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How to become customer-centric: Strategies, tips, and examples

Customer-centricity can change your business for the better. Learn what it means to be customer-centric and how it helps you keep loyal customers.

By Peter Alig, Contributing Writer

Published February 13, 2020
Last updated May 17, 2022

After a four-hour flight delay, you arrive at your hotel at 2 a.m. You wearily check in, lug your bags up the stairs to the top floor, swipe your key card, and…nothing. The door won’t unlock.

Rewind to entering the hotel.

After you check in, a hotel clerk places your bags on a luggage cart and offers to bring them up to your room. You step into an elevator that quickly takes you to the top floor. You use the hotel’s app to unlock your room door, then you open it to find a box of chocolates and a handwritten note from the hotel staff on your bed.

Which experience would you prefer? We’re guessing the second one.

Like the hotel in the second scenario, a business delights consumers when it prioritizes their needs and interests. But the truth is that many companies think more about profits than about how they treat their customers.

If you aren’t connecting your customers’ happiness to your revenue, you’re missing the bigger picture. Put buyers at the center of your company’s orbit—at the very heart of your customer-centric strategy—to change your business for the better. You’ll enjoy greater customer loyalty and bigger profits as a result.

What is customer-centricity?

Customer-centricity is the ability to understand consumers and make business decisions based on their needs. According to Jonathan Brummel, director of enterprise support at Zendesk, “Customer-centricity is putting the customer at the center of everything you do.”

Why is customer-centricity important?

Customer-centricity keeps brands focused on what their audience wants. If consumer behavior shifts, no biggie—the company adapts its products and operations to meet demand. Evolve correctly, and you’ll see major business improvements.

Create innovative, high-quality products

When you truly understand customer needs, you’re in a better position to build products customers love. In the past, many business leaders opted for product-centricity, an approach that prioritizes continually enhancing products regardless of demand. This mindset can lead to high-quality products—but not necessarily innovative ones.

Consider portable music players. Sony could’ve kept upgrading the Walkman, and Apple could’ve kept refining the iPod. But once smartphones arrived with audio apps, improving the portable music player became useless. The market had found a new way to listen to music.

Reduce customer churn

Unique products attract buyers to brands, but the products alone aren’t enough to foster customer loyalty. Brands that create customer-centric experiences around their products will see the lowest rates of churn.

A consumer might download an audio app for the convenience of using their phone to listen to music. But what happens if a similar app comes along? To keep the customer around, the app company can send weekly music recommendations based on the listener’s preferences. This experience can build anticipation, strengthen the emotional connection, and encourage the consumer to come back.

Improve operational efficiency

Customer-centric brands look forward to customer feedback. Whether you want to find out what product features your buyers desire or how you can improve the customer service experience, asking consumers for feedback can help you adapt your operations to better meet their needs.

Say your support agents report an uptick in callers asking for help with a certain app feature. To ease the strain on your agents, you can create a series of app “how-to” videos and include a link to them in every app download confirmation email.

This operational flexibility is critical to staying in business long-term, especially in our rapidly evolving world.

5 customer-centricity examples

A customer-centric brand doesn’t only provide products and services its audience wants—it also offers them in a way that suits its buyers. The companies below do just that, allowing them to create strong, long-term relationships with their customers.

  1. Wild Alaskan: Make subscriptions more convenient

    The sustainable seafood retailer Wild Alaskan follows a subscription model. Customers select the wild-caught seafood they want, and the company delivers the fish each month.

    Wild Alaskan could assume its subscribers would stay happy with the seafood they picked when they first signed up. And from a business perspective, this assumption would make it easier to order inventory. But instead, the company regularly reminds customers that they can customize their orders.

    This customization probably makes Wild Alaskan’s inventory somewhat complicated and adds more administrative work for the team. The effort is worthwhile, though, as consumers’ tastes and preferences change. Wild Alaskan is more likely to keep its users by letting them curate their orders every time.

  2. JetBlue: Create a customer bill of rights

    Airline JetBlue created a stir in 2007 by releasing a customer bill of rights.

    Travelers frequently accuse airlines of lacking a customer-centric culture, so JetBlue decided to do something about it. The JetBlue Customer Bill of Rights guarantees compensation in the event of a delay or cancellation. For every flight it cancels, JetBlue promises to issue a full refund or book the customer on the next available flight at no charge.

    The bill of rights may affect JetBlue’s bottom line, but it’s an investment in customer peace of mind. The airline wants travelers to enjoy their flight, but it also wants them to trust that they’ll have coverage if there’s a cancellation or delay.

  3. Stripe: Simplify subscription cancellations

    Stripe makes it simple for B2B SaaS companies to accept and manage payments. SaaS companies use a subscription model, and they don’t want churning customers to accuse them of overcharging.

    Stripe allows its SaaS clients to cancel disputed subscriptions immediately—without charging the end-user for the remaining time in the subscription period.

    Churning customers are already unhappy. The last thing a SaaS company wants is to further damage the relationship with an overcharge complaint.

    It seems like a small design feature, but it’s in line with Stripe’s customer-centric strategy. By saving its SaaS clients from a major headache, Stripe improves its relationship with them.

  4. Tesla: Hyper-personalize the customer experience

    Tesla’s electric cars adapt to the needs and preferences of drivers as soon as they leave the dealership. The cars themselves become more customer-centric as they learn about the person behind the wheel. At the push of a button, a driver’s personalized profile kicks in, automatically adjusting the suspension, lights, radio presets, and more.

    Tesla’s hyper-personalization and luxury design finally made electric cars cool. The unique features also helped create a community of lifelong customers: 91 percent of current Tesla owners say they wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

  5. Chewy: Always treat the customer like a human being

    Chewy wouldn’t be a customer-centric company if it only cared about sending pet owners a recurring supply of pet food. It’s customer-centric because it realizes pet owners also need emotional nourishment.

    When Chewy heard that a customer’s two dogs had passed away, the customer service team sent a sympathy gift: portraits of the pets.

    Chewy understands it’s worth going above and beyond for customers. The company’s food keeps pets happy, but it’s important to keep owners happy, too.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

6 tips for taking a customer-centric approach

Customer-centricity doesn’t happen overnight. It may require a complete cultural shift in the organization, supported by training. Start with the following tactics, and you’ll be on your way to strengthening customer relationships and growing your business.

  • Offer generous customer service

    Customer care is an afterthought for many businesses, and many consumers know it. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 54 percent of buyers believe customer service isn’t a priority for most businesses they interact with. But it can mean the difference between customers coming back or leaving for good: 81 percent of shoppers say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase.

    Leave customers with a positive impression by enabling your support agents to go the extra mile. For example, you might give each agent a small monthly budget to spend on customer care. They could send a particularly frustrated customer a card with a note of thanks or an apology.

    81% of shoppers say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase.

    Cushion your metrics with time for customer care, too. Agents should be efficient, but they shouldn’t be penalized for occasionally exceeding your ideal total resolution time to help a difficult customer.

    Few companies have a culture as customer-centric as Zappos’. Imagine inviting consumers to call your service team.

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    It’s a good business move. Even if the buyer doesn’t have a problem, Zappos is learning about them and making them feel heard. The company can use this information to become even more customer-centric.

  • Use a customer journey map to anticipate needs

    To ensure the business focus is on your customers, consider their needs and feelings at each stage of their journey. A customer journey map visualizes all your touchpoints so you can better understand your buyers and deliver positive experiences at every key moment.

    Consider a competitive industry like hospitality. Hotel brands are always seeking fresh ways to retain their most loyal customers. Before Hilton released a contactless arrival app for its Honors members, the company likely mapped out all possible member pain points and ways the app could remedy them.

    Booking a room: It’s often difficult to reserve a room on a mobile device because guests can’t tell if the room is facing the parking lot or the ocean.

    Solution: We’ll add a property map to the app and make booking a room similar to selecting a seat on an airplane.

    Checking in: We don’t want Honors members to wait in line to check in, especially if it’s late.

    Solution: We’ll let members check in with a few app clicks so they can head straight to their room upon arrival.

    Room entry: Key cards sometimes fail.

    Solution: We’ll program the app to unlock the door so Honors members don’t have to visit the front desk—where there might still be a line—for a replacement key card.

    Customer support agents are often the first to hear if an experience failed to meet expectations. Their empathetic response can maintain the customer relationship, and they can relay common issues to the marketing or operations team. For example, hungry Honors members who traveled a long distance might complain that they can’t order room service from the app and have it waiting for them upon arrival.

  • Embody your customers’ values—and mean it

    A customer-centric company doesn’t just create products and experiences its audience loves. It also understands its customers’ values and puts them into practice.

    Brands that support issues their buyers care about stand to make a positive difference and grow their customer base. According to Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands Report, 64 percent of consumers like to buy from purpose-driven brands. And 53 percent will pay more for products from businesses that take a stand compared to ones that don’t.

    Customer-centric companies should take a page from Patagonia’s playbook. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1 percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. The brand also takes public stances on sensitive issues, such as refusing to attend a popular trade show in Utah because of the state’s public land-use policies. Patagonia even created a nonprofit, 1% for the Planet, that brings other environmentally conscious businesses together to collaborate on projects.

    Of course, you don’t need to start a nonprofit to have a social impact. Advocacy can start small! You might donate a portion of each sale to a single charity your customers support and promote that charity on your website’s checkout page.

    Authentically embody social responsibility to spread positivity, humanize your brand, and give your customers a sense of pride.

  • Enhance agent efficiency with artificial intelligence (AI)

    For businesses unable to offer 24/7 live support or hire more agents during busy periods, AI can help ensure your customer service remains customer-centric.

    Chatbots use AI to answer common support questions and route inquiries to agents when necessary. AI-powered bots can also automate SMS and Facebook Messenger responses.

    AI technology is advancing rapidly. According to Solvvy’s State of Chatbots Report, about 80 percent of customers will use a chatbot if one is available. 47 percent think it’s possible they’ve mistaken a chatbot for a live agent.

    Presentation software provider Prezi adopted chatbots when it saw a massive surge in support tickets in 2020. The pandemic-induced switch to online learning coincided with the release of the company’s new video presentation product. The chatbots complemented Prezi’s 25 support agents, freeing them up to focus on more complex issues—and to show the care so many new customers needed during a challenging time.

    Bear in mind that chatbots and other AI-powered channels aren’t customer-centric by default. According to the Solvvy report, 65 percent of consumers are more likely to leave a business due to a negative experience with a chatbot. Make sure bots’ automated responses keep up with evolving customer needs by sending a short survey after each chatbot exchange.

  • Centralize customer data

    Say a jet-lagged Hilton Honors member DMs a room-related question to Hilton’s Facebook account. They don’t get a response, so they call Hilton’s support team. The agent is unaware of the DM, so the member has to rehash its contents, irritating them. Had the agent known about the Facebook DM, they could have provided a more customer-centric experience.

    Brian Durney, CTO for online jeweler Chupi, wanted to avoid such situations. He said, “We needed a way to pull all of our customer data into one place. We needed all of our calls, tickets, and DMs from social media going into one platform.”

    Durney suspected what our Customer Experience Trends Report revealed: 92 percent of customers will spend more with companies that ensure they won’t need to repeat information.

    Durney turned to Zendesk to track these various customer interactions. Agents were able to view them in a single easy-to-navigate interface. The result? “In 2020, we had a 300-percent increase in care-based sales, resulting in 1 million euros in sales directly from the customer care team,” Durney reported.

    92% of customers will spend more with companies that ensure they won’t need to repeat information.

    Zendesk-powered support teams can easily install the CRM for Zendesk app to capture sales opportunities and figure out the next steps.

  • Develop a value-added content strategy

    Customer-centric companies continue adding value to the customer experience, even after that first sale. That’s when the hard work of customer retention begins.

    Activewear company Lululemon keeps its buyers loyal by supplementing its high-quality products with useful online content. The brand provides a wealth of online yoga classes and training guides to help customers achieve their fitness goals.

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    Image source

    Say a customer runs their fastest marathon after following a Lululemon training guide. They’ll associate this memorable experience with the brand and likely return to purchase their next pair of shoes or shorts. Brands that make their buyers’ lives better—rather than satisfy a momentary need—are truly customer-centric.

How to measure customer-centricity

There’s no single way to assess customer-centricity. But if you closely watch the following metrics, you’ll gain a holistic picture of how well you base business decisions on customers and their needs.

Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)

Customer satisfaction score (CSAT) typically gauges the quality of support experiences, making it a good starting point for measuring customer-centricity.

To measure CSAT, send a survey via SMS, email, or chat as soon as a customer support interaction ends. Ask the consumer, “On a scale of 1 (very unsatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), how would you rate your overall satisfaction with the support you received?”

You should also ask an open-ended question like, “Did the agent exceed your expectations? Why or why not?” Use this feedback to spot lapses in customer-centricity. For example, say customers reply with low scores and complain they were transferred multiple times before speaking to the right agent. There might be an issue with your interactive voice response (IVR) software.

Once you have your survey responses, calculate CSAT by dividing the total number of customers who are “very satisfied” (5) or “satisfied” (4) by the total number of responses. Then, multiply that result by 100.

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Ideally, you want your CSAT to increase over time. If CSAT declines, determine the root cause and take action to remedy the problem.

Churn rate

Customer churn rate is the percentage of consumers that stop doing business with you over a specified period of time. If your efforts aren’t paying off, your churn rate will either hold steady or increase.

This metric is easiest to measure if you have a subscription-based business model because you can see how many subscribers cancel each month, quarter, or year. But when evaluated alongside other metrics, it’s still a great way to assess what you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

To calculate churn rate, use the following formula:

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If your customer service reps receive strong CSAT scores but your churn rate remains high, then your product probably isn’t meeting customer expectations.

Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Customer lifetime value (CLV) tracks the amount of money a consumer spends throughout their relationship with a brand. If your company is customer-centric, your buyers will stick with you longer, which means your CLV will be higher.

Here’s how to calculate your CLV:

customer-centric

If your CLV consistently decreases month over month and you’ve ruled out product issues, you should check for a decline in CSAT scores. According to our Customer Experience Trends Report, 61 percent of consumers would switch to a company’s competitor after just one bad customer service experience.

The value of a customer-centric strategy

Becoming a customer-centric organization isn’t easy, but it’s worth the time and expense. Focusing on your customers helps your company create better products and services to meet their expectations. And when your buyers are happy, that means a better bottom line.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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