What does it mean to be ‘Customer-Centric’?

In the metals industry, product focus is a given. Whether you are a producer, service center, or fabricator, your company was most likely built around the core of providing materials and/or services to process those materials. The model for success is to focus on managing those materials and services as efficiently as possible.

Companies assume that they are also prioritizing the customer. After all, doesn’t every company want to put the customer first? But you can’t assume you are prioritizing the customer. A customer-focused approach is a strategic choice.

Customer-centricity is the choice to prioritize customers at the center of business decision-making. Customer-focused businesses make decisions based on how those decisions impact customers — as opposed to focusing on profits above all else. It’s a long-term, company-wide strategy with the anticipation that if customers have a great experience, they’ll buy more, be more loyal, and share their experience with their networks.

Great customer experience starts with great employee experience

To develop customer-centricity, companies must first win the hearts and minds of their employees. Employees are your primary brand advocates, your eyes and ears in the marketplace, and often your customers’ first point of interaction with the company.

Build an organizational culture that treats employees exceptionally. This starts with leaders and managers who listen to employees, and don’t just respond to employee demands, but also look for opportunities to introduce solutions to things employees haven’t yet recognized as a need. An exceptional customer experience tends to be a result of an exceptional employee experience.

Customer focus requires company-wide commitment

You can’t tell customers they are delighted with your company; they need to arrive at that conclusion for themselves. That conclusion is impacted by each and every interaction, and one negative interaction can negate ten or even a hundred positive interactions.

Consider a service center from the shoes of a manufacturer customer, who has a need for material and reaches out for a quote. The quote alone involves multiple people and departments. Is the salesperson prompt in responding? Has procurement been accurate in forecasting demand such that the desired material is in stock? Is the price consistent with market expectations? Does logistics pick up and deliver the material on time?

You get the point. If any of the employees involved in the interactions between a customer and your company fail to meet their needs, satisfaction for the entire relationship is at risk.

In a customer-centric company, every employee considers their job from the perspective of the customer, and every employee sees themselves as customer-facing in some way.

The larger the company, the harder it is for all employees to stay connected to customers

As companies grow, more distance forms between customers and employees. In a customer-focused approach, it’s critical to continuously find ways to shrink that distance so all employees remain customer-facing in some way. Sharing feedback, good and bad, with the entire company is one way employees can stay close to customers. Cross-department sharing and collaboration is also valuable. Some companies have formal programs to ensure all employees interact with customers, even once or twice a year. And managers should ensure that all employees understand how their job interacts with and impacts the customer.

Create experiences worth repeating

Customer focus doesn’t require fancy tools or skills. It simply requires a company-wide dedication to understanding what your customers need and delivering on it. And it requires cross-departmental collaboration and commitment to produce customer-first solutions that they want more of.

This approach doesn’t always mean added costs. It can also help to improve efficiency and reduce costs. By truly understanding customers, businesses can identify and eliminate inefficiencies in their operations and processes, resulting in cost savings and increased productivity.

A company that is successful implementing a customer-first approach provides experiences that build customer loyalty and, ultimately, profit.

Think beyond today’s customer needs

A customer-centric approach is not just about meeting the current needs of customers, but also about anticipating their future needs. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and a passionate culture to satisfy customers will drive your company to create new solutions on their behalf. This may feel inefficient but think about how quickly the world is changing around us, and how often yesterday’s “wow” becomes today’s “ordinary.”

Customers have an appetite for better products and solutions, well beyond what they can communicate in their feedback. Continuously gather feedback and analyze data, but also stay up to date on industry trends and advancements. Look to other industries and ecosystems for ideas, and work backwards from the customer.

Putting the customer at the center of everything you do and having employees go beyond simply knowing what customers say they want provides a stream of ideas and inspiration to innovate. Short term, this opens your company up to creative innovation in many more areas than you would otherwise. Long term, your company benefits by getting ahead of your customers’ needs, therefore staying relevant in providing continuous value to them.

In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive, and technology-enabled environment, it is more important than ever to adopt a customer-focused approach. Customer-centricity is not a one-time thing, but a companywide strategy, an ongoing process that requires diligence and continuous improvement.