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In a recent article for Ad Age, Victor Milligan, chief marketing officer of Forrester Research, declared, “The customer has become the North Star of company strategy and operational design.” According to Milligan, the ability to provide the best customer experience is “the winning hand in thriving in the Age of the Customer.”

In the era of customer empowerment, companies that collaborate with customers see higher revenue. It’s no wonder companies want to be perceived as customer-centric. But lip service doesn’t count for much because empowered customers care about what you do, not what you say.

Being a customer-obsessed company requires more than adopting the label and tossing around buzzwords. In the diamond industry, the advent of the 4 C’s (colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight) simplified the process of classifying diamonds and created a global standard by which all shiny carbon is now evaluated.

In the Age of the Customer, it’s time companies had their own 4 C’s — a true measure of their customer-centricity.

Here’s how to ensure the customer is at the heart of every decision your company makes.

1. Culture

Becoming customer-obsessed isn’t purely a marketing exercise. In fact, it starts with corporate culture.

"Customer-centricity is a way of doing business; it’s more than just a slogan,” says bestselling author and marketing analyst Brian Solis, adding that it “requires reinforcing that culture in everything you do.”

Tweet this!"Customer-centricity is a way of doing business; it’s more than just a slogan." - Brian Solis (CLICK TO TWEET)

No company better illustrates the power of a customer-centric culture than the online shoe retailer Zappos. Founder Nick Swinmurn and CEO Tony Hsieh built an organization so focused on its promise to “deliver a WOW through service” that its customer service has become the stuff of legend. Zappos’ 100 percent satisfaction guarantee helped revenues grow from $1.6 million in 2000 to more than $1 billion in 2009, when Amazon acquired them.

“Our number one priority is the company culture,” Hsieh told a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun on the company’s 10th anniversary. “Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then everything else, including the customer service, will fall into place.”

2. Community

In an increasingly digital world, where our interactions are ever more mediated by screens, call centers and tiresome phone menus, customers want to be treated like real people. They want to know there’s a person on the other end of the transaction. They want to be part of a community.

Frank & Oak, a high-growth online Canadian retailer specializing in young men’s clothing, demonstrates how a focus on community can help drive business results. “Creating a community really creates a deeper engagement that’s not just rational, but emotional, which builds loyalty,” co-founder Ethan Song told Profit Guide.

Among other things, the company builds a community of repeat shoppers through interesting stories on its blog and in its annual print magazine. The retailer also includes a handwritten card with each package sent to shoppers, helping to build an emotional connection. The company recently launched a chain of brick-and-mortar storefronts to create real-world meeting spaces for its growing community of customers.

“A lot of young people are looking for purpose and meaning, and to give them that sense of belonging is a big part of what a brand needs to do,” adds Song.

3. Conversation

To connect with customers, it’s not enough to ask once and move on. To get meaningful, actionable insight, companies need to maintain an ongoing dialogue built on a sincere connection.

In 2008, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recognized the need for two-way customer conversations. Facing competition and a recession, Starbucks launched, a private community that acts like a social network for Starbucks customers. Through the site, customers can provide feedback, vote on new ideas and engage with other fans. Some of the company’s most defining innovations in recent years — including smaller-sized treats, the “splash stick” that comes in a to-go cup and popular new flavors like Hazelnut Macchiato — were generated by fans.

4. Consistency

Digital-savvy customers today are comparing products and prices online before they ever step foot in a physical store, and many will make a purchase without leaving the house. Often a customer’s journey includes a combination of online reviews, price comparisons and brick-and-mortar shopping. To survive, companies must ensure a seamless experience across all devices and interactions with a brand.

Investing in an omnichannel shopping experience can yield substantial rewards. According to Deloitte’s 2013 omnichannel consumer survey, a quarter of all online shoppers in the UK and Germany bought a product online they could not have purchased at a local store. A seamless omnichannel that meets customer demands requires one thing above all: understanding those demands at each moment along the customer journey. Changes to the shopping experience are best made when informed by deep insight into what customers really want.

Tweet this!Culture, community, conversation and consistency are the building blocks of customer-centricity. - @stein_nick (CLICK TO TWEET)

A pervasive culture, a strong community, ongoing conversations and consistency in the shopping experience — these are the building blocks of a customer-obsessed brand. There’s a fifth and final C too, the most important one of all upon which the first four Cs depend: the customer. Getting close to your customers, knowing who they are, what motivates them and why will position your brand to cultivate culture, community, conversations and consistency that put the customer at the heart of every decision.

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