Making Customers Part of Your Team

This article was originally written by Mathilde Collin, CEO at Front, for Opentalk Magazine. 

Businesses have a variety of core motivations. Turning a profit can certainly be one, but there’s also making people’s lives easier with your product or sharing a passion with your customers. Usually, you can tell what’s driving a company pretty quickly. Think of the typical interaction with your home internet service provider compared to the morning greeting you get at your neighborhood coffee shop. You can probably guess which is focused on profit margins rather than passion.

At the same time, today’s business environment is increasingly competitive and fragmented. Starting a company can be as simple as creating a Shopify account or building a site on Squarespace. All over the country, entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to turn their “side hustles” into real businesses. With an ever- multiplying crowd of competitors, how do you build customer loyalty and ensure that your business continues to grow?

The key is demonstrating to your customers that you’re invested in providing them with the best service possible. How your support team works with customers to resolve issues or how your sales team talks to prospects matters more than ever — these interactions dictate how customers feel about your business. And these feelings matter. McKinsey found that 70% of buying experiences are determined by how the customer perceives they’re being treated. Do they feel like one of thousands (or even millions) or are they the only one that matters in that moment? Do you tailor your response to their specific situation, or do they have to jump through hoops to get the help they’re looking for?

Deciding how much you’re willing to invest in customer experience will influence hiring, training, operations, software choice and more. But increasingly, investing in customer experience is not optional. Gartner predicts that 50% of product investment projects will be redirected into customer experience innovations by the end of this year, while Bain found that a customer is four times more likely to buy from a competitor if they have a service-related problem. Getting customer experience right is critical.

So where does that leave us? Companies of all kinds recognize the importance of this shift toward customer experience as a blend of sales, marketing and support. When everyone is trying to craft a genuine customer experience, how can you differentiate?

Start with Your Culture

Genuine customer experiences start with genuine people. We’re seeing a proliferation of messaging tools and technologies that allow businesses to create authenticity at scale. They certainly allow businesses to stretch their support teams to help more customers than they’d otherwise be able to manage.

But the people behind those tools and technologies dictate their use. Great customer experience starts with a great team and company culture.

In First Round Capital’s First Round Review, tech branding consultant Julie Supan makes the argument that in the best case scenarios, your company culture even reflect the values of your customers. For example:

“When you get off the elevator for an interview at Airbnb, you’re literally group-hugged and welcomed. They define their customer in terms of love, caring about people, being a global citizen, and you need to feel that as soon as you step foot in the office.”

She describes how the most successful companies develop a clear picture of their “high-expectation customer” and relentlessly focus on them. This has obvious implications for your sales, marketing and support teams, but Supan also argues that it’s critical to make this target customer a “regular, familiar presence in the office.” When this is done well, the culture of your company begins to reflect this high-expectation customer so they feel like a part of your team.

When you instill what your customers care about deeply into your company culture, you can actually work alongside your customers, in a way. Every team is looking for more insight into their customers, and making your target persona a part of your team (figuratively speaking) kicks off a chain of positive effects:

Greater Empathy for Their Problems

We’re increasingly focused on building close-knit, positive team cultures. When your customers are a regular presence at the office, even if only in spirit, treating them with respect and empathy becomes a no-brainer.

Better Understanding of Their Needs

When you have a clear picture of your target customer and their goals, you can better predict how they will react to new products or other service updates.

Easier to Prioritize Internally

You have a better grasp on what will be most impactful to your customers and can prioritize accordingly. You can have confidence that you’re focusing on the right things at the right time and making reasonable tradeoffs.

Fewer Worst-Case Scenarios

All of this insight allows you to better prepare for worst-case outcomes. Better guesses at how customers will react to changes — both good and bad — means you can better arm yourself against these situations.

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