Customer focus requires obsessive knowledge of what your customers need, and how to deliver. In 2007, after delivering close to one billion DVDs into customers’ mailboxes, Netflix realized their customers would prefer something different — inexpensive, simple-to-access, entertainment they could watch on demand. Netflix recognized they needed to be more customer-focused, even when it meant disrupting their own business model.

It was a smart move. The company’s video streaming service not only proved to be hugely popular, it also changed how we consume television and movies altogether. Rival DVD rental business Blockbuster failed to adapt to meet the changing market, and the rest is history.  

In an era of changing customer expectations and increased market competition, it’s more important than ever for businesses to have razor-sharp customer focus.


What is customer focus and why is it important?

Customer-focused businesses are built around customers’ needs. Becoming one involves concentrating on how every interaction helps the customer, rather than how it helps your business.

Putting customers at the heart of everything you do as a business places you in a better position to build relationships, help customers to achieve their goals, and increase customer satisfaction (all key benefits of a robust CRM). 

Yet many companies are falling at the first hurdle, as they fail to understand customers’ needs and expectations, or to adapt to their actions and behaviors.

According to Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report, 73% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, but only 51% believe companies generally do. Similarly, 62% of customers expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviors, but just 47% believe companies generally do. 


What does a customer-focused organization look like?

Fast-food giant McDonald’s is known for listening to what customers want and responding accordingly. The restaurant chain introduced an ‘All Day Breakfast’ in 2015, after feedback on social media and through online surveys suggested there was widespread interest in being able to order breakfast items all day. The company has continued to let a customer-focused mindset guide in-store innovation, rolling out easy-order kiosks to reduce waiting time, and partnering with delivery service Uber Eats. 

Dollar Shave Club is another company that turned a simple insight — consumers found buying razors expensive and a hassle — into a clever business idea. Subscribers of the service receive a nominated number of razors on a regular basis, for a set monthly fee. The company launched in 2011, receiving a major boost in 2012 when a YouTube video starring co-founder Michael Dubin went viral. Unilever has since acquired it in a deal reported to be worth $1 billion.

Even small ideas can make a big difference. When designers at GE Healthcare realized that children were terrified of the company’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems — with as many as 80% needing sedation before a scan — they set out to make them less frightening. 

Unable to redesign the multimillion-dollar machines, they focused on the experience, transforming the MRI suite into a kids’ adventure story. They applied colorful decals to the surfaces of the machine, and machine operators were given a script to lead their patients through the adventure. In one version, the MRI is a pirate ship. In another, the MRI is a spaceship transporting the patient into space. Since the redesign, the number of children needing sedation has fallen dramatically and patient satisfaction scores have increased to 90%.


How do you build a customer-focused culture?

To build a truly customer-focused culture, you first need to ensure you understand your customers and their needs. This involves collecting disconnected sources of customer data into a single, 360-degree view of your customer and, of course, being able to put that data into action to deliver better experiences. Here’s a quick look at these tips (detailed descriptions are below the infographic).

  • Listen to your customers
  • Make space for ideas
  • Break down internal barriers
  • Unlock your data
  • Appoint a customer-focused executive
Via Salesforce

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Listen to your customers

To really get to know your customers, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what their needs are, what’s driving their decision-making, what their goals are, and what they’re feeling. For example, knowing that a customer’s primary goal is to save time at work so they can spend more of it with their family can help you find them the right solution.

As well as enabling a sense of empathy, taking a walk in your customers’ shoes can help you gain a new perspective on aspects of your business you’re otherwise too close to. For example, you may believe focusing on a product’s high-tech specifications is the best way for a sales representative to seal a deal, but customers may be more interested in hearing how it will help make their life easier.

Although sales and customer service staff are the ones on the front line dealing with customers, improved customer focus should be a company-wide priority.

If possible, create opportunities for non-customer-facing staff across all levels of the business, from the Chief Executive Officer down, to spend time with customers or handle service calls so they can learn about customers firsthand. Gather and analyze different types of data — such as web analytics, attrition rates, and product use patterns — to gain insights, and invite customers to provide feedback.

Surveys are a great way to find out what your customers really think about your business. Or set up a customer advisory board to meet several times a year and discuss industry trends, business priorities, and strategy. Share results of customer feedback throughout your business.

“Social listening” — monitoring what’s said about your brand online — can also be a useful tool for building a customer-focused mindset. Along with looking for direct mentions of your company or your product names on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, try these strategies for social listening

  • Check for direct mentions and hashtags featuring your brand and products. Don’t forget common misspellings. You know how to spell your company or product name, but customers may not.
  • Monitor hashtags your customers are using. The terms you use may not reflect how your customers discuss your company or industry. Follow any thought leaders, industry influencers, or companies who represent your ideal customer. See what hashtags they’re using.
  • Track competitors’ activity. Do you know what customers are asking your rivals? If the same questions keep coming up, consider whether you should address them in your own blog or marketing content.
  • Ask your audience. Want to know something specific? Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have polling tools, or simply ask your followers an open-ended question.

Make space for ideas

Building a customer-focused mindset throughout your organization isn’t just about listening to feedback. What you do with that feedback matters just as much.

According to the “State of the Connected Customer” research, 62% of customers now expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviors. This increases to 67% among millennials and members of Generation Z.

Many businesses have traditionally left the step of coming up with ideas to a select group of individuals, but great ideas can come from anywhere. In fact, organizations including Unilever, Ikea, and Lego now actively involve customers in problem-solving and new product development through co-creation platforms and initiatives

As organizational consultant Simon Sinek says, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”


Break down internal barriers

Silos, swim lanes, bubbles. Organizational experts may use different terms, but the core problem is the same: customer data lives in multiple systems owned by different departments, which leads customers to have a disconnected experience when dealing with your business. 

While 78% of customers say they expect consistent interactions across departments, their expectations are falling short: 59% say it typically feels as though they’re communicating with separate departments, not one unified organization. About two-thirds (66%) of customers say they often have to repeat or re-explain information to different representatives they speak with.

Disjointed data is also a significant barrier to creating the more valuable, personalized experiences customers are looking for from businesses these days.  

Breaking down silos is easier said than done. But to be truly customer-focused, businesses need to work toward building a complete 360-degree customer view. In doing so, they will be able to deliver unified cross-channel customer engagement.


Unlock your data 

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are raising the bar for business. Many consumers and business buyers are prepared to pay a premium for differentiated, first-to-market products and services, putting businesses under pressure to get ahead of the digital curve.

With high-tech success stories such as Amazon making customers acutely aware of what is possible, 75% of customers now expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences. A similar proportion (74%) expects companies to use existing technologies in new ways to create better experiences.

This might mean using a customer’s browsing and purchasing history to make personalized recommendations, or sending push notifications to a customer’s smartphone offering them a discount on items they’ve looked at. It might even mean using chatbots to collect and qualify information, so agents have more time to spend on solving customers’ problems.


Appoint a customer-focused advocate

Customer focus can get lost in the day-to-day business of, well, running a business. That’s why appointing a CCO is a great idea.

The CCO’s role is to be the voice of the customer and ensure that customer focus is maintained throughout your organization. The CCO uses data and research to champion customers needs, help guide the design of products and processes, and identify where teams need to improve their customer focus skills. 

They also ensure that having a strong customer focus results in tangible benefits to your business, including increased customer satisfaction, less customer churn, and greater revenue.


Create opportunities for learning

Although building a customer-focused culture isn’t something you can do overnight, implementing these strategies will set you on the path for long-term success. 

Take employees on the journey by keeping them updated on progress, inviting ideas and feedback, and providing access to resources such as Salesforce’s Trailhead training modules to help them develop their customer-focus skills. These cover everything from learning the basics of customer journeys to improving customer service agents' communication skills.

Ultimately, by creating a culture where customers’ needs are at the heart of every interaction, businesses create a compelling offer for customers and a significant competitive advantage. But there is another reason businesses should make customer focus a priority. 

In an era where emerging technologies are disrupting whole industries at an unprecedented pace, understanding what your customer needs allows you to anticipate disruption, or even drive it. As history has repeatedly shown, it’s better to disrupt yourself than drag your heels while someone does it to you. Just ask Blockbuster.

For more data about customer focus, check out the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer” report.