With the constantly shifting business environment, it’s critical that companies understand what their customers are thinking right now so they can deliver the most value. Between the impact of Covid-19 and remote working, things have changed drastically in everyone’s personal and professional lives.
Businesses need to understand what’s top of mind for customers and driving their decisions because what they’re thinking today is very different from what they were thinking six months ago. Customers’ priorities have changed, and companies can’t afford to miss the mark.
Whether you’re a B2B or B2C company working on a product launch, new service offering, or responding to a client situation, here’s what companies of any size can do to put customers at the center of every decision and provide the most value.
Get the Right Types of Customer Data and Close the Loop
Even though budgets are tight, customer feedback mechanisms are no longer a “nice to have”, but a must-have feature for businesses. Not just to weather the current crisis, but for long-term business health.
Simple customer surveys might seem like an easy solution, but companies are finding they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Surveys offer quick setup and agile responses, but many offer nothing prescriptive, unable to tell a company what needs to be done to change, improve, or be more responsive to customer needs. There’s little business value to leverage as a result of simply sending out a survey.
Businesses need more specific feedback, both broad and deep, to give companies the information they need to be able to act. To not just sit on responses, but close the loop by addressing customer issues to create products and services that meet customer needs and provide outstanding customer experiences.
The power is in the data and, ideally, from two different sources. Broad feedback could be millions of data points from general customer analytics regarding ideas about the shape of the market, messaging, or the industry overall. Deep insight is the exact opposite: It’s the data gleaned from a deep, tight, profiled group of individuals who are interested advocates for a company and have strong opinions that will help shape the overall customer experience.
When you combine those sources together, the patterns and thematic trends that broad feedback provides with the very prescriptive recommendations from customer insight communities, you’ve got a much higher quality of output that can powerfully improve the
customer experience. If you can understand your customers’ motivations and what they are trying to achieve, that’s nirvana.
The Importance of Customer Empathy
Many software and tech companies are falling short at showing empathy to their customers, and are often more in tune to meeting the needs of their boards and shareholders. This makes sense in many ways, but I believe customer empathy needs to top the list and become the major priority in business.
Empathy at the center of the company should be with the needs of the customer. Companies should strive to be incredibly understanding of what their customers are going through and what they are trying to accomplish. If a company can reverse the paradigm from being growth oriented, board oriented, and shareholder oriented to customer-driven, putting the customer at the center of everything they do, those will be the most successful.
I follow Coupa in the indirect and direct procurement space. They invert their model where the customer is at the center and the executives are there to serve their employees. As a result, their IPO was one of the most successful in the last three years of any tech company on the planet. Customers come first. It’s hard to do, but if you can build a culture that truly puts the customer at the center, that’s a huge differentiator.
Listen to Your Employees and Create a Culture for Them to Thrive
Putting customers first requires an employee perspective. Frequently engage with employees, then listen to and adapt to what they say they need to do their best work. Employee populations need to be untethered from the restrictions of working remotely. They need to be able to leverage the creativity, agility, and spontaneity to go and shape a business and customer experience to create optimal business outcomes. Companies need to find a way to help workers be highly collaborative in an environment where they often don’t have the direct human contact. To do that you need a certain type of culture.
The remote environment is testing our ability to be empathetic. How do we make sure that we spend time on the human side? How do we continue to build the bonds of friendship among co-workers when we’re looking over a screen every day? It’s an intangible thing that is hard to do.
But if you’ve got the right people in the right jobs and they truly believe in what they’re doing, a company can focus on customers and be successful in this remote world.
Better Late Than Never
Now is the time to start discovering what your customers are thinking and act on that information. If you haven’t sought customer feedback before now, that’s okay. We’re all trying to figure out the new way forward. The important thing is customers feeling that a company listens, cares, and responds to their needs at the current moment. That the business provides the outstanding value and customer experiences consumers want and expect.
Putting customers at the heart of your company builds trust and loyalty which, in turn, creates the business outcomes that will allow your company to flourish amidst change.
Ross Wainwright is the CEO of Vision Critical.