Creating a customer-centric company is quickly becoming a top priority of businesses looking to thrive in our consumer-powered world.

We’ve seen plenty of data that shows how a great customer experience goes a long way toward building a business that lasts, but embedding this sort of thinking throughout your company requires quite a bit of finesse. The belief in superior service has to be genuine and must be a motivating factor for customer-facing employees.

So how do the likes of Starbucks, Amazon and Zappos create customer-oriented cultures that spur massive growth in spite of ample competition?

More importantly, how can you cultivate a company culture that worships the satisfied customer … and is it really worth the effort?

Read on to find out!

Why Being a Customer-Centric Company is the Smart Choice

We’ve always argued that great customer service isn’t just the right thing to do, but that it’s also good for business. We don’t just make this argument for our health; a myriad of research also proves it to be true.

The data shows that being focused on taking care of customers will put your company ahead of the pack. According to the Customer Experience Index 200 (CEI200), customer-centric companies have a higher valuation on average than their competitors:

Upon looking back on previous data starting 2007 to present, the CEI 200 has outperformed the S&P 500 Index by generating a 10.7% annualized rate of return.”

This is a clear case for a customer-centric business culture. These businesses’ performance shows that the return on the investment put into creating an outstanding customer experience more than pays for itself.

Now that we’ve covered the why, let’s take a look at the how. How can businesses just like yours join these highly valued companies who are seemingly worshipped by their happy customers?

Let’s take a look!

1. Demonstrate What Great Service Can Achieve

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood ... instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

You’ve probably heard the sentiment that you should “hire for attitude and train for skill.” The truth is that even those on your team with the best attitudes can always utilize motivation—especially the kind of motivation that justifies taking extremely good care of customers.

You have to demonstrate to your team how a great customer experience allows the organization to achieve its goals. We’ve shown you how forward-thinking companies are able to thrive by providing exceptional customer service, but have you relayed this information to your team?

If you have, has your case gone beyond basic observations about the importance of good service to tie the message to your bottom line? Your employees will benefit from hearing how great service impacts revenues, company stability and the business’ potential to thrive in the future.

We have a full set of statistics to get you started making this case, but ultimately your message to your team should be extremely personal. Base it on why a memorable customer experience is important to your employees, your company’s culture and your mission.

2. Get the Whole Team Involved

In realizing how important this concept is to smaller teams, here at Help Scout we have embraced the idea of Whole Company Support in full force!

We do this by rotating our support schedule every week, with each team member serving as the support leader for his designated week. Everybody still chips in, regardless of who is leading the charge, but this rotation allows every branch of the company to get in on the front lines and deal directly with customers.

Product people get a chance to step away from code and talk to someone face-to-face, and marketing people (like me!) are offered an opportunity to encounter FAQs about the product so that they can become more informed about the technical side of things.

The result is well-rounded employees who know how to handle customer complaints and “WOW” customers with exceptional service—both of which go a long way toward improving customer happiness and loyalty. As an added benefit, by operating with employees who know how to talk to customers you’ll be far less likely to run into a customer service train wreck!

3. Empower Employees

Beyond nurturing employees towards a customer-centric outlook, you have to embed this “cult of the customer” belief into your company by giving your employees guidance while still providing them with enough legroom to provide outstanding service.

What this means is that you need to empower employees to cut through the red tape that often hinders great service, but you also need to provide them with a framework for action so that you don’t end up losing your shirt.

If the goals you set for achieving customer satisfaction aren’t tied to your overall company objectives, well-placed customer WOWs can turn into a free-for-all that won’t guarantee great returns. Even companies that customers love such as Virgin Airlines can lose money like it’s going out of style when great service intentions aren’t tied to an overarching game plan.

Your service team shouldn’t be locked in by excessive rules, but they should have a framework that offers guidelines in favor of hard limits, judgment calls in favor of scripts, and coaching in favor of monitoring. Relying on benchmarks through systems such as the Net Promoter Score can help support teams aim for achievable metrics without feeling smothered by regulations.

As Rob Markey of Bain & Company would argue, a support team without a framework of guidelines can fall victim to poor choices that hurt the business, especially when they are given free reign over things like monetary discounts.

We know of one retail bank that gave their call center representatives the edict to delight customers and permission to waive up to $150 in fees for any customer without seeking any additional authorization.

The result? Customer satisfaction rose a little, but fee revenue declined ... a lot.”

4. Encourage Active Listening to Customers

The discussion of internal innovation versus customer feedback is a debate that has been ongoing for decades, but few would argue about how important customer feedback is for guidance.

Don Peppers (co-founder of Peppers & Rogers Group) recently voiced this opinion on LinkedIn on what a customer-centric company will do if they truly value their customers:

Assuming that you start with a quality product and service, being customer-centric means understanding the customer’s point of view and respecting the customer’s interest. You fix problems, handle complaints, and remember customer preferences.”

Listening to customers is an inherent part of taking care of them. It’s tough to know how you can improve the customer’s experience if you don’t have an attentive feedback system in place, regularly conduct meaningful customer surveys or have ongoing chats with current customers.

You’ll find that customers can help you build a product that other customers love. While they can’t single-handedly steer your product towards innovation, a truly customer-centric company will take advantage of the fact that their customers do often know what they want.

5. Treat Your Culture as an Asset

Smart businesses invest in talent, capital and training ... so why shouldn’t the same attention be given to a company’s culture?

Our friends at HubSpot have a saying: “Culture happens whether you plan it or not, so why not create one that you love?” They’ve openly placed their manifesto and “culture code” handbook online for all to see:

If a culture that thrives on taking care of customers is important to you, you need to invest in it.

We love how Buffer spends plenty of time and energy motivating, inspiring and rewarding employees for providing excellent service. They even go the extra mile by openly blogging about their email support metrics (using Help Scout’s analytics). This transparency shows their customers and the world at large how they invest in support now and what they plan to do in order to improve in the future.

Are you promoting your customer-centric culture as the valuable asset that it truly is?

6. Sweat the Small Stuff

We’ve shared a number of customer service stories here on the blog, and it’s not hard to see what makes them so memorable and heartfelt; they almost always involve someone within the company going the extra mile for a customer.

If there is one trait you should try to ingrain in your entire team’s conduct with customers, it’s this one: Focusing on the details will go a long way toward creating reciprocity with your customers, and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

These sort of points aren’t complete without a candid example, so allow me to provide one! The only flower place I will ever shop at, Gamble’s Florist, won my lifelong business because of a single thing that they do that I’ve never seen another florist offer.

(Their flowers are superb, too, but let’s be honest, I’m a guy and I barely know what I’m picking out!)

Every time I shop there, I end up walking out with a giant array of flowers. And every time I’ve left the store, an employee has offered to help me walk out to the car to secure the flowers in my passenger seat. It doesn’t matter who is working that day; they always ask.

This tiny detail means so much to me because I’m always paranoid that I’ll drop or damage this special (and expensive) gift that I just picked up, and it’s a gift that is highly dependent on looking good to have its desired impact.

This is the sort of personalized service that any company can embed into their business. I wanted to share it with you to demonstrate that building a customer-centric company culture doesn’t have to be lofty or intimidating—it’s really just about showing those who do business with you that you are grateful to have them as customers.

Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.