Four Tips for Adopting a Customer-Centric Mindset

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Especially if you’re taking an integrated marketing approach, your customers need to be driving the decisions your company makes.

Otherwise, your brand could risk becoming irrelevant—or, worse, offensive—to your audience.

Just look at Puma’s promotion of its Italy jersey for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It set up “confessionals” across the US and encouraged people to kneel before the “altar,” snap pictures, and share them on social channels with the hashtag #StartBelieving.

Unfortunately, the stunt coincided with Ash Wednesday, and Puma’s poor timing didn’t go over well with its audience.

Customer-centricity matters

When customers are embedded in your DNA—from customer service to marketing to product design—you start to think from their perspective. As a result, you gain insights into not only what you could do but also what you should do as a company.

By harnessing your customers’ wants and needs and infusing that knowledge into every marketing decision, you can establish lifelong relationships that will inevitably grow your business.

The customer-centric mindset is actually similar to a brand-centric one—it just starts with the customer rather than the brand.

To get in touch with your inner customer, start with the following four steps.

1. Shift the customer to the center

Instead of asking, “How can we make more sales?” position the question as “How can we delight customers or overcome pain points?” By pleasing your customers and simplifying their lives, you can attract more business and brand advocates.

Simple changes, such as hiring people who work well with your target customers or providing translation services based on customer profiles, can help shift the focus toward the customer.

Take Southwest Airlines, for example. The company works under the philosophy “people first, profits second.” It understands that customers want prompt, hassle-free travel, complimentary checked bags, and a fun (yet safe) approach to travel. By doing everything possible to overcome travel woes, Southwest is rewarded with brand loyalty and repeat business that generates more profits for the company.

2. Join the conversation

Your customers are already talking about your brand, so why not join the conversation by soliciting feedback? Prompt them to voice their satisfaction and dissatisfaction freely and regularly to help your brand become more responsive to their wants and needs. If possible, invite them to brainstorm on improvements or prototyping. They’ll feel much more connected to your brand as a result.

Customers sometimes don’t know what they want, so gathering feedback is only half the battle. Conducting empathy interviews is a powerful way to tap into their desires, habits, and motivations; those interviews also enable you to uncover underlying needs and predict future ones.

It wasn’t until FedEx began conducting customer dissatisfaction research that it discovered new ways it was disappointing customers. Now the company closely monitors customer feedback and even holds monthly customer experience meetings to stay proactive in creating a pleasant brand experience.

3. Let customers feel the love

Technology can only go so far in keeping customers satisfied. Exceed customer expectations by providing a “human touch” with superior customer service. It’s one of the easiest ways to uncover new customer needs.

One of Zappos’s goals is to create personal, emotional connections with its customers. It encourages its customer service staff to spend as much time as necessary talking to customers on the phone and helping them with any difficult situation, company-related or not. In turn, it has established long-standing loyalties and it has become more responsive in the marketplace.

4. Monitor customer trends

Understanding how customers use your products or services isn’t enough; you have to adapt to their changing needs and lifestyles. Learn how they live their lives, how your product fits into the mix, and ways your product needs to change to remain relevant.

Empathy interviews can capture this information and enable you to get to know your customers, and they shouldn’t be treated as one-time events; they should be conducted regularly so your brand can remain flexible and astute enough to change as needs change.

The ability to empathize with customers is an essential component of design thinking, which values whom a product is designed for, not whom it’s designed by. Adopting design thinking principles not only makes your mindset more customer-centric but also improves your products to meet customer demands before they’re voiced in a more public forum.

Know what your brand stands for

Before you can start putting customers first, you need to understand what your brand stands for and establish a company-wide goal of upholding that brand promise.

Mercedes-Benz has moved closer to customers physically and figuratively by opening inner-city stores to attract more foot traffic and lowering prices to appeal to younger demographics. By meeting the needs of its diverse audience, Mercedes has maintained a competitive edge in the marketplace and secured a reputation as a superior car company.

* * *

Once you (1) get to know your customers; (2) actively seek their feedback; and (3) understand how your products fit into their lives… you can segment customers and customize your messaging to truly resonate with them.

In turn, your audience will respond by investing in your company not just once, but time and time again.

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Three Ingredients You Need to Make Your Marketing More Customer-Centric

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It’s time for a test, specifically a commerce exam focused on your greatest asset, the customer.

Here is some background…

Customer X is a longtime customer who plans to maintain his loyalty but has some reasonable demands that must be met for him to stay loyal to your company.

He wants your business to get to know him better.

Now with that as background, can you answer the following questions?

  1. Do you know where Customer X lives (what region and city)?
  2. Is he a satisfied client, a raving fan, or likely to switch to a competitor when the opportunity presents itself? How influential is he and will his actions have an amplified impact on other customers?
  3. Does he shop on his smartphone or prefer to research items on his mobile device and close the deal in the store? If the latter, which store does he frequent and when?
  4. Do you have a single view into what products he has bought, those which he has browsed for, and the ability to then use this data to determine what is he likely to buy in the future? If yes, can you present him with personalized deals at the right time and place?
  5. What if he abandoned the cart? Do you know why and can you re-engage him to finish the transaction?

The brand-customer relationship has changed from a one-way conversation to a two-way street, with shoppers revealing personal details at a depth we have never seen before. The onus is now on brands to respond, but the response cannot be generic. Brands need to turn this valuable data into customized experiences and services consistent, occurring at the exact right time and place.

Though it’s likely that many will view this as a challenge, it really presents a huge opportunity to “wow” the customer like never before.

However, to succeed, marketers will need all the right elements in place to get data-driven insights that are customer-centric and unique from one individual to the next.

Three key ingredients for campaigns this year include the following:

1. Consistency across channels

We are no longer living in a one- or two-channel world where messages are tossed out for us to digest. Consumers are interacting with brands on their PCs, smartphones, and tablets on social media sites as well as in the store.

Having a multichannel presence is not enough, however. Your customers also expect there to be consistency across each.

Take online travel as an example. People today demand that airlines present the option to check in online and then have their boarding pass available on their mobile device. That capability simplifies a very cumbersome process. It seems simple enough, but if one channel lacks the same functionality (e.g., it doesn’t allow Customer X to access to transfer flight information from one device to the next), he may look to restart his efforts elsewhere. If he is influential enough, he may bring other customers along for the ride.

2. Personalization on all channels

Thanks to the explosion of data, businesses can get to know millions of customers on an individual level. In fact, these customers want to share this information but on one condition: Brands must use this information to meet their unique needs.

Successful companies use multiple layers of analytics (demographic, behavioral, attitudinal, etc.) to monitor what customers like to buy, what promotions drive purchases, which devices they browse and buy from the most, and even what products they may considering buying, often before the consumer takes action.

With this complete customer snapshot, retailers can then personalize every interaction, from the smartphone to the showroom.

For example, an online consumer electronics retailer may send Customer X an email promotion when items on his wish list are on sale. When Customer X goes to pick up the item in the store, the retailer instantly sends a greetings text to his smartphone that directs him the pick-up counter while also sending an email coupon offering discounts off accessories related to their new purchase.

3. Tactical ROI

Analytics can also revolutionize how marketers measure success.

Teams today are launching campaigns that include dozens of individual components. For example, a travel company’s campaign may include a survey designed for Facebook users while another component sends travel coupons to customers on their smartphones upon entering a company-sponsored sporting event.

Just because the overarching campaign is meeting its promise doesn’t mean all components are hitting the bull’s eye. Using analytics, teams can examine each tactic, identify those moderately successful, and make the necessary adjustments. At the same time, they can pinpoint which promotions are missing the mark and put them on the chopping block in favor of a new idea.

With insights into everything, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when just one or two spokes are broken.

* * *

Businesses today are shifting from an advertising-fueled model to a personalized approach that delights their customers, no matter where the connection is made. At the heart of it all will be having a clear understanding of your customers and the ability to deliver value across at all stops along their brand journey.

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