The 21st-century economy isn’t made for complacency. Constant disruption and innovation in business require continual evolution and development. It also demands something personal: a genuine connection to your customer. As Henry Ford said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
You need to know your customers and they need to know you have their interests, not their wallets, at heart. They need to know that you understand their needs and can help them overcome obstacles, transforming in ways they foresee—as well as in ways they can’t envision yet. In other words, they need you to be a “customer company.”
Companies are going to win or lose based on the experiences customers have.
What Is a Customer Company?
Customer companies aim for a frictionless experience. They want to help customers navigate the ins and outs of every interaction with ease, understanding, and appreciation.
Does this mean customers are always right and you should cater to their every whim? Absolutely not. But it does mean putting honesty and transparency first to build trust. Companies are going to win or lose based on the experiences customers have. As a customer company, your focus is on making sure every experience you provide meets expectations and engenders trust. You can develop all types of features for your products, but you can’t manufacture a trust relationship. Trust is a sustainable advantage.
With that in mind, here are three things you can do to become a customer company. Each step is designed to elevate your business by helping you better understand your customers. The goal is to help you think, behave, and feel like a customer. When you do that, you can anticipate customers’ needs and prepare for a successful future with them, as well as with the customers you’ve yet to meet.
1. Develop Empathy to Think Like a Customer
You know how quickly things change in your business. Now, imagine how that feels for your customers. Channel that empathy toward removing hurdles and roadblocks and making their everyday experiences with you easier.
Let me give you this example: In a recent meeting with senior leaders from a customer in the Midwest, I got the sense that we were just discussing surface issues—that they weren’t telling me something. I asked, “What’s keeping you up at night? What are your top business challenges?” That’s when they started to share with me what’s really bothering them.
What they told me is that their business is facing fierce competition in Europe, and if they don’t figure out how to innovate as a company, they’re going to be in serious trouble. I asked what Autodesk could do to help, and one of leaders responded quite bluntly: “The last thing I want my developers doing is figuring out how to connect your software products together. These are your products. Why aren’t you creating these workflows?”
It was a poignant moment for me—I really felt like I understood how these leaders think and feel and how crucial product compatibility is for their business. Those aren’t experiences I’d know about if I didn’t ask and, more important, listen.
2. Manage Expectations by Being Honest in Your Offers
Expectations are where the rubber meets the road of your business relationship. You’ve established trust by showing your customers empathy for their experiences and issues. Now, you need to be honest.
You cannot be cavalier about expectations. When you default on promises, you break trust, which is a hard thing to get back because it’s not easily copied. If customers trust you, they’ll trust your decision and be confident in it. They may not like the answer, but if you’re straightforward and explain your reasoning, they can at least understand it.
The chief technology officer of a construction-services firm recently confirmed this to me. He said: “I would rather you tell me that you can’t do something—because if that something is not good for Autodesk, maybe it’s not good for me. That’s how much we rely on you.” That really stuck with me, just how important honesty and transparency are to setting expectations.
Once expectations are established, throw in some occasional “delighters.” Have you ever checked in at a hotel chain you frequent, opened your room door, and discovered you’ve been upgraded to a nicer view? That’s a delighter.
It’s an opportunity to do something small yet meaningful for the customer. Yes, you were transparent about what the interaction would be—and you met that basic customer expectation—but then you chose to do something extra to make someone’s day better or job easier. The customer will remember and appreciate that.
3. Heighten the Customer Experience With Insight, Immediacy, and Personalization
At this point, you have an empathetic point of view and you’ve set realistic expectations; it’s time to work on delivering the best experience possible. One way to do that is through business insight. Whether it’s through data or industry knowledge, tell your customers something that they don’t already know, something that would help them make a better business decision or get a better outcome.
When it comes to making purchases or taking orders, streamline those processes for your customers so that they don’t take forever. Make them immediate. Ensure that people can easily find all relevant information about your products or services. Your customers want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. The harder your most basic customer interactions are, whether digital or physical, the less inclined people will be to repeat those experiences with your business.
And, finally, personalization—with the tools available today, there’s no reason not to know who your customer is. Take what you know about your customers and tailor something for them based on that knowledge (respecting privacy issues and laws, of course). After all, if customers see how invaluable you consider their business, they’ll remain loyal to your company and the products and insights only you can give them.
And that means they won’t pick up the phone the next time a competitor calls.