10 characteristics of customer-focused businesses

2015

The challenges facing many businesses today are greater than ever. Ever-rising customer expectations, intensifying competition (coming from further afield), greater transparency, reduction in trust and customer loyalty, the increasing pace and dramatic effects of change, not to mention squeezes on resources and margins: these are just some of the issues today’s business leaders tell us they face.

In most market sectors, there’s an abundance of suppliers. So it’s the businesses that deliver remarkable customer experiences that are succeeding. It’s a world where customers are putting up more barriers to stop businesses invading their space, where people are questioning much, much more and trust is getting harder to win and develop. Customer expectations are rising all the time: they want it how they want it, when they want it, and they want it now !

Successful businesses are the ones that manage to create a customer focus throughout everything they do. We call them 3D Businesses because they are ‘Dramatically and Demonstrably Different’ from their competitors. 3D Businesses don’t just meet customer expectations, they exceed them and create delighted customers. What’s more, this isn’t a one off: they’re able to do this consistently, which is how they build loyalty and even devotion.

So how can you create delighted and devoted customers? There are no magical answers, but here are 10 things we see them do consistently that helps them.

3D Businesses…

1. Are quick: Their speed of response to enquiries, queries and complaints consistently surprise’ their customers (in a good way, obviously).

2. Are easy: That means easy to buy from and easy to do business with, both online and offline. This is not just at the sales end of the business, it’s everywhere, even in the accounts department.

3. Exceed expectations: They go that ‘extra mile’ to ‘exceed’ their customers’ expectations and create delight. That doesn’t mean a ‘buy one, get 10 free’ offer, but genuine, spontaneous, personalised customer experiences. (By the way, you can actually plan spontaneity).

4. Do it consistently: By exceeding their customers expectations they raise the bar (which is a good thing!). They therefore consistently work to deliver against those raised expectations and keep raising them.

5. Deal with disappointment: Things go wrong in all businesses (even 3D ones), so they proactively and consistently spot and deal with customer disappointment.

Have you ever had a situation where a customer hasn’t been happy about something, but the way you’ve dealt with their disappointment actually delights them? That’s what this is about: in fact the real measure of the strength of the relationships you have with your customers is how big a mess you can make and still keep them. (I’m not advocating testing this by the way!)

6. Empower their people: 3D Businesses encourage and empower their people to act spontaneously and take the initiative to exceed their customers’ expectations.

Health warning: ‘empowerment’ is not just one of those management speak buzzwords, but it’s about giving people permission and authority to deliver outstanding customer experiences. For example, every member of staff at Ritz Carlton Hotels are empowered to spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer’s problem if needs be without getting sign-off from a manager.

7. Equip their people: As well as ‘authority’ 3D Businesses ensure that their people are equipped with the attitudes, skills, and tools to do the job. They train them, they support them, and they encourage and help them to get better. Check out how Southwest Airlines do that.

8. Spot and remove blockages: They proactively review their customer touch-points and eliminate blockages that undermine their customer experience. We call it ‘standing in your own queues’. When was the last time you rang up your own business, visited and tested your own website as a customer, or even listened to your out of office or answer-phone message? Here’s a simple toolkit to help you do that.

9. Champion their customer champions: In a 3D Business, people are recognised and rewarded for exceeding customer expectations not just for achieving sales targets. They do not limit this only to frontline customer facing staff, but include and encourage everyone in the business. It’s about recognising internal customers and the contribution that every individual can and does have an impact on customers.

10. Embed customer-thinking at every level: In the early years of Amazon, Jeff Bezos would bring an empty chair into meetings to represent the most important person in the room, the customer.

For a 3D Business, customers are an integral part of everything they do and on the agenda in all internal communications, team meetings and discussions. They highlight great examples, they share customer feedback, they encourage problem- solving and ideas to improve the customer experience - and they keep doing it.

So, how do you measure up against these 10 things? What do your people think? More importantly, what do your customers think? Why not ask them? That’s what 3D Businesses do!

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.