More and more companies are finding that customer focus, more than anything else, is a key driver in their success. Growth leaders like Amazon, Apple, and Google all make customers the centre of their business decisions.
There are many ways company’s express their commitment to their customers:
- The customer is always right.
- “Just say yes.”
- Customer-first decision-making.
I’m much more inclined towards that latter, than the first two.
Let’s be honest, the customer is not always right (as this famous Henry Ford quote tells us):
“Just say yes” is ok with qualifiers. But, “just say yes to requests from your target market, that have good ROI” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Customer-first decision-making comes closest to capturing the essence of true empathy for your customers.
But how do you build empathy for your customers at an organizational level?
I’ll be honest here and say it helps if your CEO, or people on your leadership team, had (and continue to have) the problem your product solves. The trouble is — particularly as you grow — the people building your company and selling your product get further away from the customers using it.
Humanize Your Customers
Far and away the most transformative experience I had in my time at Unbounce was getting to meet, spend time with, and know our customers. I had the privilege of flying to Richmond, Virginia to film a case study with the team at Workshop Digital that fundamentally changed my understanding of our product.
Having as many people in your organization as possible meet and interact with your customers is great, but can also be costly. While you can try to work with whatever local user base you have, it’s also great to talk about your customers when you meet as a whole company.
When sharing stories about your customers at a company all-hands, I don’t mean repeating the case study material you have on your website — which is obviously valuable, but has a different goal — I mean sharing the minutiae of their lives, and how your company fits into it.
Most importantly, what do you allow them to do in their lives that they can’t get anywhere else? But also, what’s their favourite meme? What do they do for fun? Do they prefer North Carolina or Texas-style BBQ?
Storytelling with details is important for an internal audience just as much as an external one.
On top of sharing customer stories, here are some real world examples of how companies are building empathy for their customers:
1. What’s in Store
When MailChimp pivoted to focus more on ecommerce they wanted to build some empathy for that market. To achieve this they set about building their own online store, and documenting the experience. With their online store live, What’s In Store transitioned into a vehicle for customer stories.
This content oozes empathy. It’s just as valuable to an internal audience as an external one. Honestly I couldn’t love it more – there are so many lessons here.
2. All hands support
Getting your entire team to hop on to Support (even for a few hours a month) is a great way to build empathy for your customers. It also keeps customers front and centre in people’s minds, because while there are any number of ways you can talk about how customer-centric your organization wants to be, it’s really easy for your team to get disconnected from customers. You need to be specific and have strategies in place that mitigate this as much as possible.
We do all hands support on a rotation at Thinkific, and there are many other companies where hopping on support is a huge part of the culture, like:
- Zapier: All Hands Support: Why Everyone–Even Executives–Should Spend Time in Customer Service »
- StatusPage: All-Hands Support: Why, No Exceptions, Everyone At Our Company Talks To Customers »
- Olark: Why we do All Hands Support at Olark »
- Groove: How To Establish a Culture of “Everyone Does Support” »
3. Embedded support
Intercom recently talked about how they embed Support Agents within Product Teams. It’s a way to build a customer champion right into the process, and also benefits the rest of the Support Team with deeper knowledge of how the product is being developed (more on empathy for your colleagues coming in a later post).
4. Customer stand-in
While HubSpot was roundly ridiculed for bringing a teddy bear to meetings, the idea — having a stand-in for customers who aren’t in the meeting — is a good one. Having something in the room that forces the team to think about the customer perspective is a great way to encourage customer-first decision-making.
There are many ways to encourage company-wide empathy for your customers, but the common thread among those mentioned above: they’re all purposeful. Don’t expect your team to make customer-first decisions because you have a “customers come first” sign on the wall, or talk about it occasionally at team meetings. Customers need to be built into DNA of your business — the everyday processes by which your team functions — to ensure your continued, and sustained, growth.
This post is part of series on Actionable Lessons From a High-Growth Startup »