What is customer obsession? How to become customer obsessed
Companies that master customer obsession focus on the things they can do every day to consistently provide great experiences.
By Melissa Burch, Director, Customer Advocacy
Last updated August 10, 2023
We’ve all heard the stories of companies going above and beyond to provide their customers with incredible support:
- Morton’s steakhouse met a man at the airport with a steak because he asked for one in a tweet
- Nordstrom’s accepted a set of returned tires even though Nordstrom doesn’t actually sell tires
- Sainsbury renamed one of its products “giraffe bread” after a 3-year-old made the suggestion
Some of these stories are heart-warming. Some are inspiring. And some garnered good PR and attention on social media.
One thing they all have in common, though: None of them is scalable.
No restaurant could afford to deliver an airport steak to its entire customer base. And while giraffe bread hit the mark, it wouldn’t be advisable for companies to take every branding suggestion. There are many cautionary tales to illustrate that last point.
Beyond the issue of scalability, most companies couldn’t afford to copy these actions, either, no matter how much they stick in our minds.
Customer obsession must go beyond such outlier examples. Instead, it needs to come from a company’s commitment to provide great experiences every day.
What is customer obsession?
Customer obsession is a state of hyperfocus on creating a better customer experience from the customer’s perspective. Customer obsessed describes a commitment to having a customer-first approach.
- Customer needs are at the center of everything you do
- The customer experience, everything from sales to marketing to support, is built around these needs
Examples of customer-obsessed companies
While the above examples certainly paint a picture of customer obsession, it would be difficult for a company of any size to replicate them on a consistent basis. But any company, no matter the size, location, or industry can be customer obsessed.
1. Disney walks the walk
There are many examples of Disney going above and beyond to create world-class customer experiences. You can see it in everything they do, from treating all guests to their parks as VIPs (Very Individual Person) to masterful training of their staff.
But before any of that could happen, leadership at Disney first had to make the extremely important decision (though they probably didn’t use these words) to be a customer obsessed company.
The decision to do so came straight from Walt Disney himself. One anecdote, as relayed in our podcast episode How Disney reimagined the cruise experience, perfectly encapsulates this:
“Another kind of cool little point is he (Walt Disney) wanted to keep his park clean. So, he hired people to stand there and see how many steps a person would take before throwing their trash on the ground and not getting to a trash can, let’s say. And that answer was 30 feet. So if you go to any Disney park, there’s a trash can every 30 feet.”
-Arnold Tijerina, marketing consultant and Disney Institute graduate
Lesson: Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes (or at least 30 feet) to learn what needs to be improved.
2. Franklin Synergy Bank treats customers like trusted partners
Nate Brown, cofounder of CX Accelerator and owner of the appropriately titled Twitter handle @customerfirst, told us of an incredible experience he had with a financial institution:
“Franklin Synergy Bank is another wonderful example of CX innovation in an industry that desperately needs it. Both my sister and my friend Becky had terrible experiences securing their financing, so we were pretty nervous. The Franklin team has been remarkable since day one. They displayed tremendous patience and integrity with us while we worked through the initial steps. As we’ve moved forward in the process, they’ve communicated via educational videos, courtesy calls, and an online portal. At no point have we wondered where in the process we were or if this life-changing transaction was in good hands. Talk about building trust and creating ambassadors for your brand!”
Lesson: Respect, regular communication, and using the tools at your disposal (videos, support calls, portals) to help educate your customers can go a long way.
3. Birchbox goes deep on customer data
Birchbox is a subscription service that sends its customers makeup samples and other beauty products, for men and women. According to Leanna Nazzisi, customer operations at Birchbox,
“As one of the world’s largest grooming and beauty subscription services, Birchbox is obsessed with delighting our customers with personalized, white-glove experiences. And one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox for delivering world-class experiences is exceptional customer service and support.”
Leanna Nazzisi, customer operations at Birchbox
Leanna and her crew achieve this by going deep on customer experience KPIs. They monitor the customer experience as well as agent performance:
- Are requests for support spiking, causing a backlog in tickets?
- Are individual agents improving over time?
- Are customers happy with the items they’re receiving?
There’s no way to answer these questions without having access to data, and with the right tools, Birchbox is able to not only collect but also analyze and act on that data.
Lesson: Customer obsession requires an obsession with data. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but it’s worth repeating: You can’t improve if you don’t measure.
Watch the video to learn more about how Birchbox delivers an excellent customer experience
4. Amazon shows that customer obsession starts from the top down
Jeff Bezos credits much of Amazon’s success to its 4 key core values. The first? Customer obsession.
“The first and by far the most important one is customer obsession as opposed to competitor obsession,” Bezos said. “I have seen over and over again companies talk about being customer-focused, but really when I pay close attention to them I believe they are competitor focused, and it’s a completely different mentality, by the way.”
Customer-obsession isn’t a responsibility that falls on customer service, or any single team, to earn on behalf of the entire organization. Every department needs to be customer-obsessed. And that ripple effect starts from the top down.
Lesson: To build a customer-obsessed culture, leadership needs to make customers’ needs and expectations a priority across the business.
Priorities of a customer-obsessed business
There are two, and while the first one is obvious, the second one might be a surprise to some people.
A customer-obsessed company will be fanatical about customer engagement. Above all else, this is about understanding customers and providing value for them. That means:
- Collecting feedback and actively listening to it
- Having extreme customer focus
- Injecting empathy into every interaction at every touchpoint
This should come as no surprise. Employee engagement, and a company culture that encourages it, is almost as high a priority to the customer-obsessed organization as customer engagement is.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Better performance. An engaged employee will take the extra time needed to thoroughly solve customer problems. Unengaged employees can sometimes go on autopilot and not really think about what the customer needs.
- Reduced turnover. An employee who feels engaged with their company will be more likely to continue working there, building up their institutional knowledge, and refining their skills over time. Veteran employees are invaluable for creating great customer experiences.
Want engaged employees? You’ll need to provide:
- Excellent training
- Management, coaching, and mentoring
- Opportunities for career development
- Recognition of a job well done
- Compassionate QA teams
- Opportunities to participate in change management efforts
Qualities of customer obsession
Understand your customers and experience things from their point of view
Our CX Trends report revealed that friendly support reps and quick service are top contributors to customer satisfaction. Both are big signs that a company respects its customers.
Put in the work to create effortless experiences
Open and honest communication can go a long way toward a customer’s perception of how any individual interaction went. If two customers are made to wait, but only one gets regular updates, you can probably guess which one will be likely to return.
True customer obsession isn’t limited to the customer service department. All departments have to improve customer focus by understanding that they are all a part of building the customer experience. For example, customer-centric marketing.
Read our blog for steps to improve customer-focus.
Steps to create a more customer-obsessed culture
Here are things you can start doing today:
Step 1: Inspire the whole company with strong leadership principles
The above anecdote about Disney is a perfect example of how important it is to take a top-down approach to prioritizing customers. Remember, Walt Disney himself walked the grounds of his own amusement park to not only identify the problem but also develop a solution.
Many if not all companies that provide great experiences are led by people who push their employees to put the customer first.
According to Amazon, which is widely credited with popularizing the term “customer obsession,”
“Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer loyalty. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”
Step 2: Build the right team
Whether you’re working out of a garage or an enterprise with tens of thousands of employees, nobody can do it alone. It is crucial that you build a team that understands and buys into your mission.
- Hiring. Learn how to find and hire talented people who will help you achieve your goals and will always put take care of customer needs
- Onboarding. To be customer obsessed, even the most experienced support professionals need to internalize the specifics of your company. Proper onboarding is crucial.
- Managing. Customer service is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus, customer expectations shift, support tools improve, and the world never stops changing, so proper management is key.
Step 3: Innovate and iterate
Of course, you can be the best manager in the world with the greatest team ever assembled and still let things get stale. It isn’t possible to put customers at the center of everything you do if you don’t pay attention to them. That means measuring and acting on the data (see the Birchbox example above), encouraging customer feedback, and making a commitment to never stop improving.
Why is customer obsession important?
Lastly, and for those who might think the above is a little pie-in-the-sky, let’s take a quick look at the benefits customer obsession can have on your company. As I wrote earlier, customer obsession is a focus on all aspects of the customer experience, right down to each customer interaction. As you’ll see, an individual interaction could mean all the difference between a loyal customer and someone who will take their business elsewhere.
Customer loyalty is everything, so it’s paramount that you focus on keeping existing customers happy.
According to our research into customer lifetime value:
- 54 percent of respondents said they have purchased more products/used more service from a company based off of a single, positive interaction with that company
- 58 percent said they stopped doing business with a company after a single negative one. And 46 percent of those people said they stopped doing business with that company for up to two years.
According to the same study:
- 67 percent of respondents said they were likely to recommend a company’s products or services to others based on a single interaction
- 52 percent said they’d warn off others based on a single negative interaction
Word of mouth is crucial for any business, and you’re helping spread the word — whether you know it or not.
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