How to Create a Customer-Centric Company that People Love

Creating a customer-centric company is now a top priority for businesses looking to thrive in today's customer-first world.

We've seen plenty of data that shows how a great customer experience goes a long way toward building a business that lasts, but embedding this sort of thinking throughout your company requires quite a bit of finesse. The belief in superior service has to be genuine and must be a motivating factor for customer-facing teams.

So how do the likes of Starbucks, Amazon, and Zappos create customer-oriented cultures that spur massive growth in spite of ample competition?

More importantly, how can you build a customer-centric culture that places customers as a priority?

Why customer-centric companies win

Great customer service isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also good for business. We don’t just make this argument for our health; lots of research proves it to be true for almost every industry.

The data shows a focus on cultivating a customer centric culture will put your company ahead of the pack. According to the Customer Experience Index 200 (CEI200), customer centric companies have a higher valuation on average than their competitors:

"Upon looking back on previous data starting 2007 to present, the CEI 200 has outperformed the S&P 500 Index by generating a 10.7% annualized rate of return.”

This is a clear case for forming a customer centric business. These performance metrics show that the return on the investment put into creating an outstanding customer experience more than pays for itself.

Now that we’ve covered the why, let’s take a look at the how. How can businesses just like yours join these highly valued companies who build lasting, loyal relationships with their customers?

1. Demonstrate what great customer service can achieve

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

You’ve probably heard the sentiment that you should hire for attitude and train for skill. The truth is that even those on your team with the best attitudes can benefit from increased incentive and motivation, especially the motivation that justifies taking extremely good care of customers.

You have to demonstrate to your team how a building a customer-centric culture helps the organization achieve its goals. We’ve shown you how forward-thinking companies are able to thrive by providing excellent customer service, but have you taken time to set this precedent on your team?

If you have, has your case gone beyond basic observations about the importance of good service to tie the message to your bottom line? Your team will benefit from hearing how great service impacts revenue, retention, word of mouth, and the business’ potential to thrive in the future.

We have a full book of statistics to get you started making this case, but ultimately your communication needs to be candid and personal. Base it on why a memorable customer experience is important to your team, your company’s culture and your mission.

2. Get everyone in the company involved

In realizing how important this concept is to smaller teams, here at Help Scout we have embraced the idea of Whole Company Support in full force.

We do this by rotating our support schedule every week, with each team member having a week dedicated to helping our customers. Everybody chips in, regardless of who is leading the charge, but this rotation allows every branch of the company to get in on the front lines and talk directly to our customers.

Product teams get a chance to step away from code and hear from people using the product; marketing teams are given an opportunity to encounter objections so that they can become more informed about how customers perceive the product.

The result a better understanding of how customers think and what issues they are struggling with, which go a long way towards improving happiness and customer loyalty.

3. Empower employees to deliver great customer service

Beyond establishing a company-wide customer-centric outlook, you have to embed a customer-first belief in your company by giving teams guidance while still allowing the creativity and autonomy needed to provide remarkable customer service.

What this means is that you need to empower employees to cut through the red tape that often hinders great service, but you also need to build a framework for action so you don’t end up losing your shirt over needless expenses and handouts.

If the goals you set for achieving customer satisfaction aren’t tied to your overall company objectives, well-placed customer WOWs can turn into a free-for-all that won’t guarantee great returns. Even companies that customers love such as Virgin Airlines can lose money like it’s going out of style when great service intentions aren’t tied to an overarching game plan.

Your service team shouldn’t be locked in by excessive rules: favor frameworks over hard limits, repeatable phrases over scripts, and coaching over monitoring. Relying on benchmarks through systems such as the Net Promoter Score can help support teams aim for achievable metrics without feeling smothered by regulations.

As Rob Markey of Bain & Company would argue, a support team without guidelines can fall victim to poor choices that hurt the business, especially when they are given free reign over things like discounts.

We know of one retail bank that gave their call center representatives the edict to delight customers and permission to waive up to $150 in fees for any customer without seeking any additional authorization.

The result? Customer satisfaction rose a little, but fee revenue declined. A lot.”

4. Encourage active listening to customers

The discussion of internal innovation versus customer feedback is a debate that has been ongoing for decades, but few would argue about how important customer feedback is for guidance.

Don Peppers, co-founder of Peppers & Rogers Group, recently voiced this opinion on LinkedIn on what a customer centric company should do if they truly value their customers:

Assuming that you start with a quality product and service, being customer centric means understanding the customer’s point of view and respecting the customer’s interest. You fix problems, handle complaints, and remember customer preferences.”

Listening to customers is an inherent part of being customer centric. It’s tough to know how you can improve the customer’s experience if you don’t have an attentive feedback system in place, regularly conduct meaningful customer surveys or have ongoing chats with current customers.

You’ll find that customers can help you build a product that other customers love. While they can’t singlehandedly steer your product towards innovation, a truly customer-centric company will take advantage of the fact that their customers do often know what they want.

5. Treat your company culture as an asset

Smart businesses invest in talent, capital and training, so why shouldn’t the same attention be given to a company’s culture?

Our friends at HubSpot have a saying: “Culture happens whether you plan it or not, so why not create one that you love?” They’ve openly placed their manifesto and “culture code” handbook online for all to see.

If a customer centric-culture is important to you, you need to invest in making it happen. I love how Buffer spends plenty of time and energy motivating, inspiring, and rewarding their team for providing excellent service. They even go the extra mile by openly blogging about their customer happiness metrics. This transparency shows their customers and the world at large how they invest in support now and what they plan to do in order to improve in the future.

Are you promoting your customer centric culture as the valuable asset that it truly is?

6. Sweat the small stuff

We’ve shared a number of customer service stories here on the blog, and it’s not hard to see what makes them so memorable and heartfelt; they almost always involve someone within the company going the extra mile for a customer.

If there is one trait you should try to ingrain in your entire team’s conduct with customers, it’s this one: Focusing on the details will go a long way toward creating reciprocity with your customers, and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

These sort of points aren’t complete without a candid example, so allow me to provide one! The only flower place I will ever shop at, Gamble’s Florist, won my lifelong business because of a single thing that they do that I’ve never seen another florist offer.

Every time I shop there, I end up walking out with a giant array of flowers. And every time I’ve left the store, an employee has offered to help me walk out to the car to secure the flowers in my passenger seat. It doesn’t matter who is working that day; they always ask.

This tiny detail means a lot to me because I’m always paranoid I’ll drop or damage this special (and expensive) gift that I just picked up, one that is highly dependent on looking good to have its desired impact.

This is the sort of personalized service that any company can embed into their business. I wanted to share it with you to demonstrate that building a customer centric company culture doesn’t have to be lofty or intimidating — it’s all about showing people that you are grateful to have them as customers.

Your Turn

What’s your stance on building a customer-centric company? Are there any other tips you might add for getting an entire company inspired to really WOW their customers? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

Gregory Ciotti

Gregory Ciotti

Greg is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.