Most every company claims to be customer-centric, especially when asked about it. What else would you be? Aren’t you supposed to focus on your clients first?
The reality, however, is another matter, and only a few lucky companies actually manage to become truly customer-centric.
All these companies are legitimately successful in a huge (e.g. Amazon) or local (e.g. a low-key restaurant in your neighbourhood with a queue in front) way.
How can you tell a customer-centric company from a standard one?
I suppose there are multiple definitions out there. But for me, a customer-centric company manages to put its needs before its own constraints at every point of potential friction.
Amazon is a good example when we want to illustrate this concept. As a customer, if you need to return an item, it is ridiculously easy. Never mind that behind the scenes, the processes and constraints must be staggering.
To arrive at this apparently simple outcome, the whole company needs to prioritize the customer at each step of its internal processes. And therein lies the challenge.
Why is it so difficult?
First, customer-centricity does not come naturally at the company level or the employee level.
In the same way that most people talk instead of listening, companies prefer to talk about themselves rather than listening to their customers.
Just think about all those websites selling the merits of their products, all those sales reps pitching their companies to you and even most TV commercials.
When a company scales beyond its original handful of founders, processes are put in place to make sure its operations run smoothly.
More and more people arrive, and they try their best to do their jobs within the process and its framework.
Quite naturally, even if the process was originally designed to serve the client, it becomes a goal in and of itself.
On top of that, most of the people in any company of a certain size have no direct contact with the client.
Naturally, silos are formed in which clients’ needs are less and less represented. Even though everyone is convinced that his or her choices and decisions are made with the clients’ interests in heart, the reality may be very different just because the employee confuses his or her own vision with the clients’ actual needs.
Another difficulty lies in finding the right mix between being reactive and proactive when dealing with customers’ issues and needs.
Being customer-centric does not mean saying ‘yes’ to everything a particular client demands.
And if a company only responds to clients’ needs at one particular point in time, without innovating, it cannot meet its clients’ future needs.
Where does eXo stand?
Today, customer-centricity is one of our core values. We have made huge steps towards this goal, but fulfilling it is a work in progress and a never-ending battle.
The concept did not develop overnight, nor was it imposed by the management. Our support team was the first team to switch to a more customer-centric culture, following its manager lead and client pressure.
In practice, the team switched from a purely technical, bug-oriented support style to a more comprehensive approach.
And it led to results: when I made client satisfaction calls, the support team was regularly mentioned in the ‘good points’ column.
Then we created a team dedicated to client success with our solutions. The team took some time to define its mission, clarify its scope and start bringing value.
Today, among other things, the team gathers client feedback, provides an interface between the client and our other services and makes sure clients get the attention they deserve. They are our clients’ advocates within the company.
At that point, words and a concept started emerging. In one of our opportunities review meetings, it became painfully clear that our sales team had no in-depth information about prospects’ contexts or needs.
A friendly entrepreneur told us about the customer-centric approach and how it applied to the sales team.
This became our turning point—customer-centricity became a value and a goal for the company as a whole.
We studied the concept and introduced it to our sales team. After several sales cycles, it became obvious that our marketing needs to evolve as well.
In parallel, our product team went through a complete change and started participating in clients’ meetings as part of their main duties to become more sensitive to clients’ concerns and translate this into our product.
Where does eXo go?
Even though we have accomplished a lot, customer-centric culture is not a given, even for those teams that have already adopted it.
Occasionally, our support team slips into a closed ‘this is not our issue, it is your issue’ attitude. Sales teams need to be constantly reminded not to pitch.
The biggest challenge, however, lies with our technical teams and our managers.
Our technical teams are still very much oriented to their own constraints in terms of resources, time, roadmaps, technical heritage and technical skills.
As a result, it feels like few things can be delivered quickly, without automatic push backs and discussions about all the constraints.
Even though our structure is rather flat, we have people who spend more time managing others than doing things themselves, at all levels of the company, myself included.
Naturally, managers get less field exposure than they should, and we are working on addressing that.
We want happy, successful customers, and we believe transforming our company into our clients’ biggest champion is the best way to achieve that goal.
There are still challenges ahead. Hopefully, we will overcome them sooner rather than later.
Check out our new website and give us your feedback—we’d really appreciate it.