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We can all agree customers are critical to a brand’s profitability. Without them, there would be no brand. No business. No profits. You know they’re important. You know you should put them first.

Yet, in a highly competitive retail environment, it’s also so easy to focus primarily on product development. Creating the best, most sought-after products consumers want is often front and center.

Guess what? You can’t put both products and customers first. It has to be one or the other.

Why the customer should be your top priority

Many brands mistakenly think that getting the best product to the market, at the best price, is what’s going to make them stand apart.

They think this is all they need to do to fuel growth and retain customers.

The world of retail has changed, though. Today, low prices and cool products just aren’t enough. It isn’t what consumers are looking for anymore. In fact, according to a CEI Survey, 86 percent of shoppers are willing to pay more to get a better customer experience. Wait, what? You can get more money by being customer first? That’s quite an incentive.

Let’s not stop there. Consider a stat from a RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report: 89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a brand after having suffered through poor customer service. So, not only does putting the customer first help you make even more money, but it can also help you retain customers so you stop losing money due to churn?

These are some pretty good reasons to make the customer the top priority in your business, wouldn’t you say?

Hopefully, these numbers caught your attention. But are they enough to make you invest in your customers, rather than just in your products and services?

Are you truly customer first?

Sure, you might think you’re putting the customer first. You added a few more customer service reps to the department for problem resolution. Maybe you even sent out a customer survey last year to learn what people want from your product or what they would like to see from your brand.

News flash: This isn’t enough.

This isn’t being customer first.

At the end of the day, if the customer is an afterthought, and the majority of your investments, resources, and strategies revolve around your product, then we have to tell you the truth—you’re product-centric.

What it actually takes to be customer-centric

As Seth Godin once said, “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”

No quote could be more apt in this context.

Truly, really, absolutely being customer-centric means having a comprehensive customer-first strategy. It means your customers – and their wants, needs, preferences, and feedback – drive all business decision-making, from your product development to your marketing and everything in between. It means your company is first and foremost focused on solving the customer’s biggest problems and creating value.

In essence, it means you use these six steps:

  1. You question everything about your business and consider whether your customer is at the forefront of this decision and that decision. You question how you can better get to know your customers’ needs. You question how you can improve your customers’ lives with your products.
  2. You talk to your customers, you ask them questions, and you listen to their feedback – not to sell them on your ideas, but to actually hear what they have to say and to identify their pain points and what they need. Speak to them empathetically to get to know them, and you’ll be able to find out what adds value to their lives.
  3. You brainstorm all the ways you can solve your customers’ pains.
  4. You prototype products, ideas, scenarios, services, or anything else that enables a consumer to experience the solution to the pain they’re feeling.
  5. You go back to your customers with your prototypes. You ask them for their feedback. You ask them if they liked your idea, your solution, your resolution. If you didn’t get it right, you go back to the drawing board.
  6. You get your team together to discuss this feedback and make any necessary changes to your prototypes.

Then, you keep repeating the last three steps until you’ve successfully created a minimally viable product that a customer actually needs to solve a pain point.

This is how you create value. This is how you create a customer-first strategy. You view your entire business, including your products, through a customer-centric lens.

Now, take a moment to think about this and determine: Are you a product-centric company or a customer-centric organization?

If you’re leaning more towards being product-centric, it’s time to make some changes.

Getting to know your customers is tough

Every company should be on a mission to better understand its customers.

It’s okay if you only have a narrow view of them today. Maybe you don’t have very good first-party data. Maybe your third-party syndicated research is stale and isn’t doing you any favors.

The good news is you can make changes and take steps to get to know them better. After all, this is the only way you will ever become customer first. To deliver a better and more relevant customer experience, and to create products your customers actually want, you need to be working with the right data.

I know, I know. This is easier said than done. So many companies struggle to get rich customer data that can effectively drive decision-making and growth.

But hear me out.

Two words: Insights communities.

Insights communities put you in direct contact with opted-in and relevant consumers, allowing you to have a two-way dialogue to get questions to your burning questions right from the mouths of your customers. You can ask them what their pain points are and what kind of products, features, or experiences would add value. You can then use this feedback when developing your products.

Alas, the customer can truly be at the center of your decisions.

The Retail Survival Guide: Retail isn’t dead…but your brand soon might be

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