The Customer is Everything

You cannot sell anything without a customer. So how do you get one? Start with marketing. Not good enough? Try personalization. Still not getting results? Perhaps you should run a business that is more customer-centric. Still falling short? Give customer obsession a try.

Customer obsession is an organizing principle that will cut across every department —
marketing, sales, IT, customer service. All departments should be aligned  to build and maintain a relationship with the customer that they will find useful.

I cannot live without you

The most well-known use of “customer obsession” appears at the top of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles: “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.”

Customer obsession is a mindset, noted Tony Kavanaugh, CMO of Insightly, the CRM software platform. What Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was talking about, he said, was “to go above and beyond what people think.” This is about assembling a high definition picture of the customer, based on the data signals they give off when they shop online, then assembling that data and segmenting it to garner insights. Then comes the next step. “Engage the customer in a way they want, “ Kavanaugh said. “Every customer should feel like they are the only customer, even though you have thousands of customers.”

Trust me

This may sound odd, but customer obsession begins with trust.  

“What do I do to earn trust?” asked Chris Jacob, director of product marketing at Salesforce. A recent Salesforce survey shed some light on this. You have to do four things:

  • Explain what improvement the customer gets in exchange for their data (96 percent wanted this)
  • Ask permission to gather their data (favored by 88 percent of respondents);
  • Be transparent on how the data is used (preferred by 91 percent), and
  • Give customers control over their data (92 percent liked this).

Customers can opt in or opt out of the arrangement, Jacob said.

In a study released last week, Adobe found that consumers will stop buying if a brand “made them uncomfortable.” They will also track and adjust privacy settings to protect their data as they interact with the brand. The flip side of that coin is personalization. If a brand gets this right, a customer will be more likely to make an unplanned purchase.

“Historically, we looked at [personalization] as a means to an end — higher conversions,” said Kevin Lindsay, director of product marketing for  Adobe Experience Manager. Shift the emphasis from marketing to customer obsession, and the sales will happen, “if we do it well.”

The machine gets personal

In a customer-obsessed business,  data trust becomes the pivot point between personalization and artificial intelligence. If customers trust you with their data, you can then use it to personalize later interactions.  

No matter how hard working the marketing team can be, it is  humanly impossible keep up with all the work needed to craft a pitch that fits every customer. Artificial Intelligence can fill this gap to deliver a better customer experience, Salesforce’s Jacob explained.

“AI is a concept that no one fully understands how to figure it out,” said Insightly’s Kavanaugh. It should be used to do the routine work that people used to do, freeing them up for higher-value work. For example, AI can “take the blocking and tackling of sales and do it for them, free up up sales to build relationships.”

“AI is not in the mainstream yet,” added Adobe’s Lindsay. “There is dabbling and experimentation all over the place and in specific practices.” Despite recent years of practice in AI, businesses are still figuring out what the best practices should be. “There is no playbook yet,” Lindsay said. “I’m not sure there will ever be.”

We love you, too

Customer obsession is a big philosophical change for a company to undertake. “You are making every single employee buy into that,” Lindsay said. Sales, marketing and even IT, can be trained to become customer obsessed. Now extend this mindset to customer service.

Let’s face it. Not every purchase is a happy experience. A service may go awry. A product may expire before its warranty does. This gives the customer a bad experience. And they will call customer service seeking remedy.

Customer service requires humans to turn a bad customer experience into a good one. The service community must be able to deliver “first call resolution”. Kavanaugh noted. The same information sales used to close a deal with the customer should be forwarded to the service desk, so that the reps know the customer just as well, he explained. There should be no wall between pre- and post-sales, he added. The service rep is just as important to relationship building as sales.

Beware of jealousy

One tenet of customer obsession is to ignore the competition so you can focus exclusively on your customer. The sales will come anyway. None of the experts we talked to were entirely in agreement with this premise. “We live in an innovative world,” noted Jacob. There will always be a new way to do something, and the customer will probably do it. Smartphones are now a fact of life that marketers must understand to reach the customer. Voice is probably next, Jacob added. Being customer-centric also means adapting to the technology the customer wants.

The brand must maintain awareness of competitors who may poach those very customers you are obsessed with. As much as the customer loves you, if a better deal comes along, “we may not be there,” added Lindsay. Customer obsession should be a brand’s North Star to steer by, but there will always be a competitor on the horizon.

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