How to boost customer focus: 3 steps

To succeed in a post-pandemic world, businesses must take a customer-centric approach. IT leaders need to make customer feedback accessible and transparent, for starters
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The global pandemic has fundamentally changed the way customers engage with businesses. More than ever, they’re engaging digitally – even traditional brick-and-mortar retail businesses are increasingly relying on technology to connect with, sell to, and support their customers.

Despite the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, studies suggest the recent shift toward online life will become the norm, further cementing the need for businesses to build long-term strategies for digital engagement with customers.

How, then, can a company build a customer-centric organization that’s focused on understanding and addressing the requirements of its customers?

It must start at the top. If customer-centricity is not treated as a core company value, employees will assume that it is a single department’s responsibility – and initiatives will fail. Everyone must understand how their relationship to customers impacts the customer’s experience with the company.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

After establishing a top-level commitment to customers, consider implementing the following steps to get everyone thinking like a customer:

1. Ensure that customer feedback is accessible to everyone who needs to see it and that they see it in a timely manner

This one may seem obvious – but there are a couple of layers to doing it successfully:

First, as an IT leader, you need to make sure the feedback is available and accessible within the organization. Do the right people have the permissions they need to see the information, or is it held centrally?

Don’t bury bad news --uncover, elevate, and address it. Same with good news.

Second, is the feedback transparent? Internal agendas should never supersede customer requirements. Unflattering feedback needs to be surfaced to the people who can address it. Don’t bury bad news --uncover, elevate, and address it. Same with good news.

Get to know your customers from all sides and angles. The only way to do this is to share all the feedback with the right people, without filters.

2. Give direct feedback, along with a clearly defined, executable task, to a specific owner who is empowered to act on it

Do people on the front lines need to wait until an analyst has created a report before planning or taking any action?

All too often, feedback is gathered and centralized in an analysis platform, and the people on the front lines need to wait until an analyst has created a report before any action is planned, much less taken. This produces an aggregated view of the feedback and doesn’t permit individualized responses.

Customers are individuals, and they expect to be treated as such. When you direct feedback to a specific owner soon after it’s received, the owner can take action to ensure that the customer has been heard and taken care of. Integrating feedback into existing applications that customer-facing employees use, such as support-ticketing software and CRM software, allows them to respond to customers and act on the feedback without waiting for someone to analyze it.

3. Embed the customer into meetings

Customer-facing teams need to help the rest of the company stay in touch with customers.

The third step to creating a customer-centric culture is to make sure the customer is present at all times. Truly customer-centric organizations start meetings with a customer story or a new customer data point to keep the customer in the middle of everything they do. Anecdotes from the sales or support teams can help other departments better understand who their customers are, how they become customers, and how they remain so. Customer-facing teams need to help the rest of the company stay in touch with customers.

An easy way to embed the customer in meetings is to review stories gathered from the sales and support teams during their conversations with customers and prospects. Or simply ask if anyone has a customer story to share. Moving customers to the top of the agenda at meetings will remind everyone that they all play a role in managing the customer experience.

Moving customers to the top of the agenda at meetings will remind everyone that they all play a role in managing the customer experience.

Creating a customer-centric culture has never been more important. As more customers engage with companies digitally, IT teams face increasing pressure to ensure that the customer experience is consistently positive. But technology alone can’t create customer-centricity.

Customer-centricity occurs when everybody feels responsibility across the entire organization. IT must make sure feedback is properly gathered and available to the people who need to see it. Managers must make sure the feedback is transparent and useful without any hidden agendas. IT will also need to integrate customer feedback into the applications customer-facing employees are already using so they can drive action from the feedback.

Still, all of this will fail if the organization considers IT the only company face to customers. True customer-centricity requires an organizational mindset shift in which everyone thinks about their relationship with customers. To achieve this shift, tell their stories and celebrate acts of customer-centricity at every opportunity.

[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]

Dave Barr is CTO of Alchemer. He is an experienced technology leader, specializing in scaling growth-stage engineering organizations as they move beyond market fit to focus on scale and execution. His background is in Enterprise Infrastructure and B2B SaaS.

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