Everyone’s heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” Odds are, you’ve used it at least once in your life to explain a situation or to end an argument. In today’s customer-focused world, where personal expectations are quickly applied to the business world (free shipping anyone?), it’s more important than ever that a customer’s needs are the first priority of a business.
Historically, businesses were organized around the supply chain – getting products and goods to the market in the fastest way possible because demand was outweighing supply. Since the 1990s, however, this has shifted and now it’s become the opposite, where demand is scarce. It’s caused businesses to reorganize their focus to now be toward the customer.
But simply saying the customer is important or “always right” isn’t the same as having a customer-focused organization. To truly be customer-focused, you must start from the top down.
Making the Customer the Focus
The customer and their needs should be at the center of every decision an organization makes. The first and last question posed when making any business decision should be “does this help our customers?” Understanding who your customers are, what they want and how you can best deliver it to them is of the utmost importance.
As a CFO, it’s your role to make sure that this question becomes a part of every discussion.
Establishing a Customer-Focused Culture
It’s equally important that this focus on the customer extends to include the culture of the entire organization. Your employees must become people-oriented – which sometimes means training or re-training employees to think in this fashion. Other times, just having a strong voice from the leadership team – in this case, a CFO who always interjects the customer’s needs into a discussion – may be enough to push future discussions and decisions to where you need them to be.
Share Information Company-Wide
As a part of understanding your customers better, the CFO role can take the lead in ensuring the organization is sharing information and enabling a truly holistic view of each customer. What patterns emerge when sales data is combined with customer service data and even expense data? What can we as an organization learn about how to better serve our customers? How do we find our most profitable and fastest growing customers? How are their needs changing over time – and are we doing everything we can to match those changes?
This kind of analysis is impossible without a cross-company view – and there’s no one better positioned to lead that effort than the CFO.
Making Sure You Deliver for Customers
As you grow a greater understanding of who your customers are and what they want, the next step is making sure your company’s resources are positioned correctly to deliver for them in a timely fashion.
This could be something as simple as making sure information is shared with customers on a continual basis. Or it could be something more critical to the business, such as adapting or evolving product lines to be in line with changing customer needs; or better understanding what customers can and can’t afford – and then restructuring pricing models accordingly.
Lack of Customer Focus Can Hurt the Business
Failing to understand your customers’ evolving needs over time could, of course, result in lower customer retention. If customers believe you don’t understand what they need to succeed, then they won’t stick around.
A lack of understanding would also hurt efforts to sign new customers, as your organization would appear behind-the-times and you’d have bad word-of-mouth from disappointed current customers.
Better understanding customers leads to better relationships – which, as any CFO knows, are the key to any business’ success. If you know what keeps your customers up at night, then you can help them solve those problems and be successful. And their success equals your success.
If you read this and feel that you’re not giving customer needs their proper due within your organization, then there’s no time like the present to get started. Start by asking whether a specific decision or move fits the needs of your customers – and whether the organization can define exactly what those needs are today. You’ll be surprised how quickly a customer focus rolls out from there.
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