There are a thousand different ways to lead a company.
Some leaders thrive in chaos, while others prefer to micromanage. There are leaders that seek out the spotlight and some try to keep a low profile. Whatever leadership style is adopted, all leaders must focus on customers needs, wants and desires.
There is an art to developing a business that’s both customer-centric and profitable. We can’t always deliver an outstanding product at prices customers want. We may not be able to be eco-friendly and locally sourced at the same time. We may have to reduce popular services because they aren’t profitable. In a nutshell, we can’t give customers everything they want all the time.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep customers in the forefront of every decision. Here are a few suggestions on how leaders can integrate a customer-centric focus daily.
This seems extremely obvious, yet many leaders find it easier to talk about themselves rather than others. Although we’ve all talked to someone that can’t stop talking about themselves, sometimes nervousness or anxiety take over and it’s simply easier to stick with stuff we know – like ourselves. Yet, asking questions opens conversations in incredibly valuable ways.
In The 6-Step Process That Leads to BIG Sales, CEO Coaching International’s Jerry Swain explains why asking questions is a crucial part of both leadership and sales:
“Questions help build rapport and trust, which can change the dynamic of the conversation from a sales call to a problem-solving solution”.
Whether networking or trying to come up with our next bestselling product, asking questions is an essential part of the process. Ask open-ended questions that allow both prospects and customers to share their stories, what they love/dislike about your products, and what solutions they are looking for. With a little practice, the art of asking questions can easily be integrated into any leader’s toolbox.
Be Open to Other’s Opinions
Asking questions is pretty easy. On the other hand, being open to other’s opinions can be quite a challenge.
I once worked on a project for over a year that was destined to fail. It was the brainchild of one person who wasn’t open to hearing other’s input. He had an idea in mind and wouldn’t be swayed from his original concept. The project cost him thousands to create and his profit was less than $500.
That’s an extreme example but perfectly illustrates the danger of not listening to others. The Young Entrepreneur Council explains how valuable feedback is after one of their events:
“This feedback directly influences what changes we make for the next event, what aspects we want to highlight more, and what parts need to stay exactly the same. This feedback is invaluable to us, and it doesn’t cost us anything to get.”
No one likes to be told their ideas are bad, lacking, or misguided. However, we put our businesses at enormous risk when we overlook the value of other’s opinions.
The definition of conscientious is “a desire to do a task well, and to take obligations to others seriously”. That seems like the perfect quality for a customer-centric leader. In fact, conscientious leaders actually have greater influence and are more likely to have long-term success. Although dependability may not be an exciting quality, conscientiousness has a direct impact on the sustainability of our businesses.
A conscientious leader focuses on details, but that’s too simplistic for customer-centric success. Dig a little deeper and conscientious leaders also do the following:
- Never give up: Make mistakes, change directions, but adopt a “Keep Moving Forward” attitude.
- Keep our promises: Our policy should be to undersell and over-deliver, never over-promise.
- Don’t wait to fix problems: Don’t overlook problems, especially ones that could easily be fixed now and would avoid long-term problems down the road.
Keeping Customers Front and Center
Marines have a saying: Officers eat last.
It’s a concept used in servant leadership styles where officers ensure that everyone eats before they do even if that means the leader goes without dinner. Servant leadership is also a great way to see customer-centric actions. When we keep customers needs at the forefront, we make better business decisions. Even if we make unpopular choices we’re able to communicate it in a way that softens the blow.
Whether we are born with certain qualities or have to work diligently to grow our leadership skills, we can all improve our relationship with our customers. By understanding the qualities that support customer-centric success, we can build long-term relationships with our customers.
And it’s these crucial relationships that are at the center of any long-term successful business.