The vital role that existing customers’ play, not only in our current business growth but also in fuelling our future growth, cannot be over-emphasized. Studies show that majority of revenues for companies are from existing customers, and it clearly establishes the need for a well-defined and well-understood customer-centric growth strategy.
While retaining the existing clientele is critical, growing our business with these customers is equally important. This requires delivering on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of our value proposition, that is, on one hand, organizations must meet the stated and measurable expectations around cost, quality and delivery and on the other hand, they need to focus on building relationships to make customers feel valued, cared for and heard. The cumulative impact of these initiatives results in raising the exit barriers and increases customer stickiness.
An organization’s objective is simple – it is to own their customers for life, always be understanding, anticipating and fulfilling their needs. Satisfied customers become partners and promoters and help drive new business through word-of-mouth and generate new leads and introductions. In many businesses, especially in the information technology (IT) industry, existing customer references are a significant criterion for selection by new customers.
Creating a customer-centric growth culture
Talking specifically about ‘customer centricity’ leads us to the billion-dollar question, that is, ‘How do we create a customer-centric culture that will support our growth strategy?’
i) Shut up and listen to the customer: This simple but powerful piece of advice was once given by a CEO at a strategy session. It highlighted the fact that while customers talk and share with you listening is all it takes. ‘Shutting-up’ does not mean one needs to be quiet. It means we need to open our minds and hear our customers’ articulated and unarticulated needs without any biases of our own. Very often, the solution to a challenge lies in the cues from a conversation we have had with our customer, but we miss it because we are just not listening carefully.
ii) WYSIWYG: This old acronym - ‘What You Say is What You Get’, is very relevant in today’s business context. Maintaining complete transparency with customers is the key to winning their trust. Leveraging opportunities to showcase achievements in front of customers, owning up to mistakes and proposing clear solutions for moving ahead also go a long way in gaining trust.
As an example, at Amazon, Bezos would bring an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room - the customer. That surrogate’s role is played by specially trained employees, dubbed “Customer Experience Bar Raisers.”
iii) Everyone sells and everyone delivers: Everyone in a customer-facing role, whether in sales, delivery or support, plays a vital role in shaping perception. Therefore, everyone in the team influences sales and is also responsible for the successes and failures in meeting customer expectations.
To create a truly customer-centric culture, all leaders in customer-facing roles, both sales and delivery, must maximize the time they spend with customers. Tracking ‘customer-time’ every month can be very revealing in terms of the actual time being spent with the customer, and would prompt us to create and leverage opportunities to interact with customers across levels and functions, through structured reviews, CXO meetings, industry forums, social media, and events, among other channels. For instance, in recognition of the importance of ‘customer-time’, a major Financial Services firm decided to mandate all senior leaders to spend at least 1 day in a month attending to customer calls at their contact centre.
Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to build relationships, garner greater mindshare, and improve our own understanding of customers’ needs. And finally, creating ‘customers for life’ needs a ‘do or die’ attitude amongst all team members - a level of commitment where there is complete ownership, a sense of shared destiny, where ‘failure is not an option’!
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