Article | 10 min read

Ultimate guide to building a customer-focused culture

Improving your customer focus starts by deepening your understanding of what customer focus means and building an effective customer focus strategy.

By Courtney Gupta, Customer Service Enthusiast

Last updated May 23, 2023

Customer focus has never been more important.

Customer expectations are higher than ever before, and your customers are scrutinizing your business more intensely than ever. They’re comparing their experience with your brand to the easy, fast, and personalized experiences they’re having with the best of the best. And it’s these customer-focused businesses that get to reap the benefits of renewed loyalty and competitive advantage.

But there remains a gap in how many companies think they’re customer-focused compared to how many customers agree. In fact, while 60 percent of companies surveyed in our CX Trends Report gave themselves high marks for service, 68 percent of customers say there’s room for improvement. In fact, 54 percent of customers report that customer service feels like an afterthought for most of the businesses they buy from.

The good news is that customer focus can be improved. And it starts by deepening your understanding of what customer focus means and building an effective customer focus strategy.

What is customer focus and why is it important?

Customer focus is a strategy that puts your customers’ needs first. Customer-focused businesses foster a company culture dedicated to enhancing customer satisfaction and building strong customer relationships. Examples of customer focus include good customer service, listening (and implementing) customer feedback, and building personalized customer experiences.

“Customer focus is the lens by which you analyze all your interactions with your customers,” says Jonathan Brummel, Senior Manager, Premier Support at Zendesk. “It’s a core value to who you want to be as a company and how you want your customers to feel about you.”

Here are just a few reasons why customer focus is important, according to Zendesk’s 2022 CX Trends Report.

  1. Customers have high standards: More than 60 percent report that they now have higher customer service standards after the past year’s crisis.
  2. A focus on customers can drive sales: 93 percent of customers will spend more with companies that offer their preferred option to reach customer service and 90 percent will spend more with companies that personalize the customer service they offer them.
  3. A lack of customer focus can lead to churn: 61 percent of customers say they would switch to a company’s competitor after just one bad customer service experience and 76 percent say they would switch to a company’s competitor due to multiple bad customer service experiences.
  4. Customers are more willing to forgive companies for a mistake if they are customer-focused: 74 percent say they will forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service.
  5. Customer focus drives retention and loyalty: 60 percent of business leaders say quality service improves customer retention.

4 examples of customer focus

Even after building an effective customer focus strategy, becoming a customer-focused business doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and continuous adjustment to get right. Here are a few examples of how to become a customer-focused company from four companies who did.

1. Zappos

To show that customer experience matters across the business, Zappos connects the organization through customer-centric values. For example, every employee takes customer service calls during their first two weeks at the company.

“Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company.”
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

2. The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons redefined luxury with its white-glove customer service that’s based on building real, human relationships with customers. Guests can reach out to the hotel via Twitter, Facebook Messenger, or SMS like they would a friend to arrange spa reservations, get restaurant recommendations, and access special services.

3. Postmates

Postmates’ CX team partners with their product team and analytics team to ensure customer feedback informs key product decisions. This drives measurable improvements, such as reducing customer cancellations with product updates.

“Our customers’ voices are vital when it comes to product innovation. Listening to and acting on customer feedback prevents myopic thinking and helps us constantly improve.”
Hetal Shah, CX, Product, and Operations leader at Postmates

4. Birchbox

Unhappy customers are inevitable. What’s important to becoming customer-focused is how you handle them. Birchbox uses service recovery to flag customer complaints and then turn the experience around to repair the relationship.

“Negative interactions happen in any contact center–it’s a fact of life. Our role as CX leaders is to ensure our agents learn from these negative interactions and then address the issue directly with customers,” said Deja Whitehead, senior manager of Customer Operations & Communications at Birchbox.

How to improve your customer focus strategy

There are two levels to building an effective customer focus strategy: an emotional level and an operational level. A great customer focus strategy enables you to form real, honest, and transparent relationships with your customers. It also guides you in setting the right tools and processes in place to do so. Here are six tips to help keep both relationship management and process improvement top of mind:

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Make your customers feel heard
  • Meet your customers where they are
  • Use feedback to get better
  • Combine data with empathy
  • Leverage AI
  • Support the teams that support customers

1. Encourage collaboration

Becoming a customer-focused organization requires teams to work together to create a consistent, overall better experience. In fact, more than 70 percent of customers expect companies to collaborate on their behalf.

Support teams and sales teams might collaborate so:

  • An agent can flag sales when a customer is interested in learning about a new product
  • A sales rep can redirect a more technical question to an agent who specializes in that area

And collaboration pays off—according to Benchmark research, sales and support teams that collaborate have:

  • More leads
  • More deals created
  • More deals won

But collaboration shouldn’t slow down your teams’ productivity because that only makes things more complicated for the customer. That’s why effectively collaborating on the customer’s behalf requires a connective layer of tissue that integrates customer data across departments. This allows teams to share insights without:

  • Disrupting their workflow
  • Exposing the customer to what’s going on behind the scenes

2. Make your customers feel heard

Behind every customer is a story. But customers don’t want to have to repeat that story every time they interact with your brand. And if customers feel ignored because they have to repeat themselves, they won’t be likely to remember your company as customer-focused.

“Making the customer feel heard is a huge part of customer focus,” says Brummel. “And when they don’t feel heard, that’s when the experience can quickly go south.”

Imagine having to reintroduce yourself to a coworker every time you see them in the office kitchen and remind them of what you last spoke about. It’s neither personal nor customer-focused, but that’s often how businesses communicate with their customers.

To ensure satisfied customers feel heard, companies will need that same connective layer of tissue. This gives them the full story on the customer, such as:

  • Their name
  • Account information
  • When they last reached out

This arm teams with the relevant context and conversation history they need to give customers the personalized experiences they expect.

3. Meet your customers where they are

It might seem easier to focus on a single communication channel and providing a great experience there. But communicating according to your customers’ channels of choice is a powerful driver of loyalty, according to Zendesk research.

The data is clear: A great customer experience is one that’s easy. Customers don’t want to have to put effort into reaching your brand, and nor should they. That’s why customer-focused companies meet their customers where they are. This allows customers to reach out however and whenever they want.

Looking into the demographics of your customers and considering the types of questions you see most often can be eye-opening. Industry best practices might tell you to offer a particular channel. But you might find that a significant amount of your customers prefer a mobile-first option. You might consider adding in WhatsApp, SMS, or another mobile messaging channel because that’s where your customers are.

Again, that 360 view of the customer will be important for connecting conversations across channels. It ensures context moves with the customer. This helps your business to provide fast and personal responses no matter when or how they reach out.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

4. Use feedback to get better

Knowing how to handle customer feedback is another important factor in becoming a customer-focused company. Instead of approaching customer complaints as a game of dodgeball, customer-focused companies:

  • Amplify the voice of the customer
  • Use their feedback to create a better experience

This might include:

  • Sending your customers surveys
  • Opening an online community where customers can share their experiences with your product or service or vote on new feature requests

Creating a feedback loop with your customers is important. Your relationship with them, like any healthy relationship, should be two-sided.

“Treating customers like partners and collaborators as opposed to consumers of your good is one of the first steps to creating a customer-focused culture,” says Brummel.

5. Combine data with empathy

With the increasing amount of data available, companies no longer have to guess what their customers want or decide for them. Instead, they can look to the trends.

But taking a customer-focused approach to data doesn’t mean using data blindly. Rather, it involves combining data with empathy. This means:

  • Adding context to data
  • Applying data compassionately
  • Using data to enhance customer intimacy—developing insights into who is using your product and what they are looking for.

For instance, your product team might align a product update with customer support data to ensure change is relevant to those it impacts. Or, instead of sending every customer the same email, a marketing team might:

  • Adjust content based on where each customer is in the customer journey
  • Segment content base on what emails a customer previously opened

But siloed data often prevents companies from using it emphatically and in a way that truly benefits the customer. That’s because they lack the full context to do so. For starters, you’ll need to connect insights across systems and software to effectively manage and interpret your data.

6. Leverage AI to proactively meet customers’ needs

Customer-focused businesses aren’t just reactive to what their customers need, they also proactively meet their expectations. And with the help of AI, proactive experiences don’t have to be complicated or costly. For instance, support teams might use machine learning to predict customer satisfaction to proactively reduce customer complaints. Or, sales teams might deploy a chatbot to proactively welcome customers, before they abandon their cart or demo request form due to lingering questions.

7. Support the teams that support customers

Customer service teams interact with your customers directly and have a direct impact on your customers’ experience with your brand. Customers can tell when an agent is unhappy or overwhelmed and it can lead to a bad experience. Unfortunately, the risk of burnout is high in customer service roles. Companies need to support their support teams to empower agents to do their jobs well.

For example, Only 1 in 5 agents express a high level of satisfaction with the quality of training available, and 62 percent report that more skills-based training would improve their performance.

Building a customer-focused culture

Customer focus isn’t a responsibility that falls only on customer support, or any single team, to earn for the entire business. While customer service skills are key to customer focus, customer-focused companies show that the customer experience matters across the organization, at every step of the customer journey. This includes:

  • The honesty of their marketing campaigns
  • The transparency of their pricing models
  • The ease of their sales cycle
  • The quality of their actual products or services

When businesses start becoming more customer-focused, they become a more human brand that’s driven by relationships, rather than profits or requirements. If loyalty is something your company is looking to improve, try adjusting your focus to the customer with a customer service platform—you might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish with a simple change in frame of mind.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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