Customer Orientation: what is it & why is it necessary?
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Everyone has heard the expression: ‘the customer always comes first’. It's been said so much across industries and sectors that it’s become almost empty of meaning.
But when you think about it, just because you've heard something a lot, it doesn’t make it any less true.
Whatever industry or sector that you’re in, the customer is your business. Everything you do, from product development to support, must revolve around the needs and wants of the customer.
This may seem like an obvious point that everyone in a business would know. However, countless businesses of all shapes and sizes, from retail to SaaS, have found themselves preoccupied with internal company goals. Customers turn into faceless sales targets instead of people with needs. Product development starts pursuing vanity projects which hold little to no value for end-users.
These toxic preoccupations spell trouble for future growth. The antidote is to transform the business strategy to make it customer oriented. This way, all actions, projects, and campaigns will share the ultimate goal to solve the needs of the target customer.
If done effectively, a customer oriented business strategy can turn stagnation into growth by improving retention rates and increasing customer lifetime value (CLTV). This article will explain how exactly it does this.
What is customer orientation?
Customer orientation is all about treating customers not as a potential sale, but as a human with a problem that needs solving. A customer oriented company exists solely to solve these problems. They always listen to the voice of the customer and use it to determine the evolution of their product.
Customer orientation is not just an idealistic theory— it’s been tried and proven by leaders in their industries. Companies who have adopted it into their business strategy and are very customer focused drive revenue that’s 5-7% higher than others in their industry.
Even more important is that companies that are customer oriented have a retention rate and customer lifetime value that’s 1.5 times higher than those who aren't. It's clear that those companies with a focus on the customer have a more sustainable engine of growth.
What does customer orientation bring to your business?
The outcome of using a customer oriented approach to running your business is clear when it comes to revenues and customer retention. But what other benefits can it bring?
Happy customers make great brand advocates
Acquiring new customers is the key to growth. But developing a relationship with your existing customers is equally important and is often overlooked by companies. Customers willing to promote your brand and recommend it are a powerful word-of-mouth marketing tool. They'll sell your product out of their own volition because they believe in it. However, brand advocates can only exist when your company and its product offers a customer experience worth advocating.
A product that meets the needs of customers
Many of the articles about customer orientation talk about it as if it’s only for Customer Support teams. However, this is narrow-sighted. Customer orientation is a must for product development and marketing, too. As product managers build out the product roadmap, they should be aware of the requests and problems that customers are facing and what’s creating real value.
The Product team needs Customer Support to build a feedback loop that regularly provides information on the voice of the customer. Customer Support is in a unique position to track customer sentiment in real-time. These insights are crucial for the Product team, who need to decide what feature ideas to prioritize in the product backlog. The long term goal of any customer oriented product team is to build something that customers love. But this is only possible if they’re aware of what customers are thinking in the first place.
Improved retention rates & conversions
Some companies tend to treat marketing as just another tool in the toolbox for sales. Of course, this is a serious misconception of marketing and its potential to contribute to company growth as a whole. Through a customer oriented approach, marketers can construct a positive perception of the company and build a strong association between customer pain points and the brand.
By truly considering their customers and what interests them, marketers can create relevant and relatable content that builds awareness and trust of the brand. They will also be able to launch campaigns that connect with current customers. This is important as they will feel valued and supported through this, so are much more likely to stick around for the long haul. After all, keeping customers is crucial for sustainable growth — acquiring a new customer can be anywhere between 5 to 25 times more expensive than being able to retain an existing one.
Marketers should not only keep a close eye on their own product but also that of their competitors’. They must be aware of the product’s position in the market to know what’s doing well and what’s missing. They can then, for example, use these insights to construct marketing campaigns which point out the particular problems their product solves that others in the market cannot.
The five pillars for building a customer focused business
Pillar 1: be obsessed with your customer
This is about going beyond simply writing customer personas and ending it there. Your company needs to develop a deeper understanding of who your customers are and what they value. This requires a more sophisticated method of tracking customer data and feedback, where you can granulate what’s been said into manageable segments. This can then be used to better understand what your customers are thinking and feeling across time.
If you think you need more customer feedback than what you can find from user reviews, there’s always NPS, CSAT, and CES surveys you can send to your mailing list.
Pillar 2: hire people with customer-centric values
Your employees are the core of your business and how it’s perceived. They are the representatives of your brand and should reflect your company values. As a customer oriented business, this means employees should work to help the customer meet their needs and have a great experience, not just hit targets and meet KPIs. Metrics are humans, and employees need to treat customers as more than just numbers.
Pillar 3: tweak priorities & process when necessary
A customer oriented business shouldn’t just collect user feedback but take actionable steps to improve the product based on that feedback. For example, if a particular pain point keeps cropping up in feedback, the product team must take this seriously and push it as a priority into the product backlog. Similarly, if customers start reaching out to Customer Support through different channels, they should accommodate this form of communication.
Pillar 4: optimize customer service practices
Customer Support needs to go above and beyond for the customer and rip up the traditional support manual. They must do more than put out fires or initiate damage control. The goal should be to develop meaningful relationships with customers and support the customer experience long after purchase.
The ideal for support is to understand customers so well that they can anticipate their needs ahead of time. It takes support beyond being a purely reactive force. This type of proactive approach cultivates stronger relationships with customers that are built on great experience and trust, increasing retention rates and customer lifetime value in the long run.
Pillar 5: Train your entire team in customer care
The Support Team should have the right skills to deal with customers with a range of situations and moods. They must be patient, empathetic, good at listening and communicating, as well as being skilled problem solvers. To ensure these attributes are present across the team, it’s a good idea to implement training that includes lessons about the product, using emotional intelligence, crisis management, troubleshooting effectively, and caring for the customer throughout their journey with the product.
Other teams would also benefit from experience working with customer service so they can see for themselves what customers are like. By experiencing this, team members will have the chance to get a real feel for the customer, and therefore be more able to provide a customer-centric product or service.
Examples of successful customer oriented companies
The mission of ‘solving the needs of the customer’ is rarely stronger than at HubSpot. They make reaching out to support extremely accessible to every customer. In fact, they’ve graded the depth of support provided based on the complexity of the plan a particular customer has purchased. Though, they provide a full range of customer-centric services to all.
HubSpot also provides a comprehensive selection of resources for their users’, including a knowledge base, an academy, and technical documentation. They also publish content which teaches customers how to improve the processes and strategies for their own companies.
What’s more, HubSpot runs a community for its customers and other interested parties. This is an excellent form of customer orientation, as a community area will make customers feel part of something exclusive, where they can take part in conversations that interest them and can get tips and advice from like-minded people. This sense of togetherness under a brand is key to creating customer loyalty.
HubSpot also carefully listens to their customers and has gone as far as providing them with an ideas section of the community forum, where requests for features can be posted and discussed with HubSpot community managers.
All of this shows how much HubSpot has invested and thought about customer care and nurturing. It’s a masterclass in providing free value at every stage of the customer journey that will pay off massively down the line.
The motto that drives the working of every department at Toyota is the Japanese saying: Genchi Genbutsu. In English, this means ‘see for yourself'. There have been times at Toyota when engineers rented out new or yet to be released models of Toyota cars and drove them around certain locations to get a feel for how the customer would experience the drive. They also drove around and spoke to motorists who matched their target audience to find out the kind of car and features they would value.
This level of communication with potential prospects in a natural environment (essentially, outside of a focus group) has enabled Toyota to have an unparalleled vision for developing cars that accurately meet the needs of their user base. As a result, past and present Toyota models have been extremely successful, and to this day Toyota is seen as one of the most innovative car makers in the market. In fact, they’ve won countless awards for their customer focused innovation.
The e-commerce behemoth is a master at customer orientation. Amazon pulls all the stops to get into the mind of their customers, understand their current and evolving pain points, and tweak their service accordingly. The company holds as one of its key values an obsession with the customer:
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
This is an exact reflection of Jeff Bezos’s declaration at the start of Amazon’s rise, that it would become ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company.’
Such a declaration has held true to this day. Amazon has maintained exceptional customer requests & return processes, built features that immerse the customer in the experience, and have continued releasing ingenious personalized account recommendations, which keep customers coming back for more. However, this development was only possible because Amazon stuck with their customer oriented ethos from day one.
Customer orientation is unarguably the path to sustainable growth. One way to think about it is through another well known saying:
New customers come from the actions of past customers.
If you treat your customers as the most important aspect of your business, they will spend more, stay longer, and help attract new acquisition. A crucial part of customer orientation is to have your finger on the pulse of user sentiment. This will ensure you can always promptly address any issues or changes of need as they emerge. We recommend using a tool to efficiently track sentiment. Read our guide to find out what we suggest you use to do this.