The term “customer centricity” is front of mind for HR and C-suite executives across a wide range of industries these days. The business world has traditionally followed the conventional wisdom that “the customer is king.” But today, many progressive companies are taking this much further, moving to prioritize customer centricity as a central pillar of their organizational culture.
The perceived benefits of doing so include:
- Increased revenue
- Enhanced customer loyalty
- Improved long-term business relationships
- Opportunities to turn customers into word-of-mouth advocates
So, the question many HR professionals are asking today is “How do you make it happen?” Read on to explore strategies for training your team to embrace customer-centric protocols and best practices and for establishing an overall ethos of customer centricity throughout your organization.
What Is Customer Centricity?
First, here’s what it isn’t. Customer centricity is not some shiny new gimmick or sales strategy du jour—and putting it in practice involves much more than simply adding some customer-focused words to a mission statement.
Here’s how marketing giant HubSpot defines customer centricity: “Customer-centricity is a way of doing business that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. It builds customer loyalty and satisfaction which leads to referrals for more customers. Anytime a customer-centric business makes a decision, it deeply considers the effect the outcome will have on its customers.”
As someone who has worked with companies across countless industries to embrace more customer-centric business practices, I have a firsthand window into the positive, bottom-line impact that can be achieved by making an organizationwide commitment to customer centricity.
Based on decades of experience, my team has developed the following definition of customer-centric strategy: A customer-centric strategy is a comprehensive, organizationwide business strategy that is dedicated to 1) putting the customer at the heart of everything you do, 2) developing a deeper understanding of each customer’s most important business objectives, and 3) leveraging these deeper-level insights to help them achieve success.
Why Is Customer Centricity Important?
First, it is important to emphasize that customer centricity and customer service training should be considered just as essential as sales training. This is because each customer service touch point, and the sum total of those experiences, is what customers use to form their impressions of your company. A focused commitment to customer centricity will create happier, more satisfied customers while inspiring positive reviews and valuable word of mouth.
Practiced conscientiously, customer centricity will have a positive impact on such fundamental metrics as your company’s:
- Customer satisfaction
- Customer advocacy
- Customer retention
- Customer lifetime value
Customer centricity is at the heart of our mission, and we have been known to spread the gospel with informative articles on the benefits of building a customer-centric culture and how doing so can help your service team drive revenue. Simply stated, it is a strategy that some of today’s most successful companies are using to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
How HR Can Train Employees to Be Customer-Centric
Companies with strong HR departments or in-house learning and development teams are well positioned to reap the benefits of customer-centric business strategy, either through internal training programs or by partnering with an experienced training provider.
Growing awareness of the importance of customer centricity has inspired third-party training providers to focus on this in-demand niche across nearly all industries, including technology, manufacturing, health care, banking, and more. Whether conducting training in-house or partnering with a training specialist, there are several key common denominators.
First and foremost, it is imperative that the training be tailored to the unique roles and job goals of the employees receiving the training and their organization and that training participants engage in exercises designed to help them effectively put their customer-centric skills to work on the job. In some instances, this may involve role-play and simulated exercises that tie the training to real-world experiences.
10 Tips for Training Employees on Customer Centricity
Here are a few of the most important tips, strategies, and key principles to keep closely in mind when training employees on customer centricity:
1. Prioritize Customer Empathy
Harvard Business Review (“6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture”) takes this one step further, encouraging companies to “operationalize” customer empathy. “Essentially, customer empathy is the ability to identify a customer’s emotional need, understand the reasons behind that need, and respond to it effectively and appropriately.”
2. Do Extra Homework on Your Customers
Demonstrating advanced knowledge of customers’ operations and the business sector they operate in sends the message that you care enough to dig a little deeper as part of your commitment to helping them succeed. Such knowledge can help your team discover ways to deliver exceptional “above and beyond” service and add value in each encounter.
3. Meet with Customers In Person
Though public health concerns have caused many business-to-business (B2B) organizations to shift from on-site visits to more remote interactions, those in-person engagements provide an irreplaceable opportunity to listen, learn, deliver value, and strengthen your customer relationships.
4. Optimize Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
A robust CRM is an essential tool for helping companies develop a deeper understanding of each of their customers and deliver a more personalized experience. Prioritizing personalized interaction with customers is one of the hallmarks of a customer-centric strategy.
5. Strive to Understand Each Customer’s ‘Big Picture‘
The idea here is that if you have a clear understanding of what your customers are trying to achieve, you will be better equipped to find ways to help them achieve those goals. And what customers don’t appreciate business partners who are focused on helping them achieve their larger business outcomes?
6. Reimagine How You Add Value for Your Customers
Each service call or customer contact is an opportunity. Of course, your team is always focused on handling the specific issue at hand, but every touch point can also be an opportunity to learn more about customers’ most important needs and business goals (their “big picture”). Such knowledge can be used to add value in unexpected ways.
7. Prioritize Customer Relationship Building
Building an effective customer-centric culture requires a comprehensive, ongoing focus on customer relationship-building. This includes specific strategies like:
- Striving to better understand each customer’s operation
- Researching their competitive landscape
- Gaining insight into their most important business goals
- Expanding your vision to look below the waterline for deeper-level ways to help
8. Seek Ways to Achieve Balanced Outcomes
One of the appeals of a customer-centric strategy—albeit one that might be considered counterintuitive—is that it encourages companies to shift from a traditional “customer is always right” ethos. Rather than give in to unreasonable demands to keep someone happy, a customer-centric strategy emphasizes working collaboratively to reach solutions that balance the interests of all sides.
9. Understand that Your Employee Culture Benefits Too
Customer centricity is not just something that’s nice for the folks on the customer side. It can also have an overwhelmingly positive impact on your own internal employee culture when your customer-facing employees are valued not just for fixing problems but also for using their relationship-building skills to help position your team as a trusted advisor.
10. Embrace an Organizationwide Cultural Shift
Harvard Business Review reports that the most common and perhaps greatest barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. A successful shift to a truly customer-centric approach requires buy-in throughout the organization, with clear messaging; built-in accountability; and strong, consistent leadership from above.
Bonus Tips: Customer-Centric Skills to Look for When Hiring
They are sometimes called “soft skills,” but establishing a culture of customer centricity would be immeasurably harder, if not impossible, without them. Key skills to look for when hiring service team members include:
- Emotional intelligence: This connects to having empathy for the customer and actively aspiring to “put yourself in the customer’s shoes.”
- Active listening: This is similar to regular listening, only the listener is fully engaged with the customer rather than just going through the motions to get closure. A distinguishing characteristic of active listening, according to Verywell Mind, is that “you make the other person feel heard and valued.”
- Clear communication: Communicating with absolute clarity—when gathering information, when asking questions to expand your understanding, and when offering potential pathways to resolution—is essential. It can often mean the difference between effective resolution (happy customer) and inefficient escalation (frustrated customer).
- Resourcefulness: Resourcefulness in this context spans personal qualities that include creative thinking, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
- Passion and enthusiasm: These are about positivity and professionalism. Obviously, it is in your best interest to field customer-facing employees whose demeanor conveys to the customer that they are engaged, polite, and upbeat about helping.
Whether accomplished by training your employees in-house, connecting with an experienced training provider, making smart hires, or all of the above, the business benefits of prioritizing customer centricity are well worth the effort.
Paul Hesselschwerdt is a partner in Global Partners Training, an industry thought leader and a customer relationship training provider for companies embracing the shift to outcome-based business relationships and servitization.