High customer expectations have encouraged many brands to follow a philosophy of "customer first." But going even further than that, some of the most popular brands have embraced a "customer-obsessed" strategy.
What does it mean for brands to be customer-obsessed? How is the customer experience of these customer-obsessed brands connected to the brand's employee experience? And what does a customer-obsessed culture look like?
What Is a Customer-Obsessed Culture?
Typically, being defined as obsessed is not considered a positive thing — after all, the definition is to "preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually, intrusively and to a troubling extent."
For brands, however, being customer-obsessed means that every part of the business is centered around meeting the needs of customers and turning those customers into fans who believe in, advocate for and keep coming back to the brand. Such brands are more focused on retaining and delighting current customers than acquiring new ones.
Having one employee that is customer-obsessed can positively impact the experiences of those customers with whom they have interactions. A brand with employees that are all customer-obsessed can create exceptionally positive experiences for customers and turn those customers into advocates and loyalists.
Customers that have interactions with customer-obsessed employees are not likely to forget the experience. "A great example is the Four Seasons — I saw a concierge give a guest his own spare suit for a formal dinner happening in hours, as the guest didn't have time to shop," said Tony Grout, chief product officer at Showpad, a sales enablement and marketing platform provider.
"The concierge got the suit cleaned and to the guest within the hour. There was no manager involved — it just happened. That guest and I will never forget that, and now that guest will go back or influence others to do the same."
Faisal Pandit, president of Panasonic Connect North America, told CMSWire that brands that put people first get ahead "because when their employees are happy, they make customers happy, and their business flourishes."
Pandit said that cultivating a customer-centric culture relies on three things:
- Emotional availability: “The ability to recognize emotions in others by showing empathy, and understanding other people's perspectives on a situation is a critical relationship skill. It can engage the hearts and minds of team members to uncover innovative and game-changing solutions for customers that exceed expectations.”
- Appreciating different voices: “Customers come from all over. Learning how to appreciate customers’ various perspectives, cultures and backgrounds helps employees work with customers to find new and innovative solutions.”
- Transforming beyond COVID: “Knowing when to pivot — and with speed — by implementing technology and new practices to meet customers’ needs will help companies stay on top of future disruption and navigate with more ease.”
Many industries serve the critical needs of customers who themselves fulfill important and vital roles in society. Recognizing the importance of the services these customers provide, the brands that serve them are excited and proud to be customer-obsessed, offering the best possible experience.
Autocar, LLC, the only 100% original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of vocational severe-duty trucks, understands that creating a customer experience strategy that helps customers get to work quickly and experience little to no interruptions in their own businesses is vital. As such, they became the only vocational truck brand with a dedicated customer experience team.
“If businesses expect a customer to be loyal to them, then so should the business be to the customer," said Craig Antonucci, chief experience officer at Autocar. "As cliché as it may sound — the customer is always first. The first step to delivering a great ‘customer-obsessed’ experience is to be completely dedicated and focused on the overall customer experience,” he said.
Related Article: How to Make Your Customer Experience Better: Be Convenient
Customers Have More Choices Available
During the pandemic years, customers around the world kindly and compassionately dealt with one excuse after another from brands that often blamed their problems on the ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis.
Today, consumer pandemic goodwill has worn thin, and apologies for poor service, shortages, price increases, a lack of digitalization, personalization or consistency are no longer going to be acceptable. A brand’s omnichannel customer experience, which includes every single touchpoint a customer has with the business, has to be exceptional.
Customers today have a wider variety of choices available than they had in the recent past, and their expectations for what exceptional customer experience and service means have risen drastically. This means that brands have to work exceptionally hard to fulfill consumer expectations, but such effort produces exceptional results when done well.
“A customer-obsessed culture goes both ways," said Antonucci. "For a company and its brand, it is going the extra step beyond customer service and dedicating time to implementing a strategic customer experience that puts the customer first in almost every process.
"It is about creating a team that can bring their own experiences and ideas to the table while creating a mutually beneficial relationship. Creating a culture dedicated to your customer experience is not always an easy task but can result in outstanding loyalty and engagement."
Loyal Employees Create Loyal Customers
Customers are eager to come back to a store when they've had an experience with an employee who truly cares about their job and the values of their employer. These employees create such strong emotional connections that it's not unusual for customers to follow their favorite employee if he or she decides to work for a competitor.
“A company with a strong CX vision also pays attention to the overall employee experience. Team members that enjoy a greater employee experience are more likely to deliver a greater experience to your customers. For example, employees get to know the customer, from the sales team being in direct contact to the technicians spending time building and familiarizing themselves with each customer's truck and their needs,” explained Antonucci.
Ironically, a large number of loyal customers are created through positive experiences with brands' customer service departments. This means that, although the customer initially had a problem or concern that caused them to reach out for help, the service was so exceptional that customers became fans or advocates of the brand. The easiest way to gain such loyal customers? Create loyal employees.
“Every customer’s interaction with a brand needs to deliver the same customer-obsessed message," said Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem, a call center intelligent automation software provider. "The only way to do that is with a strong employee culture and training. It’s also a combination of ‘get out what you put in,' meaning business leaders need to interact with employees the way they want their employees to interact with the customers."
Typically, exceptional customer experience is the result of coordination between loyal employees from several departments, such as order fulfillment, customer service and shipping. These employees believe in the values and mission of the brand, they feel like it positively contributes to the world and they are actively engaged at work and do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
For example, say a customer contacts the service department. That department then gets in touch with order fulfillment to verify the customer’s order, and then gets in touch with shipping to have a replacement shipped overnight at no charge. The excited and impressed customer has now become a brand advocate, sharing their experience on social media as well as with friends.
“On the other side, the customer plays a huge part in creating a loyal following by becoming brand advocates and fans,” said Antonucci. “The loyalty can last for decades, with customers holding special events and shows to celebrate a brand's longevity due to their experiences. These opportunities are a great way to show the same appreciation back by participating and continuing the customer experience outside the traditional bounds of business.”
Enabling employees to fully understand and empathize with a brand’s customers is central to those employees being customer-obsessed. It also facilitates the connection employees have with a brand, allowing them to better embrace its values and mission.
“I worked at LogoTV, which is a TV channel focused on LGBTQIA+ content — including the launch of the Emmy-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race," said Claudia Gorelick, associate partner of Experience Strategy at VSA Partners, a hybrid brand strategy and design agency.
"To make sure everyone understood the artistry and talent it takes to perform drag, the company had employees dress in drag during an offsite to celebrate the passionate audience base and the content of the channel. This was a clear but implicit way to ensure understanding between the network employees and our audiences."
Related Article: 9 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty
Importance of Voice of Customer, Feedback and Social Listening
For customer-obsessed brands, nothing is more valuable than the sentiments, thoughts, feelings and feedback from customers. Bad feedback is often more valuable than positive feedback because it highlights pain points in the customer journey and provides opportunities for the brand to improve. The challenge is where to obtain honest feedback.
McConnell told CMSWire that, at Intradiem, he runs a people-first culture internally with a customer-centric approach externally and that regular conversations with customers are vital to locating pain points in the customer journey.
“You can’t be customer-centric without having the right offering/product/service,” said McConnell, adding that Intradiem built its platform entirely on pain points brought up by prospective customers and prior industry knowledge. “From there, every day includes conversations with customers and a will to change and adapt the service based on their needs — no matter how small.”
Voice of the Customer (VoC)
A voice of the customer initiative can offer metrics that allow a brand to gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, customer service, how easy it is for customers to do business with the brand and customer loyalty.
By listening to their customers' own words, brands can determine the things they're doing right, what can be improved and which pain points should be eliminated from the customer journey.
"The customer is always front and center in every conversation, meeting or document, said Grout."Someone is always asking, 'how will this benefit the customer?' When making trade-offs, the last thing to be traded away is the customer benefit."
Customer feedback is instrumental in determining the needs and desires of customers and is applicable no matter the medium. One way to obtain customer feedback is with online surveys, which can be extremely useful if they're quick and convenient for the customer. Through the use of an unobtrusive survey option, brands allow customers to quickly and effortlessly provide commentary.
For many brands, online communities are an effective place to find genuine customer feedback, generate leads and build a sense of belonging. A survey from community platform provider Disciple indicated that 50% of those polled would join a dedicated community that represents their passion.
"Traditional TV is a great example of being customer-obsessed," said Gorelick. "The channels were constantly analyzing the behavior of the viewer, and refining the programming to keep their ratings up. They were both anticipating what viewer needs were in advance, as well as reviewing their behavior throughout the entire experience. They then refined and optimized the programming based on that data. This is a good analogue for how brands across all industries today can best serve their customers."
Social listening is the act of monitoring social media for mentions of a brand, its competitors, a product, service or keyword. It enables brands to know what customers are saying about it and how people feel about it and facilitates the discovery of pain points in the customer journey. Social listening allows brands to obtain actionable insights that can be used to improve the customer experience.
Brands can use Google Alerts to detect mentions of a brand, product or service — and this tool looks beyond social media sites. Once a keyword or phrase is detected, it sends out an email alert.
Related Article: 4 Tips For Better Social Listening
Today's customers have come to expect the VIP treatment. As such, brands must become customer-obsessed and strive to create an exceptional customer experience across all channels.
Consumers have a lot of options available to them today. For business leaders to remain competitive, they must ensure their employees are engaged, satisfied and identify with the brand's mission and goals, making them brand advocates who go above and beyond and actively listen to what customers want.