Five steps to becoming customer-centric

In 2015, we are shifting into the year of customer-centricity. Customer-centricity isn’t just about offering a deal every once in a while to repeat customers — it is much more than that. Customer-centric organizations’ business is built entirely around customers. It understands customers’ value and what customers represent to the business’ profitability. With this knowledge, a customer-centric organization tailors everything it does — from research and development to sales — to deliver the best value at the right cost to customers.

Implementing these five strategies will ensure your customer-centricity is on par with that of the best.

1. Identify your team

In 2014, we found that more than a third of survey respondents to Sage’s Business Index survey saw increased customer loyalty as the means by which they would grow their business over the next year. This is important because it shows that businesses understand the benefit of happy customers regardless of whether those customers are providing positive reviews and comments online or recruiting new customers. In my mind, however, this realization is not as essential as implementing customer loyalty programs and rewards. More importantly — before implementation — you must have the right people in place to formulate and execute loyalty programs. Does your company have an identified person or team responsible for creating customer loyalty programs? Do these people understand the company’s customer loyalty vision and goals? If not, now is the time to delegate these tasks.

2. Be available – in multiple ways

Your “business hours” might be somewhere around the typical 9-6, but the hours when your customer uses your product might not be the same. We’ve all likely experienced the frustration of needing customer support after normal work hours. By offering your costumers service at any time, you’re not only helping solve problems but are creating customer satisfaction that can lead to loyalty and positive word-of-mouth and reduce negative online chatter. These efforts might require spending, but there is financial value in the positive outcomes.

Customer service should be easy for a customer to access and receive. It can be frustrating for a customer to scour a company’s website for a point of contact to find only a detailed Q&A culminating in a comment box. Solve this frustration by providing customers with easy to find, direct access to a human – not a recorded phone directory. You should have at least one direct email, phone number and links to your social media pages within eyeshot of your website’s homepage.

3. no automated platitudes

Automated responses can lead to unhappy customers. For instance, United Kingdom train stations use automated responses when trains are late. The text content is an apology but doesn’t give detailed information about when or why the train is late and what will happen next. This leaves the riders in the dark about what they can expect and often creates negative reactions. Rail companies are shifting away from the robotic nature of automation and toward interacting with travelers through social media, direct messaging and in person. Travelers can get the latest rail travel news, including any rail network disruption and advice on alternative routes, through Twitter and Facebook. Train companies also have configured to send riders text messages, tweets or emails when their train is delayed or canceled. Also, staff members are minimizing frustrations by walking onto platforms to speak directly and frankly to travelers.

4. Confront online chatter

Consumers and competitors now have constant access to your social media pages and countless public review sites for venting their frustrations. Negative online chatter can spread quickly and hurt your business by discouraging potential customers. To mitigate this negativity, ensure your virtual presence is sophisticated, personal and timely. Consumers appreciate the personal tone and presence of corporation’s online channels. Through social media, you can interact personally with existing and prospective customers. Having employees to assess social media discussions places your team on the front line, letting you to stay on top of any negative comments and also positive feedback. NASCAR is one of the most fan-centric brands in sports, and by partnering with Hewlett-Packard to develop a social media command center, it is staying in tune with fan feedback in real time.

5. Act on feedback

Earlier I mentioned customer-centricity at the research-and-development level. How does this happen? By digesting customer feedback and using it to alter or advance your product. Positive feedback is like gold – it lets you rejoice in your hard work but also reminds you to continue upgrading, so it is a premium product or service. Remember that negative or constructive feedback provides keen insight into how you can better your product. What are customers complaining about? Is it in the production? The offering? The difficulty of use? Use this information to enhance your product or offering. It’s important for all of your workers to be exposed to other areas of the business as to not lose sight of the company as a whole. Companies that can react to customer feedback and demand have a much higher chance of thriving quickly.

Many businesses lose track of their customers and purpose over time and end up focusing only on processes and outputs. With these focused, customer-centric strategies, you can better understand what customers need, and your organization will be positioned for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

Benoît Gruber is vice president of corporate communication for Sage ERP X3 where he is responsible for product management and marketing globally. He also serves as the Sage ERP X3 solution expert in relationships with thought leaders, analysts and press.

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