How starting with the customer in mind leads to better working relationships
Being customer-centric is often taken for granted in sales and business development. Most client-facing staff ‘talk the talk’ in terms of acknowledging its vital importance, but few ‘walk the walk’ by applying this thinking in day-to-day activities. So, why is starting with the customer in mind such a Holy Grail in our industry? Why does starting with the customer in mind - and keeping them firmly in the foreground of every decision made in your organisation - make such a difference? Let’s begin by breaking down the concept a little…
What is customer-centricity?
Customer-centricity literally puts the customer at the core of every interaction. It is the ability to understand customers' situations, perceptions, and expectations. To do this, you need emotional intelligence, empathy, and a superior capacity to listen. Customer-centricity dictates that the perspective of the customer is the focal point when it comes to delivering products, services, and experiences. The thinking is not ‘what do we want to tell this client?’ but rather ‘what is this client’s need, and how can we genuinely meet it?’
The customer-centric conundrum
Achieving customer-centricity is easier said than done. The number one thing I see customer-facing staff struggle with is acknowledging and understanding the level of assumption that they have, relative to what they think is important.
If you’re a salesperson who focuses predominantly on your own ‘stuff’, you may think your job is to go out and tell people about it. This ‘stuff’ might resonate with someone, somewhere, but for the most part, it's completely irrelevant and a waste of everyone’s time. We humans typically have some level of emotional intelligence, which means that as a salesperson if you’re pleasant, your customer will likely smile and give you enough time, irrespective of the value they sense in your approach. They may send you a few subtle body language clues, which smart operators will quickly pick up on and pivot. The majority, however, will think if the person we’re meeting with is smiling and nodding at me, it's all good. I'm on track. You'll shake hands at the end, book another meeting and think, “wonderful”, before moving onto the next account.
This is the biggest gap that most of those tasked with customer-engagement need to come to terms with. In each interaction, do you really consider the core value proposition and what possibly sits around that? Which aspects of your offerings are likely to be relevant to the stakeholder and more importantly, why? When you're left with these questions you must try to challenge your own understanding and perspective. Ask yourself: how do I learn that information?
Overcoming internal biases to better understand customer perspectives
There's a phrase I often borrow which says, “people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” The only way that you can demonstrate how much you care is through the questions that you're asking, not through what you tell people.
For those engaged in the interface with the stakeholders, we must always ask ourselves how we’re working to formulate and deliver questions that will reward us with the information we need to know about our customer. These questions animate the conversation and encourage stakeholders to share with you some of the elements that sit below the surface of what drives their beliefs and behaviours. With this new information, you’ll be better placed to add value relative to what you learn. This in turn helps you build that bridge towards being someone who they trust and enjoy being around.
Starting with the customer in mind is the first step to creating customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. If customer-facing colleagues can learn to look beyond themselves and to take on board the viewpoint of the customer, they will achieve the rare trait of being truly customer focused. And in this siloed and low-trust world, that trait can be the one thing that will get you the outcomes you & you’re company are looking for.