3 ways to cultivate a customer-centric company

2017 is the year of the customer. There's no doubt that SaaS companies must build their strategy around their customers to succeed:

ProfitWell's Patrick Cambell wrote, “Set your sights on the forward-thinking, customer-centric strategies that will shape SaaS success in 2017.”

Remind co-founder Brett Kopf wrote, “To hire, build, fundraise or sell, you need a story. And that story is about your customer. It’s your bones — your skeleton. Without it, you crumple to the floor.”

Steli Efti and Hiten Shah said in their e-book: “Customers. That’s the only thing you really need to focus on when you’re building a B2B startup.”

While the message is clear, what a “customer-centric” company looks like at a practical level is less so. Traditionally, product teams look at customer usage metrics, support teams track frequently asked questions, and sales teams develop buyer personas. While these tactics help teams form a perception of your customers, deepening that understanding requires constant work.

Just like you would get to know a friend, spend time with your customers — whether in person or online. Your whole team should regularly engage with customers to ensure the idea of the customer they have in their heads matches the people actually using your product.

Here are three ways to cultivate a truly “customer-centric” mindset in your team.

Get face time with your customers

Teams that understand and empathize with customer problems are best equipped to find solutions for them. But empathy can be hard to develop through a computer screen: it's easiest to build through face-to-face, personal interactions.

Meeting customers in person helps move beyond reducing customers to relevant stats: their title, company size, or industry. When they meet the person behind these data points, they get to learn about their pain points, frustrations, goals, and how they plan to achieve them. These narratives give color and meaning to customer problems in a way that a support message or usage metric can't.

Help your team connect with your customers as people by facilitating in person meetings. You can adapt the format to what works best for your business and customer base:

  • Regular meetups or events. Rent out a venue and throw a party, or just invite a bunch of your customers to your office for more intimate bonding in a group setting.
  • Lunches or dinners. Invite a few customers out to share a meal with the team, or set up a more formal function at a restaurant. Even busy people need meal breaks, so it's a perfect way to make sure everyone can be present.
  • Office visits. Invite your customers to check out your office and meet for coffee. You can give them a tour and have them meet the team in their natural habitat. customer centric company

We're building software to advance the way people work, so understanding how customers are really working is critical for long-term success. A big plus: meeting customers is always a fun occasion! We regularly visit with our customers, organize events, or meet them over lunch to learn something new, get their feedback, and make new connections.

Make every team member a support rep (even for a little while)

While your early hires might have known most of your customers, as your company grows personal relationships are often replaced with data. While data is a valuable window into how customers use your product, it's easy to begin focusing only on hitting metrics targets rather than delighting your customers.

Working with the same people on the same product day in and day out can cause teams to lose their customer-centric perspective. Your customer support team, however, is constantly reminded of customer problems. They talk to customers on a daily basis and are constantly looking for ways to improve their experience. But it's not just your support team's job to keep customers happy — it's the responsibility of your entire company.

To help keep customer problems top of mind, have everyone on your team (from CEO to office manager) spend time answering support messages. You can do this by:

  • Making support a part of onboarding. Have every new hire spend a few weeks on support duty. It'll help them understand common requests and what goes into solving them as well as ramp up on your product.
  • Using an all-hands support model. Designate one day a month for each person to do a rotation on support, or whatever schedule works for your team. Video hosting company Wistia did this for years before hiring any support reps.
  • Host a “support-a-thon”. Similar to a technical hackathon, host a special day or week for your entire company to work on support tickets, write FAQ articles, meet with customers, and squash reported bugs. Even if all-hands support isn't an ongoing part of your business model, get your entire team involved on a regular cadence.

At Front, we didn't have a support team for our first three years. Our co-founders and engineers took shifts working on support, so that everyone knew the problems that the customers faced. Though we've outgrown our all-hands support system, we have everyone do support as part of onboarding. It helps our new hires get familiar with Front and think about our customers from day 1.

Give everyone easy access to customer feedback

Meeting your customers face-to-face and having everyone on the team try their hand at support are great for aligning your team on what matters most. But on a daily basis, it can be difficult to gather qualitative data on something specific — like a new feature or design change.

Too often, valuable customer feedback is buried in different places or never surfaced to the right teams. It's in support messages, sales call notes, comments on your blog, Tweets and Facebook messages — the list goes on. With qualitative data so scattered, product teams often make decisions based only on quantitative data and overlook the majority of related customer feedback.

Help your team pull together siloed feedback by:

  • Using a transparent communication platform. Use a shared inbox like Front to keep all your customer messaging channels accessible to anyone on the team. Looping in the right person is easy with direct mentions and comments, or connect related messages to tasks in Asana, JIRA, or Trello to link feedback with your product roadmap.
  • Sharing customer survey results with the team. Ask your customers to take a NPS or more specific survey, then share the results with your team to celebrate wins and tackle any negative feedback in a customer-centric way. For example, Front makes it easy to track NPS results on an ongoing basis with our Delighted integration. *Track feedback with tags. Have your Success, Support, and Sales teams tag customer messages to indicate feature requests, complaints, ideas, or bugs. Teams across the company (like Product or Marketing) can search for messages by tag to see what's working and what's not.

Make feedback accessible to your whole team so everyone is equipped to make customer-driven decisions. At Asana, NPS survey feedback inspired Product Manager Sam Goetler to do a complete UX redesign — the survey showed him that the “original design was the top reason why people wouldn’t recommend [their] product.”

It's about building relationships

Drift's David Cancel has said, “Today, whoever gets closest to the customer wins.” While it's true that getting close to the customer will help your business succeed, thinking of it as “winning” implies that there's a finish line.

The benefit of creating a customer-centric company isn't simply to beat out the competition: it's to create long-lasting, mutually empowering relationships. Understanding your customers is an ongoing effort that will evolve along with your company.