Customer-centric and customer service both have a key term in common, but they’re different with respect to actual business practices.
Being customer-centric and having great customer service are both keys to business success. But many businesses conflate these ideas and make the mistake of believing their customer service makes them customer-centric.
In fact, you can be totally business-centric and still have great customer service. Likewise, you might be so customer-centric that you only need minimal customer service to meet expectations.
That’s not altogether straightforward. Let’s break this down.
Excellent Customer Service is Built on Communication
Customer service is all about communication. The single most important aspect of excellent customer service is responsiveness.
When a customer has a question, need or issue, they contact you and you’re there for them. You listen, empathize, and resolve.
Every business has some type of customer service representative. Larger organizations have teams of designated customer service reps, but waiters, cashiers, salespeople, receptionists, and anyone else in a customer-facing role works in customer service.
Customer service is always about direct interaction between people. In a sense, it’s social.
The people you hire have a big impact on customer service. Your policies should make people feel good about working with you.
Being Customer-Centric is Strategic and Structural
Having a customer-centric business means that you structure the development and delivery of your offerings so they’re favored to benefit the customer and provide the best possible experience.
This may actually affect things like staffing, pricing, shipping, and service delivery.
For instance, when a business chooses to use higher quality materials while taking a slight cut in profit margin, it’s a customer-centric approach. Or if they improve the way a service is delivered and it requires more staff support, that’s customer-centric.
A free-returns policy that encourages people to try on clothing items then pays for their return shipping is customer-centric.
The guiding principle with being customer-centric is that you design the optimal customer experience into your offer.
Of course, you still have to be profitable, but being customer-centric often means sacrificing short-term gains to increase the value of your offer.
It may mean that you can’t structure your business as you initially imagined. Instead, you make adjustments so you’re providing the best possible experience for your customers – based on what they want.
That last part is key. Customer-centric businesses understand their customers and know what they really want. The business may not have known this at first, but as they learned more about customer needs they altered their business (such as how Amazon started offering free returns when they realized that clothing shoppers really desired this service).
Being customer-centric is about playing the long game. When you do it right, you win customer loyalty and advocacy, which are cornerstones of businesses that last.
Be Your Customer’s Best
The best businesses are designed to be customer-centric and organized to offer superior customer service. These are unquestioned keys to success.
What you want to avoid are situations where being overly business-centric is creating messes that require exceptional customer-service to clean-up.
The danger here is that it can feel like you’re doing everything possible for your customers. You’re jumping through hoops of fire to handle every problem or issue that arises.
But this puts a lot of strain on your organization because it’s too reactive. You may be great at fixing problems created by inconsistencies with your offer, but the process will burn out staff and erode your reputation.
A customer-centric structure is proactive. The goal is to make post-purchase problem resolution as unnecessary as possible. In a strong customer-centric business, customer service processes are mainly ancillary.
To be the best for your customers, you need a customer-centric structure backed up with stellar customer service.