Maybe you have been mulling over the topic of customer focus for a while, without quite being able to tackle it head on. You may have started some basic research, tried to learn about your competitors' strategies, spoken with your colleagues or peers, or made a list of players on the market—this is all a great start! But if you want to make real progress, it’s time to take the next step: Ask yourself the questions that need to be answered BEFORE you begin. There are many important answers to find! This leads us to our first tip, which we call the "tip of all tips" because your project's success will depend immensely upon it.

Take the time to ask yourself the right questions, rather than ignoring those that might embarrass you or to which you think you already have the answer.

Here are some leads to help you structure your conversation and give yourself every possible chance of success.

Clarify the motivation behind your customer-centric approach

What are your core reasons for wanting to take a customer-centric approach? There is no better advice to help you answer this question honestly than that offered by Patrick Guimet, Customer Relationship Manager at Monoprix:

Don't imitate companies that jump into a customer-centric approach just because it's what everyone is doing these days. Instead, try to truly serve your business by answering a real need. Perhaps the first thing to do before launching a strategy around customer focus is to identify your organisation's genuine need.”

Important note: There is no such thing as an invalid need when it comes to customer focus. A well-identified need is a good starting point. Perhaps in your case, the first topic to address is understanding why some of your stores are soaring and others are stagnating; or finding—at long last—a reliable customer satisfaction metric, or even potentially expanding a portfolio of projects you have done to improve your products and services. It is essential to understand that what motivates you—the need you want to meet—will set the stage for your customer-centric approach. This requires outlining the breadth and depth of your project, including:

1/ whose feedback you will request,

2/ where and how you will request it,

3/ what you will do with the feedback and data you gather.

Build awareness amongst stakeholders

Anyone who has launched a structured customer-centric strategy will tell you that it is important to build awareness amongst everyone who has a role to play in its design and implementation, as well as throughout its entire life cycle. Who exactly should be involved? That depends on your organisation, your business model and the ambition of your project. Even if you are only beginning the brainstorming phase, don't do it alone! Surround yourself and make allies: executive leadership, if they are not directly involved in the project, should be your first sponsors; regional managers in your network, upon whom you will later rely to motivate store or agency managers, should also be on board. Managers of marketing, customer relationship, customer experience and customer service from the targeted brands or entities should participate as well.

Why is this so important? Taking a customer-centric approach means committing to a transformation that will place the customer and the customer's input at the centre of what your company does and will decide to do. And this often requires a true cultural revolutionAs Céline Le Grand, Customer Relationship Manager at Printemps Haussmann, suggests:

Make sure that management participation is a priority—from middle management to top management—because that is what will influence the way the topic will be presented and communicated to their teams."

Understand the implications of effective customer focus

You are no doubt convinced that a customer-centric approach will help you reinforce customer satisfaction, retention and engagement throughout its life cycle. But are you sure you are taking all the steps needed to make it succeed? In practice, it will take more than asking your customers for comprehensive feedback simply to compile satisfaction scores. In reality, a customer-centric approach will only be fruitful under three conditions:

Reply to your customers – Asking your customers to give feedback means engaging your brand in responding to them individually, especially when they are dissatisfied or offer suggestions. For Sébastien Bordier, Client Services and Online Reputation Manager for the Louvre Hotels Group:

“Positive or negative, we always need to reply. We cannot leave customers without a response.” This means establishing who will reply, and understanding that the process may be different depending upon whether it they are promoters or detractors.

Accept your customers’ evaluations – Everyone loves positive feedback! Negative input is more difficult to accept because it comes across like criticism. It takes self-reflection and a certain level of maturity to handle it appropriately. Hélène Campourcy, Chief Customer Officer at OVH, has it completely right:

“You need to see customers on neutral ground, by telling yourself that their perception is reality. They have their own perceptions and frustrations, and it is from these that they build their desire to purchase a product or service.”

Analyse your customers’ feedback to identify priorities and take action – Handling feedback on an individual basis is absolutely necessary, just as is finding a method to put it into use. This will enable you to isolate annoyances and recurring problems, but also good ideas for enhancing your action plan. On this point, if you can only remember one tip, it should be the one shared by Laura Bakobza, Director of Marketing, Communication & Innovation:

When you jump into a customer-centric strategy, you need to plan to find solutions to the problems your customers report. There is nothing worse than gathering feedback from your customers and then doing nothing with that data.”

With all these suggestions, don't think we are trying to discourage you. Absolutely the contrary! The more you reflect on the different aspects of a customer-centric approach, the better able we will be to help you solidify your project and steer it towards success.

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