Last month, my package was stolen off my doorstep while I was at work. I had placed the order on Amazon and when I got a notification the package was delivered, I came back expecting to see a box by the door.
To my surprise and disappointment, when I got home, there was nothing. I looked around–high and low–to see if maybe the box had been left behind a bush or on the neighbor’s porch. It was nowhere to be found.
While upset that that my package was stolen (it was a birthday gift for my niece), I was also thinking about the hassle to order that same item again.
I contacted Amazon and to my surprise, rather than having to explain the situation and hopefully get a refund and place an order again on my own, they immediately put in the order to send me a replacement.
At this moment, my entire experience had taken a turn. What started out as a frustrating problem turned into a giant sigh of relief.
I was–in a word–delighted.
This example scenario illuminates the importance of customer-centricity.
Amazon has become an industry leader not just because they have lots of products or low prices, but because they lead the way in customer experience. They have implemented a customer-centricity model that allows them to continuously understand and anticipate the needs of the customer. Then, as a matter of process, they deliver on those needs.
This is about understanding the customer journey. Not as a linear story, but instead as a series of individual touch points and interactions that shape the overall customer experience.
In each of these instances, the customer is thinking and feeling a certain way. In order to align the customer experience with their needs and expectations at that moment–i.e., a customer-centric model–you need to first understand how they may be thinking or feeling in these moments.
Then, take steps to shape that interaction to align with the rest of the experience.
As this specific example illustrates, customer-centricity is about understanding both the positive and negative interactions that customers may encounter. It’s an iterative and evolving process with many moving parts.
Getting to “Wow”
Companies that are successful at delighting their customers throughout the experience are said to be customer-centric.
But the idea of customer experience can be difficult to quantify or understand–which, in turn, makes it difficult to manage in a strategic way. One way to measure your brand’s customer experience is by the number and frequency of “wow” moments.
The “wow” moment is a point in your customer experience when your customer feels delighted. It’s when you’re able to understand or anticipate their needs in a way that they never expected or go above and beyond to make sure that they walk away feeling happy and satisfied. It’s the moment when you replace a customer’s package in order to be sure that they have a positive interaction–whatever it takes.
Achieving this level of customer delight can be a complete game changer.
Companies usually try to compete on the strength of their products, features, or messaging. But these tangible, logical benefits can easily be overtaken by competitors. Customers may leave as soon as another company can offer the same functionality as a lower price. Or they’ll hop around to the newest and most interesting brand without any kind of long-term loyalty.
The true competitive advantage–for any firm–is customer experience.
This is shaped by the emotional relationship that customers have with a company. It’s determined by a series of interactions over a period of time, which shapes our overall feeling toward that business.
And in order to foster a positive emotional relationship with customers, your business must put their needs front and center in everything that you do. This requires both an intimate knowledge and understanding of your customers as well as a system and process to put that information into practice.
The Customer Centricity Framework
When it comes to customer-centricity, there’s a lot of discussion about how important it is. And there’s generally some abstract advice about how to become customer-centric (just put the customer at the center, of course!) But there’s not much literature on how to actually pursue this kind of experience–or what it looks like.
To give some context as to how a company can transition toward a customer-centric model, let’s explore a few different frameworks for understanding the philosophical and tactical underpinnings.
Simon Sinek’s famous “Start With Why” framework is a good starting place.
In his famous Ted Talk, Sinek outlined this framework as a way to put an emotional force at the center of any business. Its core mission–he argues–should always start with a defined “Why”. In other words, no matter what you do or sell, you should have a clear vision for why it is that you’re in business in the first place–what greater mission you think you can advance.
When we think of customer-centricity, we, of course, assume that it means that customers (and their needs) are meant to be at the center of our business. This is true. But it can’t just end with thinking about this.
It must be implemented in such a way where the customer’s needs become a driving force on the decisions and actions taken across your company.
This bring us to a version of thy Why/How/What framework where the central, driving idea has already been established. Why does the company do the things it does? What is the north star metrics that drives strategy and planning? It’s customer delight.
Now, we can see that the How and What–specific actions and implementation–all radiate out from this central driving force of customer delight.
Another framework and lens to view customer experience is to examine the pillars of the customer experience and the various touchpoints that exist from the customer’s perspective to understand how the customer experience is shaped and also how we can move that experience to align with the customer’s needs and expectations.
In this case, we can see how the use of a feedback loop allows you to shape the customer experience.
This is a core mechanism for building a customer-centric business model. You need a way to take feedback from customers–both explicit and implicit–and drive changes within the business. This requires an intentional system and process
The Importance of Customer Insight
There are the obvious ways to measure customer feedback through surveys, CSAT, NPS scoring, and other models.
But you can also use behavioral and analytics data to understand the unstated needs and wants for your customer.
How do they actually use your product or website, and which points seem to add confusion or frustration to the overall experience?
It’s important to understand that customer-centricity is not just about giving customers what they say they want. It’s about understanding your customers in such an intimate way that you’re able to anticipate what they need or expect, even if they aren’t able or willing to articulate it directly.
This isn’t about data–it’s about insight.
In order to accomplish this, study their habits–understand what the world looks like through their eyes. And, ultimately, try to gain insight about how they perceive the experience interacting with your brand.
Rather than allowing my experience with a lost package be a low point for me, Amazon understood that this was a key point in my relationship with their business. So, they actively took steps to correct the problem (even though it’s not their fault) and changed it from a negative interaction to a positive one, where I walked away feeling delighted.
At the core of any customer-centric model is–of course–the customer. But, beyond that, it’s the customer experience and working to make every interaction as enjoyable as possible. Customer delight should be a north-star metric.
In order to accomplish that, you need to understand the range of experiences that your customer may have, both positive and negative.
Using the idea of the customer journey from before, you can pinpoint specific interactions that the customer will encounter. And you can begin to parse out how they will feel at each moment. From here, you’ll be able to understand–and anticipate–when the customer’s experience turns negative.
Then, shape the experience based on those interactions. Take an active approach to identifying and fixing issues–even if they aren’t raised directly by your customers. Use feedback and analytics to drive those decisions.
Many companies say that they are focused on the customer or that they put the customer central. But the number of firms that truly embrace and enact a customer-centric model is fairly limited. This means there are even more benefits to be realized for companies that develop and execute a clear strategy for putting the customers at the center of operations.
In a competitive market, those who have customers at the center of everything they do will ultimately be rewarded with improved performance and customer loyalty.