Keeping your customers and their experience at the core of your business is a recipe for success. To grow a customer-centric culture, you need to value, engage with, and listen to your customers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of businesses in Florida, Danielle Rosse, owner of fine-dining restaurant Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach, found a way forward by focusing on her customers' changed needs.
The oceanside bistro had thrived serving dishes like blackened mahi-mahi with lump crab meat and fruit salsa to tourists and locals. With everyone staying home, Rosse immediately leveraged her access to suppliers to transform her business into an online grocery store.
Now residents can head to Oceans 234's new grocery website to order food, alcohol, household essentials, and restaurant-made items like salad dressing and chicken salad for pickup or delivery. The business may be able to survive the coming months because of Rosse's customer-centric approach.
The fact is, putting your customers' needs first is the best way to build a strong and resilient business even when things are going fine.
Here are some tips for cultivating a customer-centric strategy as a way to thrive through good times and bad.
1. Care for customers as people.
James Raley, owner of Turbine Web Solutions in La Center, Wash., models his business ethic on that of his father, who has run a window-washing business for decades. His father treats his customers as warm acquaintances, even friends.
"You learn how to take care of people as people," says Raley, who worked in his dad's business for 20 years. "They are coming to you because they have a problem they think you can help with. Take care of them as such. If they feel they're just a number or just a rung on your ladder, they are not going to stick around."
He emphasizes that it's important for small business owners to realize the power of cultivating a customer-centric culture.
"A small business is not a big business that's waiting to happen. It's a different culture—it's a different way of thinking," he says. "Don't think like a startup; think like a neighbor, think like a friend."
2. Give your customers what they want.
A seemingly obvious but too-often ignored bit of advice is to figure out what your customers really want and give it to them. One strategy is to launch your company with a general idea and only then refine your product or service offering based on what you learn from your initial contacts with an audience of potential customers.
"For new businesses, it's really appealing to think of themselves as in dialog with people and to build something as they go," says Justine Clay, speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. "You can't build something in a vacuum. Inviting the people you want to serve to be a part of that process means that you'll build something that will sell, that they actually want. And it builds that brand loyalty."
Entrepreneurs should guard against being so determined to bring an idea to market that they neglect to engage with and listen to their audience first.
3. Be a part of the community.
Oceans 234's upstart grocery business is succeeding in part because the owner is active in the local community, including on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce, says Jason Hill, CEO of Client Focused Advisors and host of the business-focused podcast The Shrimp Tank.
Upon opening the grocery business, Rosse reached out to locals with sponsored Facebook ads, appearances on podcasts, and Zoom calls to inform the community of her efforts to keep her business going and to help her neighbors. Many of her shoppers are likely as invested in helping Oceans 234 survive as they are in procuring toilet paper.
"People misjudge why someone is successful in business," says Hill. "They say, 'They got lucky because of Y or X.' But when you peel it back, you find out: People who are successful are on the giving side and customer-centric side."
In his financial services practice, for example, he makes a habit of sending small gifts and hand-written thank-you cards to clients as a way of showing appreciation and winning loyalty.
Growing a customer-centric culture is about placing your customers' needs first. It's a straightforward idea that can be surprisingly hard to implement. But success most likely comes to those who try.