GuidesCustomer researchWhat a "customer-first" strategy means for your business

What a "customer-first" strategy means for your business

Last updated

3 July 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

A customer-first or customer-centric strategy involves putting customers at the center of everything a business does. 

In this article, you’ll learn what a customer-first strategy means for your business and how to put your customers first to set yourself up for success.

What does "customer-first" mean?

A customer-first strategy prioritizes customers' needs, preferences, and overall satisfaction. Its objective is to deliver the best customer experience consistently and proactively.

When you put your customers first, you consider how each decision or touchpoint can affect their experience. 

For example, suppose you own a retail clothing company and are considering changing your return policy due to increased fraudulent returns. 

In that case, you can assess how the decision will affect your customers by considering:

  • The impact of the decision on the convenience of the return process

  • The best communication strategies to ensure all customers understand the new policy

  • The potential impact on customer satisfaction

  • The erosion in customer loyalty

Several companies, such as Uber, Warby Parker, and Airbnb, have had excellent results with a customer-first strategy. 

Instead of designing the customer journey around the product, operations, technology, sales, and marketing, they organized it around offering customers the best experience. 

The 2023 Zendesk CX Trends report surveyed nearly 3,700 consumers and 4,800 business respondents. It discovered that 70% of consumers spend more with companies that provide fluid, personalized, and seamless customer experiences.

"Customer first" vs. "the customer is always right"

"Customer-first" and "the customer is always right" are different concepts that emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction in businesses.

“The customer is always right" means customer service reps should treat customers as if their demands, concerns, and opinions are always correct. 

Instead of applying it literally, it reminds businesses to listen to customers and do their best to provide excellent service.

"Customer-first" is the strategic approach of understanding who your customer is and prioritizing their needs and preferences. It recognizes that putting customers at the center of business operations leads to long-term success.

Both concepts focus on improving customer satisfaction and experience, but "customer-first" is a broader approach. 

"Customer-first" acknowledges that customer opinions and feedback are important, but some expectations are unreasonable, conflicting with business objectives.

Business benefits of a customer-first strategy

Adopting a customer-first strategy can benefit your business by:

Improving customer loyalty

A customer-first strategy focusing on a positive long-term relationship with customers makes customers feel valued and increases their loyalty. 

Loyal customers reduce the cost of acquiring customers, make repeat purchases, and are likely to recommend your business to others. They have a much higher lifetime value compared to non-loyal customers.

Increasing customer satisfaction

Putting your customers at the center of your operations and decisions can help you better understand and meet their expectations. It puts you in a position to deliver proactive, hyper-personalized experiences, increasing satisfaction levels.

Differentiating you from competitors

Consistently delivering exceptional experiences through a customer-first strategy makes you unique. Standing out can increase your market share and revenues by attracting new customers.

Enhancing customer insights

A customer-first strategy gathers all customer data from various sources and channels for you to analyze. The analysis generates valuable insights into your customers. 

You can leverage the data to refine your offerings, improve your decisions, and identify new growth opportunities.

Increasing employee engagement

Employees can become more motivated and engaged when they see their work’s positive effect on customer satisfaction.

Improving efficiency

A customer-first strategy can improve efficiency by reducing customer support costs. Customers who've had a positive experience with your business are less likely to encounter issues or require extensive customer support.

Implementing a customer-first strategy can help you differentiate your brand, build a competitive edge, and increase loyalty. These all contribute to the long-term success of your business.

An example of a business that has succeeded with its customer-first approach is the Navy Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in the country. 

It prioritizes the needs and satisfaction of its members by tailoring its products, services, and offerings to meet their unique financial needs. It also offers exceptional customer service.

How to put customers first

You can put your customers first by implementing the following practices:

1. Understand your target audience

If you want to put your customers first and build your decisions and operations around them, you need to understand them. You cannot develop an effective strategy if you don't know who you’re creating it for.

To understand your target audience: 

  • Conduct extensive market research, data analysis, and customer feedback on their: 

    • Pain points

    • Habits

    • Preferences

  • Identify metrics like: 

    • Shopping patterns

    • Demographics

  • Gain insights into their: 

    • Values

    • Habits

    • Preferences

    • Price-points

    • Attitudes

  • Creating a detailed buyer persona can enhance targeting

2. Recognize what customer needs you are fulfilling

You cannot solve everyone's needs and problems. 

Identifying your customers’ core needs helps you refine your products and services to address them effectively. You can identify them with: 

Addressing a specific problem your target audience faces can set you apart from competitors and attract customers.

3. Bring a customer-centric mindset to every team

Many organizations leave the responsibility of enhancing customer experience to the customer service team. This makes it less effective and leaves the business vulnerable.

Instead, your customer-first strategy should foster a culture throughout your business. All departments and teams should consider the impact of their decisions and actions on the customer experience. 

Creating a customer-first culture empowers employees to make the shopping experience the best it can be. This involves encouraging all teams to consider the consumer's viewpoint and satisfaction before making decisions.  

All teams must actively contribute to offering exceptional customer experiences. 

For example, human resources should ensure employees are happy and engaged, as they lead to happier customers.

4. Have a strong crisis communications plan

Crises like product or service failure and data breaches can occur unexpectedly, affecting your business. You need a strong crisis communication plan to handle these events swiftly.

A crisis can affect various stakeholders, including consumers, suppliers, and the public. 

A communication plan helps you communicate with each group effectively to maintain their trust and confidence. It can include details on: 

  • How to respond

  • Each employee's role in the crisis

  • The messaging and tone to use

  • What channels to communicate from

Having a plan will minimize the impact of a crisis and protect your brand's reputation.

5. Think of innovative ideas to improve customer experience

Implementing your customer-first strategy is only the beginning. You must think of innovative ideas to consistently deliver unique experiences through various shopping channels. 

It can act as a differentiator for your business, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones through personalization.

Innovative customer experiences can also increase brand awareness and build a reputation of a forward-thinking company. This can position your business as a leader in your industry, attracting customers looking for businesses that consistently push the boundaries.

If you don't consistently look for ways to improve the customer experience, your competitors will catch up and give your customers reasons to leave you.

6. Prioritize direct customer communications

Direct communication involves direct, one-on-one communication, such as face-to-face conversations, phone calls, and personalized emails. 

Indirect communication involves social media posts, blog articles, and advertising.

Direct communication is personalized and immediate, making it ideal for several situations, such as matters requiring detailed explanations or individual assistance. 

It also provides opportunities to build stronger customer relationships, enhancing customer understanding and trust.

You should prioritize direct communication because it creates a more engaging customer-centric experience, leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

But you should offer indirect communication options to let your customers choose the best methods for their needs.

7. Regularly survey customers

The definition of a "good customer experience" isn’t as simple as we’d like. 

Customers are multifaceted and complex. They react to many factors, causing their preferences to change faster than many businesses can keep up with. Conducting regular surveys ensures you’re focusing on their latest needs and wants.

Frequent surveys can help you track satisfaction levels, identify improvement areas, and uncover potential issues to implement changes so your strategy remains effective.

How to know if your company is "customer first"

Consider the following indicators to determine if your company is truly "customer first":

Customer-centric culture

Evaluate if your company culture prioritizes customer needs and values customer satisfaction. 

Are signs of customer-centric values in your company's mission, vision, and core values?

Customer feedback loop

Assess if your company actively seeks and listens to customer feedback. 

Do you have systems to gather feedback and interactions, and do you use them to inform decisions?

Customer experience mapping

Check if your company understands the end-to-end customer journey. 

Look for evidence that you identify customer pain points and touchpoints and use them to improve the overall experience.

Empowered customer-facing teams

Assess if your company has empowered customer-facing teams, like customer support, to prioritize customer satisfaction. Have they been customer-centric trained?

Data-driven decision-making

Analyze if your company uses customer data and insights to inform decision-making. 

Do you use customer analytics, data-driven segmentation, and customer behavior analysis to understand their needs and preferences?

Continuous improvement

Determine if your company has a mindset of continuous improvement in customer experience. 

Look for evidence of iterative enhancements, experiments, and innovations that address customer pain points and deliver value.

Conclusion

A customer-first strategy puts customers at the center of everything a business does. 

Implementing it guarantees long-term success by improving acquisition, satisfaction, and loyalty. 

It also differentiates you from your competitors, which is critical in today's crowded business environment.

FAQs

What is the objective of the customer-first approach?

The objective of a customer-first approach is to prioritize the needs and preferences of customers. 

It creates a customer-centric culture and strategy that focuses on understanding and fulfilling customer expectations to enhance their experience.

What is the difference between product-first vs. customer-first?

A product-first approach focuses on creating and delivering a superior product, assuming customer needs align with it. 

A customer-first approach places the customer at the center of decision-making and involves tailoring products and services to deliver the best experience.

What is the difference between customer-first and customer-centric?

Customer-first refers to a strategic approach where the customer's needs and satisfaction are the primary focus of business decisions and actions. It involves making decisions and designing experiences with the customer's best interests in mind. 

Being customer-centric means integrating the customer's needs, preferences, and feedback into every aspect of the business. That includes everything from product development and marketing to customer support and operations.

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