Every organization collects customer feedback, and in doing so creates an expectation with the customer that something will be done with that feedback.

However, most customer feedback goes straight into a company's analytics and reporting software after it's collected.

If the feedback is used at all, it's often by an analyst who aggregates the data and pulls it into a graph in a report, which results in marketers' leafing through reports filled with pages of graphs and percentages. And although such information is useful on a broad scale, the actual voice of the customer will have been lost in translation.

True customer-centricity means treating customers as individual people rather than as an aggregate.

Unfortunately, because the connection between company and customer is often broken, it's easy for customers who provide feedback on services or products to feel overlooked. When an issue isn't resolved, they may wonder whether their feedback has been tossed aside or ignored because it didn't meet some response threshold that makes the company take action. They may rightly ask: Why provide feedback if nothing comes of it?

Relying on Net Promoter Score (NPS) and other popular measures of success can be tempting. However, simply taking the customers' pulse in aggregate isn't enough to build a truly customer-centric organization. Doing so reduces the customer to numbers and diminishes the voice of the customer.

Let's explore five steps necessary to creating a more customer-centric company.

1. Start at the top

Customer-centricity starts by knowing your customers' hearts, not just their voices. The only way to effectively support them is to understand who they are. The path toward that hyper-personalized and customer-centric relationship begins at the top.

To make the cultural shift, executive management must embrace and communicate the need for greater customer-centricity. Executives are the role models within an organization, and their philosophy on customers will permeate the business—from processes to software choices to branding—and inform decision-making.

"Having a strong customer-centric leader is critical," writes Guatam Thakkar in the Chief Executive article "How We Moved Toward a Customer-Centric Culture." Thakkar is a board member and former CEO of SE2, which provides third-party administration services for the US life and annuity insurance industry. The company embraced five attributes to support customers—accountability, responsiveness, transparency, innovation, and collaboration—and termed the approach ARTIC.

"The CEO sets the tone in organizations, and customer-centricity happens from the inside out," Thakkar continues. "As CEO, it is my responsibility to communicate and demonstrate the attributes of a customer-centric culture, including ARTIC."

2. Appoint a customer champion

HubSpot recently appointed its first chief customer officer (CCO), Yamini Rangan, who formerly held the same title at Dropbox. Rangan oversees a team charged with reducing friction for customers. In a Founder Institute video called "Using Customer-Centric Thinking to Get Ahead," she talks about what a company can gain from a customer-centric approach:

As early as you can get this customer-centric thinking, the better. Literally, there's nothing better than retracing the steps of your first target customer or your pilot customer and seeing how they actually went through the process: What worked? What didn't? Now I always say, one is a data point, three is a trend, so if you do this for your first few [customers], by the time you begin to see the same set of patterns that's coming, then you exactly know what's happening.

Not all companies can hire a CCO; however, once a company's senior executives—including the CEO—support a plan for increasing customer-centricity, an employee should be designated as the customer champion for the organization.

The customer-centricity champion should be well versed in the company's customers and should support the company's objective to give them a richer customer experience. That employee should also have the power to influence others and hold fellow employees accountable.

3. Make customer feedback transparent and accessible

Whereas a single person can shepherd the process as the customer champion, customer feedback must be shared across the organization. Customer-centricity happens only when customer feedback is transparent and accessible to everyone.

Here's how to achieve that:

  • Don't relegate customer feedback to your customer relationship management tool. Instead, so that it's top of mind, add customer feedback to the various systems and tools people use every day.
  • Internal agendas should not supersede customer requirements.
  • Don't bury bad news. Uncover it, bring it up, and address it.
  • Spotlight and celebrate good customer news as a reminder to employees of why it's important to deliver to customers.
  • Get to know your customers from all sides and angles. That has always been a priority for marketers, but there's always room to dig deeper.

4. Act on customer feedback

If you look outside your house and see a bush on fire, you don't waste time calling a family meeting to talk about how the fire started. You put the fire out first, and then you take time to figure out what started it.

Similarly, customer-centric organizations don't debate a customer complaint when they could be taking action to help that customer. They resolve the customer's issue before doing the analysis to discover the root cause. Therefore, after receiving feedback, companies should assign an executable task to a specific owner empowered to act on it immediately.

The best way to ensure that happens is to make sure customer feedback is wired into the organization across all applications and communications tools that teams use daily. If a marketing team is doing research on product enhancements or campaign improvements, the data should be coming to them in real-time rather than being held until a final formal report is issued. (Though both are necessary for becoming a customer-centric organization.)

5. Discuss customers in every meeting

An important way to embed the customer in everything the company does is to make them a part of your meetings. When every meeting starts or ends with a customer story or data point, it reminds the organization that they exist because of their customers.

The goal is to change the corporate mindset by injecting the customer into every activity. To do that, make one or more of the following a regular agenda item:

  • Present new ideas in the style of an Amazon executive meeting by answering questions such as Who are the customers? Why would this idea delight them?
  • Share and discuss a customer's story.
  • Talk about a new data point on customers.
  • Review a customer dashboard containing NPS, churn rates (a metric to measure a change in customers), or verbatim feedback captured by the support team.
  • Ask employees to share personal stories of interactions with customers.

And, of course, meetings can also be a good place to celebrate employees' customer-centric actions and to praise them for the impact they've had in supporting the company's customers.

More Resources on Customer-Centricity

Build a Customer-Centric Marketing Automation Strategy

Four Tips for Customer-Centric Copywriting

Embrace Irrationality: A Human- vs. Customer-Centric Approach to Marketing

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image of Chris Benham

Chris Benham is the CMO at Alchemer, an enterprise online survey software company.

LinkedIn: Chris Benham