Written by Kushal Dev | Co-founder, Customer Guru
Ask the founder of any company the reason that they found it and the answer inevitably is that they would want to add value to the customers. If value addition to the customer is the priority and every business wants to keep the customer at the heart of its business, why are some companies hugely successful at being customer centric while the others fail to do so?
Here are our top three picks for the most customer centric companies and some lessons on how they manage to be customer-centric despite their size and diversity.
With the vision statement as “We seek to become Earth’s most customer centric company”, Amazon truly lives up to its mission by incorporating customer centricity in each activity and decision that it takes.
Founded in 1994, Amazon is among the first companies to leverage the power of the Internet. While it started as an online bookstore, Amazon then went on to become a $107 billion e-commerce website. Amazon owns about 10% of the market share in the North American e-commerce sector, which is approximately equal to the e-commerce share of Office Depot, Staples, Dell, WalMart, Sears, Apple and Liberty put together. Despite being such a large organisation, how does Amazon manage to consistently rank amongst the most customer centric organisations in the world? Here is the secret!
- Keep your ear to the ground: Every manager at Amazon, including the CEO, spends two days every two years at the customer service desk. This ensures that he is listening to the customers and understanding their needs. As a consequence, every single employee has the customer’s perspective in mind all the time. Evidently, this practice helps the entire organisation become more customer centric.
- Have a customer centric leader at the helm: Founder and Chief Executive of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos is known to be a customer obsessed leader. His empty chair story is a very famous story among all those who have read about the company. During the earlier board meetings, Bezos would leave a chair empty in the room, asking the executives to assume that it belonged to the most critical and crucial member of the company – the customer. He’d then encourage his employees to take all their decisions bearing the customer in mind.
- Innovate with the focus on the customer: Amazon has never left any stone unturned in the process of helping the customer derive maximum gains. From The Kindle to drone delivery, all of Amazon’s innovations are aimed at adding value to the customer. During the development of the Kindle, when one of the Finance executives asked Bezos how much they had to spend on development of the Kindle, Bezos answered by saying “How much do we have?”
Despite being the amazing company, Amazon has had its fair share of controversies. In 2009, Amazon was in a soup when it deleted copies of “1984” and “Animal Farm” from the Kindles of its users. Though it had its reasons (they were unauthorised copies), this move left the users furious. Bezos posted a heartfelt apology on Amazon’s forums:
And this candid apology drew a very positive reaction from its customers. Here are a few reactions:
Founded in 1967 by Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines has bucked the trend of the loss making airlines. Its mission statement reads “Dedication to highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit.” It wanted to make every flight an unforgettable experience for its customers and what a wonderful job it does each time! In the process, it has also achieved a fiercely loyal customer base. Everything about the brand, from the napkins that say “I’d be happy to hold your drink” to the stock market ticker that is “LUV”, talks about the fun-loving and customer-loving brand that it is. Here are a few secrets of Southwest:
- Understand that “Happy employees = Happier customers”: The airlines believes in keeping its employees first and keeping them happy. The website reads a message from its founder: “Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long-term competitive advantage.” It empowers its front line employees and backs them to make quick decisions that are critical for a good customer experience. Why is it not surprising then that the employees stay with the airline even though they are paid less compared to other airlines.
- Anticipate customer needs: In his book ‘High tech, High touch customer service’, Micah Solomon recalls an experience when the gate agent of Southwest Airlines booked the tickets to the next flight to his destination when the one was supposed to fly was grounded due to bad weather conditions. All this was even before Micah requested for it. What a wonderful example of anticipating a customer’s need and being proactive in helping the customer. What was supposed to be an inconvenience turned out to be a moment of pleasant surprise for the customer.
- Apologise genuinely: It’s not wrong to apologise when things go wrong on your end. Sometimes just an apology goes a long way than any monetary solution. And this is the mantra that Southwest Airlines lives by.
And finally, here’s amazing clip of the flight announcement of Southwest Airlines. You’ll love it!
Founded in 1852, Toronto Dominion Bank has been delivering WOW!(in its own words) service to its customers for more than 150 years now. FYI, you can take your dog into the branch while you do your banking transactions. The company started as Portland Savings Bank in 1852 and through a series of M&As became People’s Heritage Bank in 1983. This was later rechristened BankNorth after some other acquisitions. Meanwhile, Commerce Bank was a very customer-focussed bank and it is here that the origin of the company’s customer centric culture lies. Later, TD Financial Services of Canada acquired both BankNorth and Commerce Bank and became what is now called TD Bank – America’s most convenient bank.
- Be convenient: True to its tag line, “America’s most convenient bank”, TD Bank operates 7 days a week and often up to 8 PM to serve its customers. TD Bank believes that the convenience that they offer to the customers has become a huge differentiator and a competitive advantage for it. It is confident that if it opens a new one in any locality, it would have more than 25% of the local marketshare within the next 5 years. Another example of its worth: The bank in Wall Street had 1 billion USD in deposits in five years!!
- Listen from across all channels: Keeping up with the increasing number of channels of customer engagement, TD Bank has persistently listened to its customers through all the channels and has been responsive to every customer feedback. As Theresa McLaughlin, Global CMO of TD Bank’s Canadian banking said in an interview with Marketing Magazine, “Doing it repeatedly is what differentiates us from the rest.”
- Say Thank you: Earlier, TD Bank would thank its customers through ‘Customer Appreciation Days’ on which it gave every customer a free coffee and cake at the local bank. In 2014, this went up a notch higher when the bank turned its ATMs into “Automated Thanking Machines” and then, magic happened! In an era where we hardly find time to write a thank you card to our friends and relatives, TD Bank took the effort to give personalised gifts to its customers.
Aren’t these some fantastic ways of expressing gratitude towards your customers? Are there any other such customer-centric organisations that have inspired you? Do let us know!