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Building Customer Relationship

Customer Orientation: Ten Strategies for Building Long-Lasting Relationships

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Executive Vice President

What is Customer Orientation?

Customer orientation is a business approach where an organization’s primary focus is on meeting the needs and expectations of its customers.

It involves understanding customers’ preferences, desires, and pain points to deliver products, services, and experiences that satisfy their requirements and build long-term relationships.

Everyone in an organization, regardless of the functions, must be aligned to provide exceptional customer value.

Let me give you examples of customer orientation.

  • A customer-oriented organization invests in market research to gain insights into customer behaviors, preferences, and trends.
    • This data helps them identify customer needs, anticipate changes in the market, and develop strategies to meet those needs effectively.
    • It can even segregate target segments into distinct groups based on demographics, psychographics, or behavior. This allows the company to tailor its products, marketing messages, and customer experiences to suit each segment’s specific needs.
    • You can even communicate with your customers in a personalized and relevant manner. This could involve sending personalized emails, recommending products based on past purchases, or providing targeted content that addresses customers’ specific interests and concerns.
  • You can co-create your product with your customers by involving them in the product development process.
    • You can seek feedback through surveys, focus groups, or beta testing to understand what customers value in a product and incorporate those insights into the design and features of new offerings.
  • A customer-oriented organization puts a lot of emphasis on creating exceptional customer experiences.
    • This includes identifying commonly reported problems and challenges and proactively removing them.
    • You can implement the appropriate technology to ensure prompt response to inquiries, first-contact resolution, and proactive engagement to ensure customer satisfaction.   Solicit continuous customer feedback, measure customer satisfaction, and use this information to make necessary improvements and innovations.
    • Solicit continuous customer feedback, measure customer satisfaction, and use this information to make necessary improvements and innovations.
  • Customer orientation can foster long-lasting relationships, increase customer retention, and ultimately drive business growth and profitability.

How Do You Implement Customer Orientation as a Part of Organizational Culture?

It involves a comprehensive and sustained effort to place the customer at the center of all activities and decision-making processes.

Let us look at some of the steps toward implementing customer orientation.

1. Leadership Commitment

Customer orientation starts at the top, with the leadership team setting the tone and demonstrating a strong commitment to customer-centricity.

Leaders should consistently communicate the importance of customer focus, align organizational goals accordingly, and lead by example.

Leaders can actively engage with customers, participate in customer service training, and prioritize customer feedback in decision-making.

An IT services company introduced the concept of the executive sponsor with every named account they had.

The company would have someone from the leadership team as an executive sponsor of each named account.

Their briefing is to ensure exceptional customer experience and add value at each step of the way. They don’t involve themselves in day-to-day operational activities.

2. Gathering Customer Insights

Organizations need to invest in gathering customer insights through various methods like conducting surveys, focus groups, and interviews and analyzing customer data from sources such as CRM systems, social media, and customer support interactions.

Today, every SaaS company has a customer success function, which works closely with customers to ensure adoption and remove any friction points in using their offerings.

They constantly gather their feedback on usability, features, and overall satisfaction. They use this data to drive product improvements and enhancements.

3. Customer Journey Mapping

Organizations visualize and understand customers’ end-to-end experience as they interact with the business.

This includes identifying touchpoints, pain points, and opportunities for improvement.

Organizations can identify areas to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty by mapping out the customer journey.

A retail company may create a customer journey map encompassing online browsing, purchase, delivery, and post-sales support.

This map will help identify potential friction points and areas for improvement. You can understand the abandon and bounce rates at these touchpoints. Based on this, you can optimize the touchpoints, streamline the checkout process or enhance customer service after purchase.

4. Employee Empowerment

What is the best way to deliver exceptional customer experiences?

Empowering your employees and equipping them with the necessary knowledge and know-how.

This involves providing comprehensive training on customer service, communication skills, and product knowledge.

Employees should be encouraged and empowered to take ownership of customer issues and go above and beyond to resolve them.

Ritz Carlton’s secret to success is its focus on employee experience. Ritz employees are trained to go above and beyond for their guests and are empowered to do so.

Employees have the autonomy to make decisions that benefit guests without asking for permission.

Would you believe that Ritz allows employees $2000 of discretionary spending to take initiatives to solve the problems of customers?

This level of trust and empowerment has led to the creation of unforgettable guest experiences.

5. Cross-Functional Collaboration

Customer orientation requires customer collaboration across different departments and functions within the organization.

Silos need to be broken down to ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience. This can be achieved through regular cross-functional meetings, shared goals, and the establishment of customer-centric metrics.

Take the example of an eCommerce company. It would bring together marketing, operations, and customer service representatives to discuss customer feedback, identify improvement opportunities, and coordinate efforts to enhance the overall customer experience.

I recently ordered a pair of sneakers from an eCommerce major, which promised same-day delivery. I received the message that the delivery guy attempted delivery, and my door was locked. This was not true. So, I registered a complaint with their customer service.

What is the issue here?

The problem is with the third-party delivery agency. So, the involved parties are the compliance, auditing, and vendor onboarding teams. When there are more such complaints from customers, they are bound to involve all these functions to find a solution.

6. Continuous Improvement

A customer-oriented culture thrives on continuous improvement.

Organizations should actively seek customer feedback, measure customer satisfaction, and use the insights gained to make iterative enhancements to products, services, and processes.

Also, organizations should get back to their customers on the steps taken based on their feedback.

Recently, an airline company sought my feedback after I traveled with them. I spent a good 20 minutes providing them feedback.

I had suggestions on in-flight amenities, the boarding process, and the food served.

Once I completed my feedback, I received an impersonal message that read:

We thank you for your feedback, and we really appreciate it.

I don’t know if they are acting on it or do they have reasons not to act on it. Now, I’d think twice before investing my time in providing feedback.

Continuous improvement is critical to ensure customer orientation, and customer feedback is one of the key methods. The most important thing is to keep the customers informed on what is being done on their feedback.

7. Recognition and Rewards

Recognizing and rewarding employees for their customer-focused efforts reinforces the importance of customer orientation within the organizational culture.

This can be done through performance evaluations, incentive programs, or public recognition of exceptional customer service achievements.

How about having a wall of fame where customer experience champions are recognized every week?

Have leaderboards of customer service employees who receive positive customer feedback.

Recognition of people who have gone above and beyond in resolving customer queries in the monthly town hall or the quarterly company meeting.

How about providing an all-expenses paid holiday to the customer experience champion of the year?

These recognitions go a long way in keeping your employees motivated and sending the message that customer orientation is paramount.

8. Customer-Oriented Metrics

Organizations should establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect customer orientation and regularly track and report on these metrics.

This ensures that customer-centric goals are integrated into the overall performance management system and aligns employees’ efforts toward delivering superior customer experiences.

Here are some indicators for organizations to look at:

  • How many customer issues are resolved in the first call?
  • How many resolutions are provided by an agent?
  • How many reported problems are not resolvable and require intervention at a higher level?
  • What is the average time taken to resolve queries?
  • How easy do the customers find it to interact with your resources?
  • How easily do the agents retrieve information across different systems?
  • How often do agents misguide or missell to the customers?

This would help you understand how customer-oriented the organization is.

Some of the metrics that you should certainly consider include CSAT scores, net promoter scores (NPS), customer effort scores (CES), customer health scores (CHS), customer churn rate, average response time, first contact resolution, and ticket volume.

Besides these, you should also look at qualitative metrics derived from recorded conversations and customer interviews.

9. Continuous Communication and Feedback Loop

Establishing a continuous communication channel with customers is vital for maintaining customer orientation.

This involves seeking feedback, listening to customer suggestions and concerns, and providing timely responses.

It is important to create a feedback loop where customers feel heard and see their feedback being implemented.

This is why you see software companies establishing an online community forum where customers share ideas, report issues, and engage with product managers and developers.

This would allow direct communication, foster a sense of community, and enable the company to address customer needs and iterate on product features based on customer feedback.

10. Celebrate Customer Success Stories

Recognizing and celebrating customer success stories not only highlights the value delivered to customers but also reinforces the customer-oriented culture within the organization.

You can feature case studies and testimonials from satisfied customers on your website, newsletter, and social media platforms. Showcasing real-life examples of how the company has helped customers achieve their goals can inspire your employees and reinforce the customer-oriented mindset.

Implementing customer orientation as a fundamental part of the organizational culture requires a holistic and sustained effort.

By following the listed steps, organizations can create an environment where the needs and expectations of customers are at the forefront of decision-making and daily operations.

Embracing customer orientation ensures that customer insights drive innovation, customer satisfaction fuels business success, and organizational culture continuously reinforces the commitment to meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

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