Written by Vivek Jaiswal | Co-founder, Customer Guru
Customer centric leaders come in all shapes, forms and sizes. I’m just kidding, they aren’t products that you can pick from a supermarket shelf. Nevertheless they all have one thing in common: a profound passion to serve the customer and give them the best experience possible. Not all customer centric leaders possess the skills that they should, but these are skill is one that can be acquired.
Learning from some of these global customer centric leaders you too can streamline your company to become customer centric and work from there.
What are the must-haves for a customer centric leader?
1. They focus on building a customer centric company culture
“Customer service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company.” ~Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
Hsieh himself has created such a customer centric culture that shoe selling isn’t what comes to mind when one thinks of Zappos. Although the company does sell shoes and other retail goods, it’s not what it sells that makes Zappos so successful. It’s how it sells their products that makes Zappos what it is today.
As defined by Forrester, a customer-centric culture is “a system of shared values and behaviours that focus employee activity on improving the customer experience.” Though more than 90% of executives say that improving customer experience is a top strategic priority, a majority of those firms are ill-equipped to achieve their customer experience targets.
The first step in creating a customer centric culture is instilling such values in the company’s vision and mission statement. The next step is to engage and empower employees to a level that they take it to the next step, which is to please customers beyond expectation.
2. They always rise above the competition
“People want what’s best for them, and they can switch on a dime, because there’s always a new disruptor disrupting the last disruptor. So companies should just strive to keep changing and adapting to their customers’ needs.” ~Ben Chestnut, Co-founder & CEO of MailChimp
Don’t consider your competitors to be your arch rivals, rather think of them as your benchmarks that you have to work every day to surpass. You need to be able to learn your competitor’s customer experience tactics and take it to the next level in every aspect for your customers. After all, remember that your customers can run your company into the ground by simply taking their business elsewhere.
There will always be a few aspects of customer experience that your competitors may handle better than you. It takes a courageous and honest heart to accept that your competition is better than yourself. However, with an open mind there is a lot that you could learn from what your competition is doing right and then work on your deficiencies to ultimately deliver what matters most to your customers. Nonetheless, don’t begin learning from someone else’s mistakes before you learn from your own.
3. They know that customer experience begins before the sale
“We rely on [customers] to help guide our product development and business strategy. Before we had any customers, we sat down with prospects to understand how our software could help them. When we launched the first version of our product in August of 2007, we had a paying customer from day one.” ~Chris Savage, Founder & CEO of Wistia
Whenever you start a company or begin a new product development, consider your company a newly planted seed and customer experience as the water used to cultivate your growth. Customer experience must begin much before your product or service is released. You should be able to find out what your potential customers would want and make amends as per their needs and desires.
Just as Chris Savage did, when you start focusing on the experience of your potential customers before the sale, you’d have established a relationship by the time they become your customers, and you can propel your business success from day one. Always keep your customers engaged and excited about your product or service and you’ve already acquired a group of promoters.
Related article: Why NOT to Think of Customer Experience ONLY after the Sale.
4. Retaining promoters is their primary goal
“Satisfied customers will tell their colleagues about Rackspace, becoming promoters for our brand and an external sales force for our company. Therefore, fanatical support is essential to our business; it is what lies at the core of our company because we know it’s essential to our success.” ~Mark Roenigk, COO of Rackspace
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, it is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. I feel like I’ve over used this statistic a little too much. However, that just goes to show how important it is. I cannot emphasise how crucial it is to keep an existing customer content and provide them with the best experience.
As per another research by Marketing Metrics the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5%-20%, while the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60%-70%. Now think again. Customer loyalty, while difficult to acquire and sustain, costs you lesser than customer acquisition. Keep your promoters close and they will get you new customers.
5. They are ready to be proven wrong when it is in the customer’s best interest
“When you’re trying to make an important decision, and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: If the customer were here, what would she say?” ~Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot
One of the most important quality in a leader is the ability to put aside his ego and admit gaffes. It is extremely crucial to being open to criticism and to alter how things are carried out when shown new ways. In this era of digital customers, feedback and reviews come flooding in. Excuses like “Because we’ve always done it this way,” is not good enough anymore, in fact I say that it is rather unacceptable.
Customers will tell you what you’re doing wrong and what they want from you. Never ignore this. You have to be acknowledging and admit when some product or service aren’t at par with their expectations, or when a policy no longer makes sense.
A customer-centric leader should feel pride in responding quickly and effectively to new customer ideas and request.
6. They keep employees engaged to deliver utmost customer service and experience
“Good customer service begins at the top. If your senior people don’t get it, even the strongest links further down the line can become compromised.” ~Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group
There is a definite nexus between employee engagement and customer experience – the better the former, the more effective the latter. In line with one of Bruce Temkin’s 6 laws of Customer Experience, it is only an engaged employee who can create an engaged customer. An employee who believes that his organisation nurtures and enables him grow will understand that it is his responsibility to make the organisation grow.
The first thing organisations need to understand is that satisfied employees are not the same as engaged employees. As Customer Insight puts it, employee satisfaction is the extent to which employees are happy or content with their jobs and work environment. On the other hand, employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organisation, and put discretionary effort into their work. An engaged employee will have a symbiotic relationship with his organisation, as opposed to a satisfied one which is unidirectional.
7. They strive to keep up with the digital-era of customers
“Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behaviour when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it.” ~Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group
If your competitors are taking advantage of omni-channel support options, then why aren’t you? In this generation of millennials and boomers, you are going to have to adapt to the digital age to handle all the feedback, reviews and complaints that you are receiving. Today, there are so many ways that a company can interact with their customers. Social media, email and even live chat. Have all these channels established in your company and well-trained, responsive employees to handle such channels.
Now being all digital doesn’t give you the most competitive edge. Although a lot of customers today prefer to carry everything in their pocket, some still prefer a hardcopy of something in their hand. When I say provide omni-channel support, that includes print too. For example some people prefer a physical bank statement that they can take home to show their parents. Similarly, there are those who may want to stick to in-bank transactions as they may find online money transfers confusing.
8. They don’t obsess over metrics
“Your customers don’t live in spreadsheets; you need to go out and talk to them to understand who they are as people.” ~Bruce Temkin, Founder of Temkin Group
Although certain metrics can be very important for a business and its customers, avoid obsessing over it. Now what if employees are given a goal of improving the Net Promoter Score® (NPS) for their company? They may resort to unethical methods to get a high NPS® on paper. Methods such as insisting customers to provide good feedback, only asking the happy customers for feedback etc. This will ensure that the score looks bright and shiny, but inside it could be as meaningless as one could imagine!
It’s not all about those stellar numbers at the board meeting. It’s much more than that, it’s your customers’ opinion of your company that is at stake. Don’t take that lightly. Be prepared to be consistent with tracking your metrics but bring purity in those numbers.
A successful customer centric leader doesn’t get carried away by the metric itself, rather they focus on delivering exceptional customer experience and the positive ratings come flooding in.
9. They realise that customer experience is not just a one-time thing
“People think of loyalty as a customer for a lifetime, but it’s really much simpler than that. It’s about the next time, every time.” ~Shep Hyken, Customer Service Expert and Bestselling Author
You may have implemented a customer experience strategy once, or measured a customer metric over a month, and then you ask “What Now?” Significant results don’t appear in a week, or even in a month. Be consistent with how you measure, monitor and manage your customer experience and only then do you begin to see the true results of customer experience management.
Just like you brush your teeth every morning, customer centric leaders up their customer experience approach by the day; more like by the hour. Be prepared to work around the clock on customer experience management. Your employees should be passionate about taking it a step up with every customer they interact with, not just once, but for a lifetime. This eventually builds trust and inculcates such a culture into your company. The end result? Enthusiastic promoters!
Want to learn more about customer experience management? Here’s A Mini Course on Customer Experience Management to get you started!
10. They encourage negative customer feedback
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” ~Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft
You must encourage your customer to give you negative feedback. Now don’t force them to give you negative reviews as this may ultimately hurt your company. However, customer centric leaders aren’t afraid to face an angry customer and investigate their concern until they are satisfied.
Customer criticism should be considered free consulting to your company. Facilitate various platforms where customers can vent. Such feedback is free consulting for you company. Albeit, do not, I repeat, do not let that feedback sit idle, whether it be online or a call. React to the feedback and get back to the customer regarding what you have done to fix their problem. If the issue was something that couldn’t be resolved, calmly apologise and explain to them why they faced the issue.
Letting the feedback sit idle will only harm your company and deter potential customers from doing their business with you. Although you should encourage positive feedback, constructive criticism is what can help take your company’s customer experience to its peak.
These are just a few qualities that customer centric leaders must possess, yet they are the most important ones I believe. If you are able to emulate some of these pioneers in customer experience, it will truly put an amazing impression of your company in your customers’ mind. They won’t just be promoting your company but they will be giving you a lot more of their business.