8 Signs That Your Team or Company May Not be a Customer First Team


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An informal poll of what it means to be ‘Customer First’, resulted in the following responses:

  • “It means putting the customer’s needs and wants before anything else. There is a reason why they make certain requests. Getting to the bottom of those reasons helps to address these requests more effectively. Sometimes we can deliver and other times we can’t. When we can’t deliver, we have to have solid reasons as to why, to not tarnish or damage the relationship in any way.”
  • “It means you have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and understand both the business and technical problems they are trying to solve. This involves a lot of upfront listening, and very little talking about the product.”
  • “It means that we proactively talk to our customers, not only when they report issues. And we listen to our customers, really listen, and take action on what our customers tell us.”
  • “It means that everything we do is for the customer (the product bug fixes and features, the docs, the customer support, order fulfillment, everything)”
  • “It means that our success is derived from customer success…for us to have measurable success, our customers have to be growing as well in some way.”

A more deliberate search of the web, results in a number of blogs, trends, software solutions, and company slogans that contain phrases such as:

  • Increasing NPS
  • How to measure CX
  • Increasing customer loyalty
  • 11 Steps to Building a Customer First Culture
  • 14 Effective Ways To Put the Customer First
  • 9 Steps to Build a Perfect Customer-First Strategy
  • The real meaning of customer first

Dozens of sites and surveys, solutions, and software products have been devoted to customer first. And while your slogans, support site, and company all promote customer first, here are eight signs that this may not be the truth.

1. You don’t have a clear definition of the word customer?

Customer is defined by the Oxford online dictionary as a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store, individual, or business; a person or thing of a specified kind that one has to deal with. This is the textbook definition of customer, but what exactly is the true definition of a customer within your organization? Some organizations use the word customer, when they really mean prospect? What is your company’s definition of customer? Is it the end user of the services, products, and solutions produced by your company? Does the customer refer to the partners and distributors? When discussing requirements, needs, pain, features, and benefits, what entity, sector, business, and face comes to mind? Without a working definition of customer, teams within your company can easily become confused as to who the customer really is, what they are like, and most importantly what they actually want and need.

2. You don’t have a definition of the phrase “customer first”

What does customer first mean? Several definitions exist ranging from the simple to the complex. It’s not necessary that your team or organization get the definition of “Customer First” perfect, but it is absolutely essential that your team and organization have one. If you don’t have a definition for what it means to be a customer first organization that’s a problem. If your definition isn’t socialized and communicated throughout the organization, especially during the onboarding, that’s a problem. If your definition is actually unrecognizable in daily practice, say it with me: “That’s a problem.” In order to be a team and organization that effectively operates with the customer first, you need a working definition that can be woven throughout the organization’s services, products, solutions, processes, marketing, and delivery. Suggested definitions abound including:

  1. Customer-first means putting the customer’s needs and preferences first. You can do this by customizing products or services to meet their specific needs or going above and beyond to deliver exceptional customer service
    Infraon Blog
  2. When a company puts the customer first, they put the customer at the center of everything they do. They view every decision as having an impact on their consumer and they make sure that they are always considering how each one will affect them. In doing so, customer-centric companies create an atmosphere of trust and good will toward their customers.
    Kaizo blog
  3. Putting the customer first is the philosophy of running a company in a way that makes customers feel special and appreciated.
    ~ Indeed Career Guide
  4. Being customer first means a business puts the customer at the center of organizational decision-making instead of purely focusing on products or services. This involves seeking ways to consistently deliver a positive customer experience by designing and delivering with the consumer in mind.
    ~ Zendesk

3. You don’t have knowledge of your customer’s identity

In order to be a customer first organization you, your team, and the many teams in your company must know the identity of your customers. Your teams must study the prospect, customer, and industry continuously. This process isn’t about manipulation, but about understanding who they are, not just what industry they belong to, and what items are most important to their business; mission, vision, and goals. Here are some things to quickly answer to test if you know your customer identity:

  1. Do you know your buyers’ names? Do you know who they are and what they do for the company?
  2. Do you know your customer and what they do in their business?
  3. Do you know why their business is important to them, to their end customers, and users?
  4. Do you know their top three values?
  5. Do you know why they need your support or services?
  6. Do you know what they would do without your company or service?
  7. Do you know “what makes them happy, and what frustrates them”
  8. Do you know their previous systems and software solutions, and their major pain points and problems?

4. You don’t have any relationship after the sale

If “on to the next one” is the motto of the Company, it is extremely likely that your teams, people, and company are failing at being a customer first organization. Customer first includes everything you do before, during, and after the sale of your software, service, or solution. If any division in your organization has an “on to the next one” mentality this will inhibit your ability to be a customer first organization. Simple signs that you are an “on to the next one” organization include:

  1. Lacking a meaningful onboarding process
  2. Lacking a meaningful offboarding process
  3. No one follows up with the customer after the sale until the next sales opportunity
  4. No meaningful debrief or closed/lost discovery
  5. High turnover and churn within the customer portfolio

5. Huge inconsistencies between the treatment of a prospect and a customer.

How do you treat the customer and the prospect? Are there huge differences and inconsistencies between the prospect looking to buy, and the customer who has purchased? What about between the customer with a monthly subscription versus the customer who has a five-year or perpetual license? Do your teams bend over backward to win the prospect, including offering free services off hours support, and extreme discounts? But, once they are a customer your teams draw a hard line in the sand and refuse to budge. While differences will always exist in the treatment of a prospect and a customer, having vastly different processes, policies, and behaviors could be the sign of a problem.

6. Too many layers

How many layers exist between you and your customer? How quickly can a customer reach a decision maker, such as a manager, director, product manager/owner, or architect to discuss features, needs, wants, and additional value? Do you have too much distance between you and the actual customer? Are there many unneeded layers between their feedback and your delivery teams? Be sure to question if your company has too much distance between you and the actual customer, and if the notion of raising this question is a problem– that’s a problem.

7. You don’t listen

It seems obvious, but listening is key to being a customer first. Your organization needs to listen sincerely to what the customer is saying, and closely to the words they aren’t saying. As one blog writer states, “Take note of their concerns and suggestions… Their input is invaluable.” If your organization is not taking the time to listen to the customers’ needs and wants, and receiving their feedback in the business decision making process then you are not really a customer first team or organization. Evaluate your team and organization on how well you are listening as well as how many opportunities you provide the customer to give input. Consider the various points in your processes where feedback could be helpful including marketing campaigns, sales cycles, finance and order fulfillment, post sales contact centers, and

8. You think “Customer First” only applies to your support teams

When you think of customers first, do you think about software design, order fulfillment, marketing campaigns, IT infrastructure and integration, office design and function, phone systems, management and leadership, culture, finance, and HR or just the “Customer Service” and “Customer Support” teams? If your organization lacks any concept of putting the customer first or at the center of the decision-making process (or at least in the same room) then you may not be a true customer first organization. It is nearly impossible to be customer centric and customer first as an organization if each team is focused on satisfying their needs and desires (think cool tools and tech versus useful solutions and value add). If each team and the company collectively do not have a sense of being customer focused and customer first, then many of the decisions will be ill-made and your company will likely try to force those decisions back on the end customer.

Being a customer first organization with a customer-centric culture that permeates beyond slogans, websites, and your services team is the key to company success and customer success. “The key to surviving in today’s market environment… is [to] build the voice of their customers into every meeting, review, and decision-making process of the company.”

Cassius Rhue
Cassius Rhue leads the Customer Experience team at SIOS Technology responsible for customer success spanning pre-sales, post-sales and professional services engagements. With over 19 years of experience at SIOS and a focus on the customer, his significant skills and deep knowledge in software engineering, development, design and deployment specifically in HA/DR are instrumental in addressing customer issues and driving success.


  1. Love it! Great points! A few others

    1. you think about how to make money first and then (maybe) think what value you are delivering the customer
    2. you senior leadership do not get out and talk to their customers
    3. you do not hire for customer skills
    4. you chase scores vs. what is the right thing for the customer
    5. you think the act of measurement counts as being “customer centric”
    6. your company takes actions that intentionally makes the customer experience worse (i.e., credit card announcements on airplanes)
    7. departments and employees do not treat one another with respect and dignity
    8. you kick problems over to other people/departments with no follow up
    9. employees are not empowered to fix customer issues
    10. [most important] You focus solely on fixing problems versus creating great experiences

  2. Absolutely wonderful, Cassius! A CEO could actually start with #8 and #7 first: when you listen to Service inquiries, that helps you figure out from customers’ viewpoint the answers to #1 and #2 and #6. Why is the customer contacting you . . . what is their context . . . what are their consequences . . . who (companywide) contributed to their situation?

    #3 and #4 are huge gaps in CRM reviews and selection of Ideal Customer Profiles. Meeting agendas and approvals for these areas could ramp-up growth outcomes by incorporating your lists in #3 and #4.

    #5 is a mutual respect situation that is rampant with increasing frequency — it applies to employees, partners, suppliers, allies — in everyday communications, transparency, decisions, and so on. The Diversity & Inclusion initiative may be a natural place to spearhead all-round mutual respect. It feels like going back to Kindergarten class or Junior Sunday School, but the mutual respect posts on LinkedIn get a tremendous number of thumbs-up and shares. This means our society worldwide has a lot of room for improvement here, and perhaps this is the crux of all of the above?

  3. I think there’s another, glaring one to add to the list:
    If you’re all talk (or, ‘all listen’) and no action.
    Sure, tons of people will prattle on about how important their Customers are to them.
    Still more will actually ask their Customers for feedback.

    But being *truly* Customer-centric means taking action when you identify gaps between your Brand Promise and your Brand Delivery. Actions speak louder than words.

  4. You can list 50 “signs” about being/not being Customer First. But no matter how long the list or how many such signs you enumerate, all of these are derivatives of a central axiom: the customer is the source of value for the firm and the value of the firm is nothing more than the value of current and future cashflows from customers.

    Given this axiom, the “signs” are simply indicators of the extent to which the company is organized around this central tenet.

  5. This is such an important summary! Each “Sign” weakens customer connection and loyalty. I’d add to #1 and #3 knowing choosers vs. users including multiple users per household; to #2, the lack of stories since they keep everyone informed and inspired; to #4, in B2B the handoff from sales to customer success to customer care is a bad sign, vs. all three in a triangle together; to #5, customer service not knowing the importance of acquired customers or accounts and their CLV; to #6, execs reviewing reports and gloating on averages instead of being in front of or listening to customers; to #7, listening and not acting is worse; and to #8, when only a few hands are raised in response to, “Who owns the customer experience?” vs. everyone’s!


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