The single best way to get off to the right start with your digital marketing is to be customer-centric. Here’s an overview of what that means.
Your marketing begins before you start marketing.
That statement, and first, seems nonsensical. It’s a paradox. How can something start before it starts?
But hidden in this statement is an important truth. In business today, marketing isn’t just the process of marketing. It’s more than the strategy you develop, the goals you set, or the tactics you execute.
The approach you take as a business person impacts your marketing. If you’re very business-centric, you’ll create additional challenges in your marketing.
If you’re customer-centric, you’ll create advantages that make marketing more effective.
Let’s examine that approach and why it has such a big impact on your marketing success.
What is the Customer-Centric Business Approach?
We recently did an entrepreneur tribute of a Marketing 360® in which the business owner happens to give a wonderful explanation of what it means to be customer-centric.
“Being an entrepreneur, to me, means that I have the ability to steer the ship. To steer the company towards what’s right. To stand behind our products and make happy customers.
I’ve worked for companies that didn’t have that mindset, that wanted to maximize profits. And of course we want to make money…that’s why we’re in business, but it’s more important to me to have happy customers and do what’s right.” Brian Stillwell, Owner Hippo Roofing
The mindset that Brian is speaking of is being customer-centric.
At a basic level, the customer-centric approach is fairly self-explanatory. It means that in every way your business executes work and delivers services, the needs of the customer are prioritized. The mission of your business is to do right by your customers.
As it pertains to business planning and marketing strategy, the customer-centric approach goes beyond altruism. It will lead to your long-term success.
Customer-centric businesses understand the needs of their best customers at a granular, data-focused level. They use that understanding to structure their services. The goal is to retrain their best customers to maximize their lifetime value.
This also carries over into reputation management and referrals as a lead-generation source. A company with a strong reputation for prioritizing the needs of customers benefits from positive online reviews and growth from referrals.
The customer-centric approach defies the myth that businesses exist only to maximize profit. As Brian says, of course, you have to make money. You should be profitable enough to grow and provide dignified work with fair pay for your employees.
But a customer-centric business seeks to maximize the customer experience and prioritizes that over short-term profit. They strive to serve their customers and – often – their community.
It’s about doing good, but as we mentioned, there are also business advantages to this approach, the primary of which is exponentially better customer retention rates.
Characteristics of Customer-Centric Businesses
Customer-centric businesses display these characteristics:
- Uses customer data to understand customer needs, identify their best customers, and segment based on customer lifetime value.
- Designs processes and policies from the customer’s point of view.
- Develops products and delivers services designed to be advantageous to customers.
- Willingness to take a short-term loss to maintain customer satisfaction.
- Willingness to make decisions that favor customers even if they don’t maximize long or short-term profitability.
- Measures what matters to customers and acts on that data to improve the customer experience.
- Has a strong customer-service culture from the top down.
7 Pillars of a Customer-Centric Business
The American Marketing Association identifies 7 pillars of a customer-centric model.
It really starts and ends with the experience customers have with your business.
From the business perspective, we tend to focus on how we treat customers, i.e. the customer service experience. This stems from the effort to ensure staff does everything possible to meet customers needs and develop a positive rapport.
However – and this is critical to understanding customer centricity – it’s not just about getting customers to like you. Ultimately, you have to deliver a high-level of ongoing value so customers believe your services are worth it to them.
If customers don’t understand the value you deliver or they simply don’t see what you deliver as worth what they have to pay, it won’t matter how much they like you or appreciate your customer service efforts.
We often consult with business owners who don’t understand why they don’t get more repeat business or are dumbfounded because a client who they thought loved them suddenly – without explanation – quit.
This usually stems from a business model where the offer is structured to maximize profitability for the business to the point that it’s not creating perceived value or measurable ROI for the customer.
This goes right back to what Brain Stillwell said. Structure your offer – first and foremost – so it’s really worth it to the client. Furthermore, make sure you’re assessing this from the customer’s point of view. If they don’t think what you offer is worth it, it doesn’t matter what you think.
Customer-centric businesses set customer loyalty as a goal. The idea is to see beyond the short term and maximize the lifetime value of each customer.
Recognize anbd reward customers for staying with you. Often, businesses have special offers to entice new customers in, but forget to reward the loyalty of long-term customers. Offer specials and exclusives that remind loyal customers how much you care about them.
From loyalty comes advocacy. Remember that the more loyal, long-term customers you have, the more positive reviews and referrals you’ll get.
Today, communication is all about personalization. Timely communication that’s relevant to customers on a personal level is an expectation.
Use CRM and email software to ensure that your communication with clients is always relevant. A CRM is particularly important because you can track all communication with a client so your staff is always up to date on their account.
If you send promotions or information to clients, make sure it’s tailored to their needs. Sending out an email “blast” to everyone on your list may be easy for you, but it won’t meet your customer’s expectations.
#4. Product & Service Assortment
A business-centric organization offers products and services they want to deliver.
A customer-centric organization offers products and services their customers demand.
As your business evolves, use data and insight to keep apprised of the needs of your customers. Design your offerings to meet those needs.
It’s amazing how many businesses are out there that offer something simply because it’s what they want to offer. They base their product assortment on their personal tastes.
Customer-centric businesses keep their ears to the ground for what customers really want. The time their offering so they can capitalize on maximum demand.
I recently talked a guy who owned a restaurant that specialized in fried chicken. The place is always packed. As we chatted, I was surprised to discover he hated fried chicken.
I asked him why he focused on this menu item. He said his wife had a wonderful family recipe they could use. And while there were tons of burger and pizza joints in the area, nobody served fried chicken. They did an informal survey and found many people wanted that type of restaurant in the area.
I just give people what they want, he said.
As we mentioned with loyalty, offer promotions on the items that are most appealing and often purchased by current customers.
When you know your customers, you’ll know what they like most about your business. Keep them happy by offering specials on what they care about the most.
A basic aspect of being customer-centric is providing products and services at prices customers perceive as fair.
Businesses don’t have to come in at the lowest price, but they should be in line with marketplace overall.
Price connects to value, and most people are willing to pay for something they feel has commensurate value.
You can’t call yourself customer-centric if you gouge people on price. From the perspective of the customer, most people are pleased when they feel they’re getting a “good deal”.
You need a profit margin, but don’t raise it to the point that you undercut your ability to retain customers or get positive reviews.
Customer-centric companies seek customer feedback. They listen to the opinions of their customers and make adjustments to their offers and services to improve the customer experience.
Today, you get a lot of feedback from online reviews. You can also do surveys and make calls to both your best and worst clients.
Find out what your best clients like most about your offer and build off that. Likewise, when you talk to someone who left you, find out what went wrong and make sure you don’t have a systemic problem that might impact other clients.
Customer feedback is a goldmine of info, but only customer-centric businesses take advantage of it.
Each of these 7 pillars impacts the way you plan and market your business.
Overall, it’s far easier to market a customer-centric business because:
- Your offers will appeal to defined customer needs.
- Your customer service will give you a competitive advantage.
- Your pricing will be competitive and fair.
- Your offerings will evolve based on what customers want.
- You can expand your message beyond your value proposition to include social purpose.
- You’ll have a superior reputation and get more referrals.
- Your employees and customers will be happy to have a relationship with you.
In the final analysis, this is the difference between short and long-term success. If you seek to maximize profits in the short term, you may do well for a while, but eventually people will realize you don’t offer enough value for what you charge.
If you become known as fair, reliable, useful, personable, and generous, your results and reputation will keep you in business.
How you decide to run your business is up to you. Just don’t expect to go for the quick buck and still be able to stick around for long haul.