How to build a customer-centric culture in your business

Putting customers first not only helps them but can also benefit your entire company

WeWork Innovation Pointe 2 in Lehi, UT. Photograph by WeWork

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Customer-centric thinking means two things. First, it’s a business strategy based on fostering a strong emotional relationship with customers to spark engagement and drive sales. Second, it’s a type of company culture that uses an understanding of customer psychology to inform decision-making across an entire organization.

Beyond making good business sense, fostering a customer-centric culture helps companies in other ways too. The idea of the customer journey—from learning about your brand, to making the first purchase, to leaving online feedback and recommending the product to friends—has its roots firmly in the world of ecommerce and online sales. But any company with clients stands to benefit from a customer-centric attitude.

One way to become more customer-centric is to always be where your customers are. If you have customer bases across states or in different countries, a satellite office can help you to build customer support hubs that are local to your clients. They are ready when your customers are awake, and they speak their language. With WeWork All Access and WeWork On Demand, you can work from an office in one of hundreds of dedicated workspaces around the world, meaning you can be there when your customers need you most.

In this article we’ll look at some of the ways this kind of company culture can be beneficial to all types of organizations, as well as offer some ideas for achieving it in yours.

What is customer-centric culture?

When an organization has a customer-centric culture, it simply means the customer comes first. That might sound obvious enough—and pretty much every company with customers will tell you that those customers are always top of mind. But following a truly customer-centric approach to doing business takes more than the usual “the customer is always right” platitudes.

A customer-centric company invests time, resources, and money into understanding the wants and needs of customers. It also values building data-driven profiles based on their shopping behaviors and backgrounds. These types of organizations aim to foster meaningful and long-lasting relationships with the people they sell to. They achieve this by consciously curating the customer journey and placing them at the forefront of every business decision they make.

Why is a customer-centric culture important?

A customer-centric culture is one that’s focused on how your customers think and feel about your brand. There are countless reasons to shape your company around this basic principle, but one of the most obvious is that customer acquisition costs are increasing every year. Placing the customer experience at the heart of a business strategy is a critical part of boosting brand loyalty, retaining existing customers, and ultimately saving the company money.

The benefits of being customer-centric

Your company becomes more successful when your customers are happier, so you need to be thinking about ways to make your customers happy. In ecommerce scenarios, this can mean meeting them at critical touchpoints in the customer journey to build trust and answer any queries and concerns they might have. It also means offering things like loyalty programs and flexible payment options, and designing a unique unboxing experience they’ll remember and would want to share on social media.

The benefit of that kind of customer-centric thinking is an increase in engaged and trusting shoppers. These customers will become your brand ambassadors when chatting with their friends at the gym. They will post videos of your product on TikTok and Instagram, and will come back again for more.

If you sell a service rather than a physical product, you’re not left out of this model. When it comes to selling services, the benefits of customer-centric thinking can be even greater. Personalized communication with trial users and prospective new members is one of the most effective ways to convert these people into paying lifetime subscribers.

Changing your organizational culture

Why is organizational culture so difficult to change?

To use the old cliché: Organizations are like container ships. Changing direction takes an enormous amount of planning and effort, and tiny adjustments early on can lead to profound effects further down the line.

Careers have been built around analyzing why many organizations find it so hard to shift their culture. Some of it boils down to a basic aversion to change, such as how legacy organizations tend to overvalue the strategies that brought them their initial success and avoid ideas that seem radical and full of risk. There’s an example in the movie rental business, and countless more.

It’s not just inflexible corporate giants that run into this problem. Even startups finding their feet can get stuck in a cultural rut, adopting the accepted policies of their industry in the hope of re-creating the successes of others. A change in organizational culture requires an appetite for risk as well as innovation.

How to change a company culture to be more customer-centric

Recruitment is the most powerful tool an organization has when it comes to steering a company culture one way or the other. 

To become more customer-centric, a company should try to hire employees trained in communication who have a high level of natural empathy. Most companies have only a handful of potential touchpoints between the brand and the customer themselves, so you need to ensure that your messaging is friendly and personalized, and comes from a position of understanding the customer’s needs.

This applies to more than just hiring for customer service roles. Empathy and communication skills are also important for building data-driven customer profiles. These are your fictional, idealized customers with names, hobbies, personalities, and jobs—to whom you’ll market your product or service.

These customer insights should be shared with every employee in the business to encourage a customer-centric way of thinking across every department. That way the customer is always top of mind, whether your graphics team is designing an app interface, your development team is prototyping new products, or your marketing team is writing a fresh advertising campaign.

Building a customer-centric culture

Define your customer-centric approach

When it comes to defining a customer-centric approach, many companies stumble when they use anything other than the customer as the starting point. Don’t begin by thinking about what you or your competitors are already doing. Instead, define your own customer first. What are their values, their budget, their needs? Then outline what would need to change in order to place your customers’ interests at the core of your business strategy.

Does it involve using a new set of tools to manage the customer journey from start to finish? Will it require a change in hiring policies and the development of training programs for new staff? Or will achieving a more customer-centric approach simply need a small adjustment to your existing company culture?

Make the change from product-centricity to customer-centricity

A product-centric strategy places value on the sale itself, and the amount it adds to that little row of digits hanging out at the bottom of your accounts. For many companies this is an excellent way to do business. If you’re selling gas, for example, your job is to keep the tanks filled and the gas cheap—you won’t benefit much by learning all of your customers’ names.

But even gas stations have loyalty schemes—one of the simplest and most common ways to nudge consumer behavior toward repeat customers. This customer-centric way of thinking shifts importance away from the transaction itself and instead places it on the relationship you’re building with the person who just bought your product. 

Customer-centricity uses data to deliver targeted messaging at the precise moment it will have the greatest effect, to drive repeat sales and foster a meaningful relationship with a customer. Product-centricity lets that valuable data go to waste, and can lead to a company becoming less efficient, less agile, and less profitable.

Keep your customer-centric culture alive

As with any change to company culture, there’s a tendency to backslide when informal aspirations aren’t solidified with formal processes. 

Reinforce your new approach to customer interactions with clear training, motivational leadership, and open discussion. Check in with your managers to address any concerns or problems before they develop into anything that could threaten to derail the strategy.

Measure the benefits of being customer-centric

The success of adopting a more customer-centric way of working can’t be easily measured by sales figures alone. Get granular by digging into other metrics to decide which key performance indicators should determine whether a strategy is successful, such as customer feedback through surveys and product reviews.

One key metric to consider is customer lifetime value, or CLV. This tracks the total spend of any given customer. It takes into account everything from their most recent average spend to the likelihood that they’ll continue to shop or do business with you in future.

Customer retention is one of the main factors determining CLV, so tracking this metric is also important when shaping strategies aimed at creating more repeat customers. This is true whether you’re designing an enjoyable in-store retail experience, or you’re converting one-time customers into lifetime subscribers with the offer of discounts and membership-style benefits.

Create your own customer-centric culture

Shifting to a customer-centric strategy is about more than simply keeping customers happy. It starts with building a company culture focused on the customer experience—one in which your entire team is helping to build better relationships with the people who buy from you. And it ends with increased loyalty, sales, and success. 

WeWork can help you transform your company culture, with customizable office space close to your customers that scales to meet your needs. With WeWork All Access, you can offer them workspace in hundreds of locations around the world. 

And for flexibility when you need it most, WeWork On Demand gives you pay-as-you-go access to stylish workspaces and meeting rooms in dozens of cities across the world, with no monthly commitment to worry about. 

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

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