One of the most common appearances in a company’s guiding philosophies. Right from Jeff Bezos and Amazon to the startup your roommate from college just launched, they all make a point to say they are a ‘customer first’ business. But doing what you say you do is particularly hard in this case.
Often what we are doing in the name of customer first approach has little to do with what our customers need from us. Instead, it is more aligned with how we have come to justify the alignment of what we do with what we think our customers truly need. We justify it to ourselves because we want to put our customers first, but in reality, what we do are just the things that we think will add value to our business.
What does a customer first business actually mean?
A customer first business is focused on the needs and requirements of their customers. Always, and ahead of anything and everything else. It means, as a business, you constantly make an effort to better understand the pain-points of your customers, and help them solve those pain-points wherever you can, and in whatever way you can.
So why is it a challenge to be a customer-first business, or have a customer-first growth?
Businesses are in the business of making money. I have said that a few times. Now, look at that definition of a customer-first business again. Do you see anything about revenue in there? Or profit? Or any other metric you would otherwise expect to feature amongst the focus areas of a business?
No, right? And that is why being a customer-first business is easier said than done.
No matter what you do, what activity you perform, it is only natural to look at it from the perspective of “how will it add immediate value to my business?” And since the immediate value in almost all cases is revenue, you tend to do things that have a direct correlation to revenue.
That is a ‘my business-first’ approach to business, and not ‘my customer-first’ as we initially wanted. You may end up justifying how the two are one and the same, and they very well could be, but if your first thought is revenue and not the customer, it becomes tough to stay true to the customer-first moniker.
What we fail to often realise is that customer-first is just an approach to business, it doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of revenue. The best analogy for it would be you buying a pack of oranges from the store, instead of planting an orchard of oranges. Customer-first approach to business is like planting that orchard. Results may take time to start coming in, but when they do, it pours down unlike anything you would have expected.
So how do you become a customer-first business?
The first step is to acknowledge the customers needs and requirements. They are continuously evolving, and your understanding of them needs to evolve with them.
The second thing is to focus on the aspects of your business that will have the biggest impact on your customers first. Remember, if you truly take care of your customers, your customers will take care of you. You need to have a system that ensures your customers are constantly being heard, and their problems are being taken care of.
Third, always see things from your customers’ perspective. Truly know your customers. While it is easy to get content with the revenue you are generating, the true competitive edge is in understanding why you are generating that revenue. What is it about your product that is making your customers turn to your product instead of anyone else’s.
Most importantly, value the needs and requirements of your customers and actively help them. From having a product flow that is aligned with your customers’ usage patterns to creating content that aims at answering their most pertinent questions and queries, always prioritize items that make the most impact and generates the most value for your customers. While you should never put your business at a loss by resorting to unsustainable measures (for example, offering prices or discounts that don’t make fiscal sense), it is okay (and often advisable) to prioritise helping your customers over your own short-term goals.
Take our example. The principle theme in any of our articles is never to get users to become customers of our product, rather how you can achieve better growth for your business. Yes, we do showcase, from time to time, how our product can help you achieve that growth in a simpler and more meaningful way, but the end goal is always the same — helping you achieve growth for your business. And that goal stays the same irrespective of whether you use our product or not.
Let us now look at helping you achieve a foundation that will help you establish a customer-first business, and at the same time, attain your growth objectives.
#1. Truly understand your customers
A few years back, I was heading business processes of a enterprise communication SaaS product. My brief to my sales team was simple.
When you are speaking to a customer for the first time, I don’t want you to even try to make a sale. I want you to listen, and ask questions. By the end of that meeting, I want you to understand their business and its challenges better than anyone working at that firm.
Knowing your customers inside out is crucial. Unless you have walked a mile in your customers’ shoes, how can you truly judge what solutions would be right for them?
While you may already be conducting customer interviews, surveys and other engagement activities in an effort to know your customers, chances are, these surveys are crafted in a way that revolves around your product. That makes the responses slightly less reliable, and tainted by a few pre-conceived notions and hypotheses.
You want to understand what makes your customers tick? Study them in their natural habitat. Analyze their search patterns. Scour the forums looking for questions that they ask, not the answers they give to targeted questions. Go over their interaction with your support team. Dissect the data of how they use your product.
Once you do that, you will see some common themes start to emerge. These common themes would be your guide in figuring out what all should you be doing to impart the most value to your customers.
And you keep on doing it over and over again, both with new customers, as well as existing ones. Use the new customers to evaluate if your current hypotheses still hold true, and use your existing customers to understand how a customers’ needs, expectations and usage behavior are evolving as a result of using your product.
#2. Re-establish your value proposition
Now that you have some sort of a baseline as far as an understanding of your customer is concerned, it is time to define your product’s value proposition. How is your product helping your customers truly succeed? How is it helping them achieve their goals? How is it making their lives better?
Your website content, your marketing communication - everything will stem out of these new, and improved value propositions that have been crafted with your customers at the center.
#1 and #2 put together also helps you ascertain your ideal customer. Based on an understanding of what your target audience wants and what your product can actually offer (at least in its current state), you will find your ideal audience in the sweet spot where the two overlap. This is the segment of your initial target audience that would be able to relate the most with the value of your product, and that is most likely to take it for a spin at least, if not fall in love with it.
#3. Information dissemination and product distribution
You know what your customers look like. You know the challenges they have. You know what motivates them. You know the precise and concrete value your product offers to them. Your product and content is now better than what it was before. Instead of being about your product and business, it is all about the customers now. So now its time to go to the market and promote and distribute - both your content and your product.
This stage is all about figuring out:
What is the most customer-centric way for you to promote your product?
How can your communication help customers see the alignment your product has to their expectations?
How do you sincerely demonstrate being the right answer to their most crucial challenges and pain-points?
How do you establish trust?
How do you help your customers overcome the hesitation barriers and aversion to change?
If you didn’t do #1 and #2, figuring out the answers to these questions would be like shooting in the dark, and you will miss the target most of the times. On the other hand, now, having gone through #1 and #2, we know exactly how to answer every single one of these questions.
#4. Be fluid in your approach
Do not be so stringent in your approach that making any change to it needs you to completely overhaul the whole system and/or process. Even if you got it right the first time (which is rare in itself), customers’ needs and expectations are always evolving, and your processes would need to evolve with them.
At the end of #1, I highlighted the importance of it being an ongoing and continuous process. There are multiple reasons behind that, most important of which is the fact that your initial hypotheses could be bit off target, and as you analyze and re-analyze the data, your hypotheses would start getting better and more accurate.
And if your customers see you truly caring about their challenges, they would be more forthcoming in taking the time to share helpful feedback and suggestions with you.
However, it is important to note that you must not always take the feedback (and specially product suggestions) on face value. That can lead you down a dangerous path where you overcomplicate the product for everyone for the sake of doing what one customer asked off of you. A better approach is to understand where that suggestion is coming from. What is the underlying challenge that the customer believes his suggestion can help overcome. Remember, your focus is to always be on solving the pain-points. Understand the pain-points and figure out the preferred and best approach to solving them on your own. A customer’s suggestion comes from him analysing that challenge from his own perspective. You need to look at it from the perspective of all your customers.
Is your business customer-first? Do you want to be one? If you want to brainstorm ways to formulate a customer-first strategy for your business that is also aligned with your growth, you know where to find me. Hit me up, and I’ll try to help you out.
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.
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