When you start building a product, you are obsessed with “the customer.” You spend abundant time finding out who they are, identifying their pain points, and addressing them gracefully and creatively. Your world is all about interviews, a/b tests, and nailing a value proposition and user experience that resonates with the market.
Once your product (hopefully) takes off, life begins to change. Instead of figuring out what users want, the focus turns to growth and scale. The customer is obviously still important, but with every new user, they become a little blurrier and less distinct. As your organization grows to support a much larger business than before, new product hires are tasked more with managing existing products and less with customer-specific activities.
But does running a business at scale mean customer-centricity goes out the window? Not if you want to keep running a business. But it takes a little more concentrated effort to keep customers on the fulcrum of everything you’re working on.
Keep Creating Efficient User Experiences
As organizations grow, the opportunities to hand-hold decrease and customers are often on their own to complete tasks and transactions. With this in mind, you should be sure your product is as frictionless as possible.
“How much effort customers expend to complete a task has a direct correlation to their levels of satisfaction,” says Erietta Sapounakis of Different. “An inefficient service increases unrewarded effort, pushing the customer toward dissatisfaction. The good news is that customer-centric efficiency for an organization does not mean an injection of new resources to cater for needy customers and confused users. What it does require is an understanding of customers’ goals and expectations to create pathways for them to achieve them.”
With scale, users must be self-reliant. You can ensure that this is made easier by creating intuitive workflows and experiences (some may call these “lazier” user experiences, because the user doesn’t have to go the extra mile to make something happen). This should be a constant checklist item for you and your team as you introduce new features and functionality: Could [fill-in-the-blank] figure this out easily?
Identify Your Best Customers
You know you can’t make everyone happy, and even if you could, you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. This is why delivering customer-centricity at scale requires your organization to identify who are your best customers and to focus on what they in particular want and need.
“Not all customers are created equal. Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts,” says Peter Fader of Wharton. “Because in the world of customer-centricity, there are good customers, and then there is everybody else.”
Once you’ve figure out which customers are worth the effort, you can then tailor communications and messaging to those audiences, editing it when possible for different segments. And as you understand your ideal users, you can also get proactive with messaging, both within the product (helpful pop-ups, tips and alerts, for example), and through other channels like email. You can also ask for in-app feedback from your best customers to continue this virtuous cycle of user research.
Maintain Systems & Consistency
As your company grows, communicating your product roadmap plans via a communal whiteboard or writing flows out on sticky notes isn’t going to cut it. As your team grows larger and your products more complex, there’s a lot more to keep track of and a lot more people both contributing ideas and insights as they do their day-to-day jobs.
This is why you need systems in place to both organize the data you’re working with and make it accessible to team members sitting across the hall or across an ocean. You must also make sure everyone is using the same tagging and terminology so people can make any actual sense of it.
You’re also going to have data flowing from thousands and thousands of users, and you’re going to need the analytics to make sense of them. How else can you turn that goldmine of data into anything actionable?
“It’s no longer enough to have a 360-degree view linking data from all products and channels. Today we’re turning that inside out – to see the relationship from the customer’s point of view and operate from that perspective,” says Dr. Andrew Jennings of FICO, emphasizing the need for a customer-centric method of data collection. “These insights enable us to understand individual customer behavior and sensitivities, anticipate needs, and predict likely responses.”
Focus on People…Your OWN People
Concentrating on customer success doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Even for those inclined to focus on it, it can get pushed aside as other business-driven goals get the attention. This is why you need to hire and promote, promote people who get it and practice it on a regular basis.
“Wait…you said “promote” twice!”
That’s right, we’re talking about two different types of promotion. The first includes publicizing, rewarding, and telling stories and sharing the successes of team members keeping the customer front and center. The second promote means “Promote these people into leadership positions, dangnabbit! They’re gold.”
The second part of this is key, as often employees who focus on the customer don’t get as much internal love and recognition as someone more attuned to top-level corporate goals driven by revenue and profitability. If the people trying to do the right thing for customers keep getting passed by other folks locked into hitting financial objectives, everyone will eventually abandon the customer in exchange for their own interests.
Keep Score…Net Promoter Score
As companies scale, the metrics change. First it’s adoption, then it’s churn rate, then it’s average revenue per user, and then it’s about hitting numbers that just get bigger every year (revenue targets, growth targets, etc.). Those are all great numbers, but those numbers are all about the business achieving its goals.
To keep customer-centricity at the forefront while the corporate engine is focused on corporate goals, it’s helpful to keep around some metrics that don’t necessarily change just because you’re bigger, older or profitable. This is where Net Promoter Score comes in.
It’s a super simple metric. Ask every customer how likely they are to recommend you, from zero to ten. Take the percentage of promoters (those who said nine or ten) and subtract the percentage of detractors (those who answered zero through six). You now have a single number that is measuring satisfaction.
Of course, there’s far more to measure, but the basis for this metric never changes. You can change your pricing, add 12 new features or switch color schemes and it won’t impact how you derive your NPS, which means you’ll always have this number available and can view it over time, mapping it to various changes you’ve made in the product.
“We have seen a huge improvement in our NPS (net promoter score) after we started taking actions from customer experience analytics,” says Ahmed Saady Yaamin of Robi Axiata. “The idea is to focus on the actionable, granular insights to find out the root causes that create customer dissatisfaction and then to take proper action, and continuously monitor it.”
As your customer base grows, you can look at your NPS based on sub-groups (how do women rate you, or people in Singapore), but it’s always on the same scale and asking the same question. It won’t tell you everything, but it’s a good starting point and something the management won’t want to see dip since it’s an indicator of future revenue and growth.
Customer Service is Where the Rubber Meets the Road
At Amazon, the focus on customer-centricity comes directly from the top, and they have implemented a number of programs to ensure customers remain front-and-center at all times. One method they use to ensure customer feedback is circulating to the right departments is the WOCAS report (“What Our Customers Are Saying”). Sent to each department leader, this provides valuable insight into what’s on customers’ minds and eliminates guarantees leadership is informed and accountable to the customer.
Armed with a steady stream of WOCAS reports, it becomes a lot easier to know which areas you should be focusing your product development resources on. But you can go even further in tapping the wealth of insights that come from customer service interactions.
Groove CEO Alex Turnbull takes customer-centricity to heart and started spending more than 20 hours per week working in customer support, not just monitoring but owning and responding to specific customer complaints and issues.
“An issue that might have otherwise been another task on the stack became a burning pain that was hurting a customer I was interacting with directly,” says Turbull. “Things I had only been reading about in bug reports came alive and began to frustrate me. I felt terrible for not having addressed many of them sooner. But over the coming months, I took what I saw and applied it directly to our product development and roadmapping meetings. Bug fixes weren’t just a thing we blocked off scheduled developer time for; they were high-priority development issues that came before new features.”
Whether it’s actually spending time doing customer service, checking in with support staff regularly or helping report surface issues and trends, or collecting customer feedback from customer-facing teams, this function is the ultimate goldmine for keeping customers happy and understanding what they really want.
Putting Customer-Centricity into Practice
It’s not always easy to do all the little things that keep customer-centricity front-and-center while growing your business. Set goals for yourself and your team that are realistic and attainable on a weekly or monthly basis:
- Did I talk to (and more importantly, listen to) a customer?
- Did I use the product to do something an actual user would try to do?
- Did I reward someone for attending to a customer’s need?
- Did I measure how satisfied customers are with their experience?
- Did I remove a source of friction that customers were encountering?
- Did I share insights with others and learn from a colleague?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then you’re probably on the right track to staying customer-centric.