Lifetime value (LTV)

Lead by example

Everyone in the company will take their cues from you. If you spend time bad-mouthing customers, focusing on cost-cutting metrics instead of customer satisfaction, and generally removing yourself from the customer experience, you can’t expect the rest of your company to act in the customer’s best interest.

Instead, show your entire company how important the customer is to you and the business:

  • Learn how to vent about customers productively.

  • Spend time working with customers every week.

  • Treat your front-line employees with respect: Pay them what they deserve.

Build a feedback loop

Without a robust Voice of the Customer program, it’s impossible to incorporate customer insight data into your decision-making process.

Asking customers what they think and then analyzing and acting on that insight is key to staying focused on the customer. After all, if you don’t ask, how will you know what your customers need?

There are many ways to ask for customer feedback. Try to implement at least three in your business so that customers are asked what they need at different times and over different channels. For example:

  • Ask customers who've received support how they feel about the service they received.

  • Use in-app feedback surveys to ask customers about new features or usability.

  • Follow up with customers who cancel and ask about why they churned.

Once you have the feedback, make it centrally available to everyone in the company. Understanding what the customer is feeling helps everyone (from marketing to sales to product) make better-informed decisions. Keeping the focus on your customers means responding to their feedback across the business.

Building a customer-focused business

“The payoff, with a strategic, well-executed process could be amazing: turning customers’ ideas into real, tangible products can build incredible loyalty and engagement — two highly treasured commodities in a competitive marketplace.” Jennifer Lee, Deloitte

When you started, your company was (hopefully) built on an idea that appealed to your target customer. You knew what your first customers’ needs were, and you created something to address them.

But as companies grow, it can become difficult to stick to that same customer focus. By keeping the distance between customers and employees small, measuring what matters, being a customer advocate yourself, and constantly seeking feedback, you can get back to the basics: the customer.

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