5 actionable ways to put the customer first

In many companies, there is a policy “the customer is always right.” “Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read Rule 1”. – Stew Leonard

But does that mean these companies adhere to the customer first strategy?

Obviously, we all know it’s - sadly - not the case. It’s common to receive poor or mediocre customer service and feel like the company perceives its clients as the least important part of the equation.

So, today, we’re going to explore how you and your company can put the customer first and take steps to make them want to come back for more.

Besides that, I’ll try to do my best to explain all the concepts around putting the customer first and how you should go about them.

Okay, enough for the introduction!

What does “the customer is always right” mean?

That motto was formulated differently in different countries: The customer is never wrong in France (Le client n’a jamais tort), The customer is a king in Germany (Der Kunde ist König), The customer is a god in Japan (お客様は神様です), etc.

The one who best explained that was César Ritz, also known as the “King of Hoteliers, and Hotelier to Kings,” who said, “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked”.

It’s clear that this approach requires a company to put its customers above anything else. Therefore, the customer is always right works as a rule that can overrule any other principle and should be perceived as a priority in order to work sufficiently.

What is the customer-first strategy?

The customer first strategy is not only a strategy. It’s the whole mindset of a business that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey.

Every single time such a business makes a decision, it thinks of how such a decision might affect its customers.

This means that rather than making a customer a person beyond and above your company, you make him a centerpiece of the puzzle. Even though the customer steps down from the “god position” to a more down-to-earth priority position, their satisfaction is still what you aim for.

A good way to think about the customer first strategy is as a healthy version of the customer is always right approach.

The customer is always right vs. customer first

Many people think that putting the customer first and following “the customer is always right” strategy is the same.

Sure, both strategies have the same goal - high customer satisfaction.

But it doesn’t mean it’s the same.

While putting the customer first, everything you do, you do for the good of the customer. That way customer loyalty and satisfaction are growing up, which leads to referrals for more customers.

On the contrary, unconditionally fulfilling all the whims of the client, you rather harm your business.

First of all, no person is always right. It’s simply impossible. And if you think that you are always right, you are wrong at first.

Second of all, people can be dishonest, have unrealistic expectations or not be competent enough.

So if you adopt the policy of admitting whatever claims the customer makes to be right, you:

1. will be subjected to inevitable losses;

2. will look unprofessional;

3. will harm other clients;

4. will never be on your employees’ side.

It becomes crystal clear that sticking to an always right approach can lead to unwanted results.

Instead of putting your customers on the above-the-clouds pedestal, make them an important part of the equation without having to upset the balance within your company.

How to put the customer first?

1. Select your target audience

To know who to put first, you need to know who is your target group. Once you select it, focus on it.

As a salesman you know that every person has different motivations to buy.

You don’t use the same arguments with the single guy around 23 who likes to go out clubbing and the young mother, who just gave birth to a third child and the only place she might go tonight is the diaper store.

Knowingly or subconsciously you segment all the people into the groups based on some criteria:

  1. Demography (age, sex, education level, income level, the average size of a family, etc.)
  2. Psychography (personality traits, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests, etc.)
  3. Lifestyle (the way the person lives, behaves, etc.)
  4. U&A (usage & attitude) (the way the customer uses the product)

So now the segment you distinguish based on these criteria will be your target group.

2. Create the customer persona

The next step is to name that particular person that represents your target group.

Simply because it’s always easier to put yourself in the shoes of only one person than to aim to understand the whole target group.

How to do that?

Start with a general picture by asking vague questions. This will help you quick-start the process and, later on, you’ll be able to narrow them down to find perfect types of customers.

Some of the questions that you can ask are:

  • What type of businesses do you want to work with?
  • How old is your perfect customer?
  • Where is he/she located?

Here, it’s important you keep in mind that no answer has to be taken with 100% certainty. For example, if you’d like to work with both startups and enterprises, just note it down and, later on, you’ll be able to create two different groups leading you to separate customer personas.

Also, if you’re not sure about the age or location of your customer persona, write down a range or list a few possible answers.

Then, with a few vague categories you’ve got, start asking more narrow questions. This can include:

  • What are their business preferences?
  • What do they value the most in terms of service?
  • What are their personal goals?

Make these questions industry-specific and make sure you include everything that may be important to your business and interactions your customers might have with it.

All of the above will result in one or a few categories of customer personas that you can target and therefore aim right for your customers’ true needs.

After all, you can only help or serve someone when you know what they want. Without this knowledge, you’ll never be able to put your customer first and address his needs.

3. Implement a customer-oriented approach

The customer-oriented approach goes hand-in-hand with what putting the customer first is all about. That’s because when you commit to serving your customers and make it a priority all of your employees have to be on-board.

Therefore, not only you have to make sure that the board or the C-level folks in your company know what to do but also (or rather especially) make sure your representatives and agents are keeping up with the changes.

Applying the customer-oriented approach can help you optimize all the actions to put your customer first and to fulfill his needs before the business’.

You might have heard the story from Virgin Atlantic when one of their employees offered exceptional customer service and was, later on, punished for doing so by her manager.

Namely, one of the Virgin Atlantic’s clients mistaken the pickup spot in which he should meet with the previously-purchased limousine taxi. Thus, not to miss his flight, he caught a regular taxi which got stuck in the traffic and for which he had to pay on his own.

While he arrived to the airport he was angry (and late) enough to channel that anger onto the Virgin Atlantic’s worker. Luckily, she knew how to put the customer first and thus she helped him calm down, gave him back the money he paid for the cab and took him through a priority lane so not only he didn’t miss his flight but he also had a couple of minutes before the boarding started.

Sadly, when her manager heard about it, he asked for the receipt which, because of the rush, she didn’t have. As a result, she didn’t get her money back and was, in fact, punished for what she did.

And, of course, this not only made her more reluctant about her future actions but it had the same effect on the rest of the stuff.

Luckily, the whole situation had a happy ending and the Virgin Atlantic’s employee was rewarded for what she did. She even got a personal Thank you from Richard Branson himself!

It shows how important it is to implement a customer-oriented approach across the whole company. And, if you truly put the customer first, a missing receipt shouldn’t matter at all.

4. Focus on personalized experiences

Personalization is yet another way a company can put its customers first.

That’s because personalization shows how much you care and that you want to walk another mile to provide more than expected.

What’s interesting, this can not only impact your bottom line thanks to higher customer satisfaction which often correlates with better retention rate but can also justify the price of whatever you’re offering (especially if you’re targeting Gen Z audience).

According to the recent Oracle report CX: One Size Doesn’t Fit All, four out of 10 respondents are willing to pay as much as 20% more for an impressive customer experience.

Also, 58% of Gen Z customers are more likely to buy from a company that offers novel ways to experience its product or services.

And, at the same time, 68% of the consumers say tailored experiences based on their tastes and preferences are important to them.

Taking all of the above statistics into consideration, it’s hard to overlook the importance of personalized experiences. Going one step further and tailoring what your customers get to perfectly suit their needs is one of the best ways to put them first.

5. Offer exceptional service

Well… While it might be obvious, the best way to put the customer first is to actually offer exceptional service. And what I mean by exceptional is service that stays for years in the mind of the customer.

A good example of such service might be a story from the same book as the earlier story - namely Like a Virgin by Richard Branson - about the British Airways stewardess that made a customer’s day.

What happened was that one of the customers, after getting on the plane, recalled that he left his jacket in the airplane hall. He asked the flight attendant whether he could still go back to get it but obviously, it was too late and he wasn’t allowed to leave the plane. Yet, he was assured that they will find the jacket and send it to him afterward.

The guy sat down in his seat, certain that he’ll never see his jacket again. Yet, right when they landed at his destination he got handed his jacket! What British Airways did was that they put the jacket on a faster Concorde which overtook the plane he was in and arrived earlier to hand him the jacket.

Of course, they could do the same by sending it to him but it’s clear how big of a surprise it must have been to see his jacket while leaving the plane. I bet he made sure not to fly with any other airline than British Airways and he’s probably referring others to the company to this day!

The other reason why it’s so crucial to offer exceptional service is the fact that customers are very demanding these days.

As customer service guru Shep Hyken says, “Your customers no longer compare you to your competitor. They compare you to the best service they ever had… from anyone.”

Therefore to truly put them first and offer service that gets you long-lasting customers, you have to make sure you AT LEAST offer a service that resembles the commitment of both of the stories you’ve read in this article.

Summing up

Putting your customer first is not a one-off action. It’s about the approach that you implement throughout the whole company and implement it into the work of every employee.

Even though it can take some time to put your customers first through every action you and your company take, it can have very positive effects which will make the effort 100% worth it.

After all, how you treat your customers is how well your business does. So why not make them first and become first yourself?

About the author

Jakub Kliszczak is a Marketing Specialist at CrazyCall; a cloud-based calling app which provides sales teams with essential tools to reach their customers worldwide. He’s passionate about digital marketing, developing new businesses, and turning new ideas into real ventures. In his “free time”, he prefers to read non-fiction and hit the gym.