If you are purposely going to build a customer-based culture in your startup or small business fueled by innovation, you and your team need to understand and respect your customer. Because technological breakthroughs are now common in nearly every industry, customers expect big changes to be a regular occurrence. The most successful companies continually experiment with innovations that make life better for customers. Customers will appreciate companies that can do this effectively, time after time. That doesn’t mean asking your customers what they will find indispensable in the future; they can’t or won’t tell you.
Consumers also don’t know what they want from new innovations. They often know what they want only after they see it. No one, for example, asked for ride-sharing apps before Uber and Lyft appeared. Therefore, when launching innovative products and services, develop your own informed judgment about timing. Carefully consider which new technologies will appeal to your customers at just the right time, in just the right way, so that customers become more loyal. While you try to anticipate emerging technologies, others are doing the same. No one will get everything right; your ability to outpace and out pivot your competitors depends on your cultivating better judgment, and better customer insights.
Here are nine insights you can focus on to build a innovative customer-focused culture.
Know your customer intimately. Leading companies are moving beyond traditional quantitative segmenting. They’re developing much more sophisticated customer analysis that draws from a variety of sources, including customer behavior and psychographic data gathered online and offline, real-time information collected from sensors and other tracking mechanisms along with geographic and mapping data. To raise your own customer insights, start by thoroughly defining your market and customers. Use all of these, and more, to embed the voice of the customer in your decision making.
Customer strategy and brand are one. Every successful company has a strong value proposition that distinguishes it from rivals. It consistently offers something for its customers that no competitor can match. To deliver on this promise, it must develop and deploy a group of interrelated, distinctive capabilities. All of these must work together across the full portfolio of products and services. Your customer strategy has to become seamless with brand culture so that they are one and the same.
Target the customers you want. When your company has a strong brand, you don’t need to compete in every marketplace, only in the categories where you are reasonably confident of succeeding. Your value proposition will be consistent enough to appeal to a group of customers whom you can serve profitably. This is where you have the right to win, that is, a reasonable expectation that you can compete effectively against rivals. Trader Joes is a great example of this. With $11.3 billion in sales and 457 stores in the U.S., Trader Joe’s sells more than twice what Whole Foods, its next biggest competitor, sells per square foot, and consistently tops the rankings for customer satisfaction.
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Your customer is your best asset. Not every company even believes this. Leading companies do. They take great pains to cultivate long-term customer relationships in a constructive way. They continually create better reasons for their customers to identify with the company and its products and services. Building great customer relationships is a long-term game. It even goes beyond quantifying the lifetime cost of a customer relationship, at either the individual or segment level, though that’s an important first step. You need a culture that motivates relationship building and joint problem solving in an evolving partnership with the customer as opposed to transactional selling. Think Patagonia.
Chose partners carefully. Your company will probably exist in a broad network of relationships that form an ecosystem. These relationships are not just with customers, but also with suppliers, distributors, retailers, industry associations, institutional partners, and perhaps government agencies. You can tap into this ecosystem to engage your customers in ways that go beyond your business relationship. You can develop partners that can help spur innovation and more venues for going to market.
Ensure consistent customer experience. We all know the importance of multi-channel customer experience; a consistent look and feel in all customer touch points, including brick-and-mortar, face-to-face, online, voice phone, and mobile. Successful companies develop these channels using customer expectations, brand positioning, customer value, and cost-to-serve. They analyze the full cost and full set of benefits of each channel. The result is a seamless experience for the customer across every point of contact, so that shopping with an app feels reasonably similar to a face-to-face transaction.
Deliver excellence. The physical or “virtual” delivery of products and services is critical to keeping your customers happy. You need to match and exceed your customer’s expectations. Whether or not you compete directly with Amazon or Apple, you are affected by their delivery innovations. Customers now expect something similar to Amazon’s effectiveness from every company. But you can emulate some aspects of Amazon’s or even Apple’s practices, even if you don’t deliver nearly as high a proportion of merchandise directly. The use of relevant metrics, including customer experience, cost, and productivity, can help ensure high-quality delivery without sacrificing profitability.
Customer centric organization. Your company should be “fit for your customer.” That is to say, it should be designed to make it easy to deliver a great customer experience. If you have already gone through the first seven insights, you should have a clear idea of your chosen customers, your identity, and your capabilities, and why these give you a right to win. Now, design the startup or small business accordingly. While all employees should have customer empathy, every company needs customer focused leadership at the top.
Marry your culture with your customer strategy. A relevant culture is a bigger advantage than ever for customer-facing companies. In a recent survey with Fortune 500 CEOs, a majority of executives said that the biggest barriers to a successful customer strategy were finding the right talent and developing the right organizational culture. Yet among the companies that ranked meeting customer expectations as one of their top priorities in the survey, just 51% said they used culture as an accelerant and a differentiator.
Keeping your culture vibrant takes diligence. Focus on the few critical behaviors that exist in your startup or small business with which people are doing well for their customers. Keeping a culture customer focused is one of the hardest task’s companies take on, which is why many companies don’t evolve.