In today’s hyperconnected world, consumers have more power than ever before. In just a few clicks or swipes, they have the ability to shop around for the best price, compare product features, and most importantly, gain access to hundreds, if not thousands, of customer reviews. Data backs up this power shift too, with a report from Deloitte finding that 81 percent of consumers do their due diligence in checking customer ratings and reading reviews before making a purchase, and three times as many millennials than baby boomers report that online reviews are critical in influencing their purchase decisions.
With these factors in mind, it’s clear: to be successful and competitive, businesses need to adopt a customer-first approach in every facet of their business, which means long-term success must be prioritized over short-term wins. While understanding this simple kernel of knowledge is all well and good, implementing it is a little more tricky, which makes sense considering the complexity of many businesses, not to mention the fears held by business owners around customers taking advantage of any customer-first policies.
So where exactly is the best place to start in developing and implementing a customer-first approach?
Funnily enough, it’s quite simple. Start with examining the roots of your business, your values when the business started and your values now. What has changed? What has stayed the same? And, what needs to change? When I started Blindster in 2010 with only $5000 in my pocket, I had a simple aim: to provide customers with the first online service for fully customizable blinds. I started with my garage, a website, and my mom, who would work on the administrative side of the business, processing payments manually through a physical terminal. While she handled that, I focused on ensuring Blindster had a comprehensive selection, while also maintaining an equal focus on ensuring our customers felt supported and informed through every step of the purchase process.
While we no longer operate out of my garage, our base offering has remained the same. Blindster offers fully customizable blinds online, with comprehensive customer support throughout the purchase process, including installation and after-sales care. The difference now is that we have grown to become the largest retailer of private label, custom-made window treatments in the nation. How did we do it? Of course, some credit has to go towards being pioneers in the space, but that’s only part of the formula as a number of competitors have emerged since 2010. Where Blindster differs from the competition is in our consistently customer-centric approach.
This approach is based around long-term success where, instead of focusing on making sales as quickly as possible at the expense of customer satisfaction, a business provides such a high-level of customer service that customers don’t want to go elsewhere. While this is undeniably the more expensive and labor-intensive approach in terms of staff resources, web presence, and product, the return on investment from this strategy is clear and measurable.
Once a business has taken stock of their businesses’ values and roots, the first aspect in implementing a customer-first approach is evaluating the businesses’ website: is it intuitive and easy to navigate? Are company and product policies clearly spelled out? Are contact details easy to find? And, are there options to chat with a consultant for quick questions that don’t require a phone call? Essentially, the aim in building a customer-centric website, and overall web presence is to ensure it’s easy to navigate, easy to use, and full of relevant information.
Staff resources are an equally critical consideration, as many businesses opt to save on overheads by outsourcing customer care to offshore call centers. This is a huge mistake, as offshore call centers rarely have comprehensively trained staff, and can be subject to some communication barriers. While it’s undeniably more expensive, having a well-trained customer care team onshore, or better yet, within the business delivers much better results – especially when operating within a niche or specialty business where first-hand knowledge is invaluable for customers.
The last pillar of being a customer-centric business is in product and returns policies. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all guide to product and returns policies and it will differ from business to business, but it is critical to have an idea of how a customer complaint around a faulty, incorrect, or mismeasured product should and would be handled by your business. Is the business willing to provide a whole new product at no additional charge if the customer has purchased the incorrect one? Is it possible that a mismeasured product could be resized? If a customer has a complaint around service or has written a negative review, is the business willing to provide a discount or product to rectify the situation, or are all sales final and not subject to returns or exchanges? While the latter is not an example of a customer-centric approach, it is vital for business leaders and customer care agents to have an understanding of just how far a business is willing to go to provide exceptional customer service.
While every businesses’ customer-care strategy will be unique to their offering, the pillars supporting that strategy will generally be the same. This is for good reason, too, as the pillars of good customer service are tried-and-tested and can provide measurable results. Just look at Blindster as an example, in under a decade, through focusing on customer satisfaction we’ve grown from a small, family operation into the largest, private label, custom-made window-treatments online retailer in the nation.