“We’re building Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
Even if you don’t know where the phrase comes from, you’ve probably heard it. You may even be working on doing this very thing—right now—at your company.
Generally, folks understand the phrase “customer centric” to mean “we’re going to work really hard to do good things for our customers. In fact, customers are going to be a part of everything we do!” While taking customers’ needs into account throughout their experience with your product is a smart business move, there is more that can be done. We like to think of the next iteration of “customer centric” as “customer driven.”
To understand the delta between the two, think of what it means to travel to the center of something. In a city, you have to go through the sprawling suburbs to get to the hip urban center. In a movie theater, you have to stumble over people’s knees to get to the center seats. By definition, the center of something has other layers around it that come first—unless, of course—you can somehow begin your journey in the center.
This book is a guide for beginning in the center of your customer’s experience, so that experience can drive every project your team embarks on.
The customer-centric business might build, build, build, then review new features with a few choice customers before a major release; but the customer-driven business will have the problems and goals of the customer documented before they ever begin planning.
Why does customer-driven matter?
Roughly 51% of sales leaders are focused on increasing customer retention through deeper relationships.
In fact, the most successful sales teams care just as much about creating long-lasting customers through great customer experience (CX).
And buyers have the option to research and even demo/trial products before they ever interact with a salesperson. They’ve looked at you, they’ve looked at your competitors, and now they’re looking back at you to see who has the best solution. Your website, your email campaigns, your free trial and more are all being experienced by your potential customer before you’re ever aware of it.
Software purchasing is increasingly moving from the bottom up. No longer does a C-Suite exec issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) and wait for slide decks to roll in. More often, an individual contributor looks for a free tool to help make her day easier, finds your product, and slowly works it into the day-to-day practices of the organization.
A customer-driven approach has significant advantages in this environment for three key reasons:
1. Your customer needs a problem solved
If you’ve had the customer’s problem in mind at the beginning of each project, then your advertising, content marketing, and web copy have all been carefully tuned to attract the customer who needs your solution to that problem. You are proactive about making it easy for the right people to find you and start living a better life with your solution.
2. You don’t waste your time and money on meaningless projects
An SEO strategy set up to chase the top slots of your industry buzzwords might work to get more unique visits to your site. But it’s not automatically the best way to get the right people actively using your platform. Approaching every project with a deep understanding of customer needs first means that your team is doing high value work 100% of the time. Even if you miss a target, you’re learning more about what your customers need.
3. You succeed as a business
A customer-driven approach is not merely altruistic. Look at everything above. Being customer-driven is about getting the right people to nd your product and solve the right problems at the right time. Customer-driven is about finding and impressing the people who are ready to spend money and are going to keep spending money. Between the decreased overhead that comes with focusing on projects that matter, to the decreased churn that comes with enabling your best customers to do their best, customer-driven is a winning business strategy at its core.
The Amazon example
Amazon’s slogan is “Earth’s most customer centric company.” And as a behemoth in the ecommerce space, Amazon has set the expectation for what an online transaction should look like. It ships fast. You can return it easily. There is a person ready to talk to you right now when something goes wrong. Customer centric, indeed! But customer-driven?
Consider the account menu dropdown, which we’ll unpack briefly:
For a company that has created refrigerator magnets that can reorder your preferred brand of cat litter with the push of a button, this sure seems like a complicated experience.
Why might a customer click something labeled “My Account?” Presumably she is after her account information—perhaps a credit card, perhaps an address. Considering the name and the information we expect to be stored there, this menu, replete with three video options seems a bit over complicated.
And about those video options—can a customer clearly delineate which link leads to which section of their video service? Where are the TV episodes they’ve already paid for? Where are the ones they can watch for free?
What might a customer-driven experience look like here? Considering Amazon’s customer base, the answer is variable. They could benefit from multiple experiences targeted to different sorts of users.
A heavy user of their digital content might appreciate something a bit clearer and simpler than the current video scenario. A serious “Subscribe & Save” customer might not even need the video services options to appear on their homepage.
Whether or not your business has as many variables at Amazon’s does, the point remains: Different users need different experiences based on their different desired solutions, and it takes a customer-driven approach to understand and develop those experiences.
3 goals of a customer-driven company
This book will cover three pursuits of a customer-driven company. These pursuits likely cross into several departments—marketing, customer success, design, and product. When it comes to creating a customer-driven experience, however, the lines dividing your company’s actual departments may blur a bit, and collaboration will be key.
1. Empathetic web experience
When we discuss a customer-driven product, we’ll share insights and stories from leaders within the SaaS community who’ve dug deep to understand their customers’ current experiences, and then used those learnings to increase conversions across their websites and guide their content strategies.
2. Frictionless sign-up & onboarding
Congrats! Someone wants to try your product.
Don’t get tempted to ruin this experience by trying to pull too much information out of someone, just so you can load them into the marketing automation machine. And don’t leave them to fend for themselves in a mysterious new product. Onboarding often proves to be the most crucial piece of a truly customer-driven experience.
3. Long-term engagement
Creating a truly customer-driven experience goes beyond speedy responses to support tickets and bugs or quarterly check-in emails from an account manager. The tasks here don’t just prevent churn for financial sake, they prevent churn by making sure people are getting the most value from your product.
Again, collaboration across your company’s existing departments is key to creating a customer-driven experience. Consider the Amazon example above: who would be responsible for improving that overwhelming UI? Front-end dev might need to change some elements of the page. Marketing will have to change the copy. Or would that be part of customer success since we’re talking about Prime users? Every department in a business has a unique call to be customer-driven and distinct methods by which they should execute.
Let’s get started!
The next three chapters will deep-dive into pursuits of a customer-driven business. It bears repeating that within your company, these pursuits may require skillsets and expertise that are currently divided between the business units of your company. Fear not: there is no need to restructure the company around these departments.
The goal of this guide is to help you understand the different goals of your company departments and help you align their goals with yours as the advocate of product adoption. It’s important to facilitate cross-departmental conversations about what truly makes an experience customer-driven, in order to identify who from each existing team should own a particular project.
Margaret Kelsey is the Director of Marketing at OpenView. Before OpenView, she made immeasurable contributions to Appcues' marketing programs as the Director of Brand and Creative. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.