Choose Growth with Naomi Simson: Building a Customer-obsessed Culture
In business, we can easily find ourselves obsessing over the latest trends, our competitors, or internal politics. However, there is only one area worth your obsession – your customers.
"Customer obsession is something you need to think about over, and over, and over again… always be reflecting on how your product or experience will be received by your customers." – Naomi Simson
The topic of customer obsession continues to gain traction, and for a good reason. It’s critical to building loyal brand advocates, reaching new audiences (at a fraction of the cost), and ultimately, contributes to a thriving business. An obsessive focus on the customers is not only important for customer acquisition, but equally it drives retention.
Despite customers being the lifeblood of any successful business, it’s often difficult for business leaders to truly develop a “customer-obsessed culture”. To understand more, we partnered with Naomi Simson, Founder of RedBalloon, and we're fortunate to speak with her about the topic of customer obsession and what guidance she gives to first time business owners and experienced leaders.
What is customer obsession?
First, it’s important to recognise that customer obsession exists on a spectrum, meaning that all businesses display some degree of customer obsession and the extent can shift over time depending on their people, principles and priorities.
Most companies are customer focussed, meaning that they listen to what their customers say. However, the most successful companies deserve a separate category – what we call customer obsessed.
Customer obsessed businesses not only listen to their customers, they put the customer at the heart of everything they do. It is a state of hyperfocus where the customer’s needs are prioritised in every business goal. Almost always, customer obsessed businesses use first-hand customer data to draw insights and actively respond to customer needs by making timely adjustments to how they deliver value.
Importantly, it all begins with mindset. Here’s a quick overview to highlight the distinction:
Often the barriers to customer obsession can be greater than mindset. This is why in the next section, we'll cover the most common blockers to look out for.
Four key blockers to building a customer-obsessed culture
1. Internal alignment
Customer obsession requires every employee to recognise their role in delivering on the company’s mission. Business leaders must not only empower team members to make customer-first decisions, but also ensure this is recognised so the behaviour permeates the organisation.
Often team members don’t see how their role connects to the customer experience, particularly in less visible functions such as a legal or finance function. Therefore, it’s important that leaders make this connection as clear as possible, ensuring internal alignment around the customer experience, so that the business can deliver on its commitment to customers.
2. Data junkyards
When faced with a deluge of customer data and information, it can be hard to know what voices to listen to. Obtaining clarity on exactly who the customer is, and what voices matter, is critical when discerning what feedback is most important. Similarly, it’s important to get as close as possible to the unfiltered voice of the customer. By removing layers of communication, it can often be easier to distinguish the signal from the noise, and in turn make customer-first decisions.
3. Biased toward our perspective
We all have cognitive and social biases that we bring to our decision making. For example, it's easy to place more emphasis on our own experience than see from another's point of view. As a founder or employee, your perspective of the company will be very different to that of your customer. Quickly reflect, are you the target customer for your product/service? If not, how can you get closer to the experience of your customer?
4. Life happens
If you are in a start-up or scale-up phase, rapid growth can quickly turn into a million other tasks. Your time and energy can be focussed inwards (working in the business), upwards (working on the business), sideways (competition), or forward (customers). Taking 10 mins to colour code your diary for the week with four colours is a simple way to see where your time is really going:
Coding your diary is an easy way to audit your time. Now for a quick audit of your priorities.
Aligning customer and company priorities
Reflecting on how your priorities compare to the priorities of your customers can be a great way to gain further alignment.
"List the ten things in your business that you think are the most important, and then ask yourself the question, 'Are those ten things the items that matter most to your customers?'" – Naomi Simson
Reflection: What are those ten things for you – and for your customers?
Take the quiz: Are you building a customer-obsessed culture?
Complete this short questionnaire to find out to what extent your business is customer obsessed:
Building a customer obsession culture
Fantastic, you’re hopefully clearer on to what extent your company culture is customer-obsessed. Now, let’s get ready to raise the bar.
There are three steps to increase customer obsession in your organisation:
Pause and be Present
Position and Personalise
Pinpoint and Perform
Step 1: Pause and be Present
The first step is to pause and be present. Naomi Simson calls this "deep listening."
You're excited, a lot is going on, and you think that your product/service is the perfect solution to all your customer's problems. By pausing to listen, you open the door to really know your customer. Even in a digital-only business, a business is ultimately people supporting people.
Pausing to listen can be challenging, and it is undoubtedly costly. Ultimately, it is your customers that are keeping your business afloat. So you can afford to give them the most expensive resources you have – time and attention.
"This is one thing I do with founders [get them to deep listen] because they get so excited about themselves and what they're doing. While it is so important, there's only one really important person – that is the customer…We should be listening deeply at every opportunity to understand how the story you're sharing is landing with your customers." – Naomi Simson
Customer obsession starts with deep listening. At its heart, deep listening is listening to learn and understand from the customer, not "listening" to respond and inform the customer. Set up listening posts to gain customer feedback at every possible interaction the customer has with your brand. Listening posts can be a mixture of digital, for example, using online behaviour on your website or face-to-face, such as running a customer focus group to gain critical feedback before an important product launch.
Action: What listening posts can you set up in your business?
Step 2: Position and Personalise
The second step is to position and personalise.
Most businesses recognise that positioning is critical to acquiring new customers but often make uninformed assumptions about what their customers care about. To position your business effectively, you need to know your customer journey, what drives decisions for your customers, and when your customers are in market for your product or service. This needs to be validated based on customer conversations and data, and should be iterated over time.
Personalisation requires you to demonstrate that you know your customer well and directly speak to their desires and pain-points. Whether you’re selling a product or service, it’s important that you tailor your marketing and sales process based on the customer. To be customer obsessed means that the entire customer journey should be defined based on what you know about the customer.
Action: If you haven't already, map out your customer journey. You may have several journeys. How can your interaction with the customer be personalised?
Step 3: Pinpoint and Perform
The third step is to pinpoint and perform. This step is about enabling and rewarding a culture of customer obsession, which can be achieved by clearly defining aspiration goals that your people can get behind.
"Find a metric that everybody can get behind. We're all in business to make a difference to other human beings. So when you attach that number to a human element, then it's exciting for people." – Naomi Simson
For RedBalloon, Naomi provides a practical example: the number of experiences sold. For each experience sold, there are at least two people who had an interaction with the RedBalloon brand: the experience buyer and seller.
This critical metric is a visual reminder for everyone in the business that their role, whether directly facing the customer or not, is all part of the customer experience. In your internal communications, articulating where each department impacts the customer journey can be powerful. The metric becomes an anchor point to start building a culture of customer obsession.
Action: What is your aspirational customer obsession metric that everyone can get behind?
Achieving customer obsession
Your customers are the most important factor to the success and viability of your business. No customers = no business. Of course, not all businesses have budgets like Amazon or Netflix, however, companies such as these set the bar for what customers expect, and customers bring these expectations to your business.
As you think about how to become customer here's a quick recap:
Pause and be Present
Position and Personalise
Pinpoint and Perform
Well done! You are now well on your way to being customer obsessed.
Related article: 4 Habits of Highly Successful eCommerce Businesses