It's easy to think, as we find ourselves in the midst of a truly unprecedented situation, that the rules of building a successful business have suddenly changed. While the world may be topsy-turvy at the moment, keeping your customer at the center of your business strategy is more important than ever.
That means finding creative ways to engage with your customers and thinking deeply about what they need as the world changes before our eyes.
As a small example on a local level, Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass. has started offering same-day delivery to neighborhoods in the Boston area for a $5 fee and a $20 minimum purchase.
This is taking a difficult situation and finding a way to stay connected with customers, while keeping the business going through difficult times. It's something that your most loyal customers will certainly remember when we return to some semblance of normalcy — and it's just a great community service.
When you hear from leaders of the world's most successful technology companies, whether it's Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Marc Benioff at Salesforce, these two executives are constantly pushing their organizations to put the customer first.
At Amazon, that manifests itself in the company motto that it's always Day 1. That motto means they never can become complacent and always place the customer first. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos described what he meant:
There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
Benioff runs his company with a similar world view, and it's no coincidence that both companies are so wildly successful. In his recent book, Trailblazer, Benioff wrote about the importance of relentless customer focus:
Nothing a company does is more essential than how it engages with customers. In a world where online portals are replacing customer service centers and algorithms are replacing humans on the front lines, companies like ours continually need to show that the personal connections our customers craved were still — and always would be — there.
In our current crisis, that focus becomes ever more important and universal. In his last interview before his death in January, Clayton Christensen, author of the seminal book Innovator's Dilemma, told MIT Sloan Management Review that while these organizations had other things going for them, customer centricity was certainly a big factor in their success:
They have all built organizations that have put the customers, and their Job to Be Done, at the center. They also have demonstrated the ability to manage emergent strategy well. However, they also have been in the fortunate circumstance where their core businesses have been growing at phenomenal rates, and they have had the presence of the founder to help, to personally get involved in key strategic decisions.
While you don't want to appear like you are taking advantage of a bad situation, there are ways you can help your customers by thinking of new ways engage and help them in a difficult time. Many companies are offering services for free for the next several months to help customers get through the financial uncertainty we are facing in the near term. Others are posting free content and access to other resources on websites.
While it's understood that some customers simply won't have money to spend in the coming months, those that do will have different needs than they did before and you have to be ready to address them, whatever that means to your business.
This virus is going to force us to rethink about a lot of the ways we run our businesses, our society and our lives, but if you keep your customer at the center of all your decisions, even in the midst of such a crisis, you will be setting the foundation for a successful business whenever we return to normal.