A Guide to Customer Orientation: What is it and Why does it matter

Customers are a fan of experiences that are specifically tailored for them.

By becoming a customer-centric, also known as a customer-oriented business, you can create breathtaking experiences that improve any metric you can think of.

customer oriented business

In this post, I’ll talk about:

  • what customer orientation is,
  • how and why it came about,
  • how you can become a customer-oriented business,
  • and pitfalls to watch for as you transition to this new way of doing business.

Along the way, I’ll share insights from a few companies that got it right and talk about the benefits that a reinvigorated focus on your customers can have on your bottom line.

What is Customer Orientation?

Customer Orientation refers to the act of aligning your business towards helping your customers reach success with your product or service. It means that all teams, especially sales and customer success will adjust their focus to the needs of the customers, and predict the moments when they’ll need them, and be present when the time comes. This includes providing customers with various resources, additional value, and helping them whenever required.

How do you become a customer-oriented business?

Being successful in today’s highly competitive and global marketplace – especially in an environment of low barriers to entry, low customer switching costs, and quick, incessant product and service updates and feature releases – is to be customer-centric and adopting a company-wide customer-oriented product strategy.

To do this, you must place the customer at the center of everything you do.

From designing onboarding to understanding the in-app or in-service user experience to managing billing, after-service support, follow-up emails, outreach, promos, and more, you must ensure that everything you do supports the functions, features, services, or value-added that your customers come to you for.

It all starts with having a deep and intimate understanding of your customer.

  • What are their needs and expectations?
  • How far along are they in their product or service search?
  • How price or feature-sensitive are they?
  • Which of your features do they use?
  • Which do they like and possibly dislike?

The list goes on and on. The more data you can gather on your customers to understand them, the better you will be able to deliver a truly customer-oriented and/or service-oriented experience.

Here we talk about what it means to be customer-oriented, why doing right by your customers is not just a matter of collecting data on them but rather knowing how to use that data, and how prominent businesses – true success stories – have leveraged the concept of customer orientation to make a meaningful difference to their users – and their bottom line.

what is customer orientation

Quick Customer Orientation Checklist

From the very top of your organization to front-line workers, everyone in the organization must understand- through training, effective onboarding, and subtle yet constant and effective reminders that your goal is to improve customer service, customer retention, and customer experiences at every level of service delivery and provision.

It is as important to have a well-designed product or service that users love to use as it is to execute efficiently at checkout, have delivery services that meet your standards of customer care, and have support personnel on standby to help with customer issues. 

A bad return policy, clunky checkout pages that make charges unclear (or, even worse, unintentionally including hidden charges), botching a delivery, or missing your cue when it comes to promised deliverables such as uptime, delivery, speed of responses, and similar corporate promises that affect your brand name can permanently turn users away from you. and you want to avoid these pitfalls.

But to do so, you must know your customer, what they want from you, and what you must do to deliver a truly customer-oriented experience at every level and every customer touchpoint of your business.

Ten quick steps that can help you reorient your business to be more customer-focused are as follows:

1. Clearly define your value proposition or unique selling point.

This should be decided at the C-exec or board level. What benefits will you deliver? What promises will you make to your customers? These benefits and promises are made in exchange for customer loyalty. Once you have them written on paper, you must break down what needs to be done at different levels of the business to make those deliverables and promises true.

2. Make your company or brand’s version of customer-centricity second nature to everyone on the team.

Recruit people who have the right attitude and outlook as you when it comes to business and customer care. You can train for skills – for example, how to follow a carefully worded customer care script – but you must hire for attitude, and it is generally harder to train people in attitudes and natural talents such as empathy, effective communication, problem-solving abilities in the face of the unexpected.

3. Treat your teams well.

Happy employees are more effective, work harder, and stick around longer than overworked, disgruntled, or mistreated employees. Global business is a team game. Approach it with that mindset and with the understanding that no one is expendable. Research has shown that the worker-customer relationship is part of your company’s profit chain. The more enthusiastic, engaged, and committed your employees are, the more loyal your customers and the higher your profits will be. With happy, engaged employees, you will have happier customer interactions, too.

4. Don’t hold back when it comes to training.

Field and office workers must be trained regarding what they need to know about the business, your expectations of them, and the customer to do their jobs well. Soft skills training, leadership, guidance, tools for collaboration, workshops, and worker getaways are a few examples of what you can do to support your teams.

5. Lead by example.

As is true with any business initiative – not just customer service but everything else you do – as a leader, you must embrace your customer service initiatives if they are new and the mantra of “the customer is always right” if it is already in place. Nobody likes a hypocrite, especially a boss who does not do what he or she expects from his or her team.

6. Develop a CORE program, which stands for “Customer Orientation, Referencing, and Engagement.”

CORE programs are designed to help cross-functional teams understand your customers and how business functions and processes are designed to meet those needs and fulfill relevant business tasks (think of customer needs as being able to enjoy a seamless UI or a product that is built of high-quality materials and the relevant business tasks for those needs as hiring the right tech resources to design a great UI and having procurement only order materials that meet a certain benchmark). In this way, CORE programs can get your workers and the business processes in place at your company working toward the goal of delivering a customer-centric experience for your users.

7. Listen to your customers.

Don’t shy away from seeking honest appraisals from customers regarding how you are doing. Customer satisfaction survey, online comments, interactions, and even sentiment analysis can all be used to gauge how your users and the general public perceives your company or your products and services.

8. Implement standards.

Analyze the customer feedback and interactions gathered in the step above to tweak your services based on customer needs and expectations. A scorecard can be devised to measure how well or how poorly you are doing in specific service areas and you can adjust the factors that affect performance accordingly.

9. Coordinate and collaborate.

Steer clear of the silo mentality and encourage different departments in your company to work together toward delivering exceptional user experiences.

10. Make User Onboarding a company tradition

The very first period you can be customer oriented is the user onboarding.

Are you just going to educate them and leave it there, or make sure through their onboarding they are provided with the necessary resources to tend for themselves along their journey?

You can’t do the latter one unless every team of your company adds to it. Each team is involved in a different part of the customer journey, and these parts are usually placed in the middle of the user onboarding process.

With a user onboarding software such as UserGuiding, you can easily create customer-oriented user onboarding experiences, without any coding.

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What is the benefit of becoming Customer-Oriented?

Understanding the expectations of your customers is a critical aspect of success for organizations of every type.

Put simply, who knows more about what your customers want than your customers themselves?

Implementing the steps above can improve customer lifetime value, lower average acquisition costs, enhance retargeting and upselling, make endorsers out of happy customers, and improve your brand goodwill.

It can also help you improve niche operations such as implementing quicker, seamless user onboarding; focusing on high-value features instead of being feature-rich; finding the right target market for your offerings, and quickly getting to market with something the market wants rather than something you simply have and want to sell.

As mentioned above, however, simply knowing what your customers want is just one piece of the puzzle.

Customer orientation and customer satisfaction are intertwined. You have control over your customer orientation initiatives. Higher levels of customer satisfaction are the results o df your efforts. Continuous monitoring of customer satisfaction levels can help guide customer orientation initiatives so that you can iteratively improve your processes.

customer orientation

Competing Theories: Customer Orientation in Product vs. Sales Approaches

You can improve customer orientation by attracting customers by satisfying their needs (a pull factor) instead of encouraging them to use discounts, sales, or similar marketing gimmicks (which are push factors). You can improve customer satisfaction levels and better fulfill customer needs via improved product-orientation which takes a long-term approach to customer orientation by targeting, amongst other things, customer loyalty, repeat purchases, and higher market share. This contrasts with sales-oriented approaches that typically focus on short-term bottom-line gains which may look good on paper for one set of quarterly reports but doesn’t do much to help brand name and customer goodwill in the longer run.

Reorienting Internal Operations

Another interesting perspective of better customer orientation is the operations-oriented approach. This used to refer to when a company invests in better operations and focused resources on streamlining business operations and processes to lower costs and drive profits. When looked at through a customer orientation lens, similar changes can be made but with customer satisfaction metrics used as the KPIs of success.

Success Stories

Here are a few success stories related to customer orientation that are taken from real-world companies that got it exactly right.

Intel Corp.

Intel Corp. famously reoriented itself in the early 2000s using big data analysis and business intelligence to understand and respond to changing customer needs. Historically, Intel always adopted a product-first approach to business that was built on engineering excellence. The “one-size-fits-all” approach of assuming that the best product is the one that everyone wants was changed to allowing for more customization based on user needs that tend to be very different depending on the industry, size, and budget of the end-user.

Amazon

Personalization in the online shopping space is what sets Amazon apart from the crowd, and Amazon provides an incredible example of an organization that understands customer orientation. Amazon’s product recommendations engine, in particular, uses advanced business intelligence of customer browsing data and information on individual customer purchases to give customers the feeling that Amazon is highly in tune with their individual needs.

Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson has a business culture centered around the culture of biking, the outdoors, and experiencing all that life has to offer. Prospective employees must meet the company’s cultural fit metrics and be “in-the-know” with customer needs and likes. This ties into what we discussed above about happy and engaged workers being better workers that will drive higher levels of customer-oriented success.

How Did Customer Orientation Come About?

We talked at length about customer orientation and why it is so important.

Customers can easily switch at little to no cost to other alternatives, and it takes a long time to develop a relationship with users and win sales from them. The more effective your customer orientation initiatives, the stronger and more loyal your user base will be – and these facts will be reflected in your bottom line.

An understanding of where customer orientation came from can help guide the discussion of the next section – how to implement a customer orientation strategy.

More and more C-level executives leverage enhanced customer focus to combat the pressures of competition and the commoditization of the market. In some cases, focusing on the customer is the only blue ocean of competitive advantage that remains, with highly efficient advancements in business operations and AI-powered data and engineering minimizing costs to their limits.

However, as many companies will attest, truly understanding your customer base involves more than simply installing an advanced CRM system or blindly working toward potentially arbitrary customer satisfaction goals. Although tools and technology matter, they do not provide the entire picture. Instead, customer orientation involves an entire organizational shift, something we discussed above. Studies have shown that the companies that have done it the best all follow a somewhat similar path, have similar milestones along the way, and many even face the same set of problems. The entire journey can take years, but the payoff is substantial for the organizations that go the distance. 

An appreciation for the gains and benefits that are up for grabs for the companies that successfully orient themselves to a customer-centric focus – and in some cases, a lack efficacy of other sources of competitive advantage – are what have driven the customer orientation revolution we are seeing today.

In our final section below, we talk more about what the change to customer orientation entails.

Implementing a Customer-Focused Reorientation

First, you must recognize that you can only become customer-focused if you learn everything there is to learn about your customers at a granular level.

You need comprehensive personas and an in-depth understanding of the past, present, and future needs of each customer within a given persona.

Next, it must be clear that the personas and your understanding of customer needs are useless if a) those who need access to customer data cannot access it, and/or b) front-line workers, salespeople, and marketers cannot or do not share what they learn about customers with decision-makers because it is either inconvenient or difficult to do so or because doing so does not benefit those people in any meaningful way.

Finally, customer insights must be used to guide product and service decisions as well as your business goals and overall organizational structure so that it is geared toward reaching customer-oriented goals.

The successful companies mentioned above – Intel, Amazon, and Harley Davidson – were able to use interdepartmental coordination using sophisticated and innovative tools to manage information flows, develop decision-making hierarchies based on customer preferences, and shifting the focus of all customer-oriented initiatives away from a centralized hub (such as C-suite executives, a board of directors, or senior managers) to a wider subset of diverse business activities across the entire organization.

Research has shown that the process of understanding the customer focus journey takes place in four distinct phases.

Phase 1

The customer orientation journey begins with the collection of customer data and the creation of a large repository of data. Data is first gathered and then cleaned so that basic analysis can be performed, and insights can be extracted.

Doing this correctly requires robust coordination across the organization because there are many ways information can be gathered and standardized. In the beginning, all departments can simply submit the data they collect to a central pool, from where a decision-maker or a team such as IT or a big data or BU team can take ownership, understand the technology and business needs different groups contributing that information, and giving them the information they need to make customer-centric business decisions.

Doing all the above may require substantial investments of time and technology. The party or group pushing this new agenda may need to overcome political boundaries, break down people’s resistance to sharing information, and build up enough worker buy-in to make the entire initiative even work.

However, once you have a single view of customers, you will be able to generate opportunities for cross-selling. You can pinpoint errors in customer service, and you can improve efficiencies and lower costs. 

Furthermore, consolidating data and the customer orientation process will, after forcing business units to share information, help those units change their mind-set. Different departments will stop seeing customers as only their customers but rather as shared assets that are valuable to other departments or product lines as well. 

Phase 2

In phase two, companies move from only gathering customer information to gathering and extracting insights and inferences from it. This phase places an additional burden on your business units since they must continue to gather and analyze data but start acting on new findings. Business analytics experts can slice and dice customer data and pass it on to those who will execute on it such as those in marketing or local market vendors.

Obstacles to the handoff of insight data and higher-level decisions can make things tricky. Traditional worker roles and organizational structures can create barriers to the spread of information and can impede the sharing of customer-focused lessons throughout the organization.

You can break down these barriers, build trust within and between your departments, and improve worker buy-in to your company’s customer orientation plan by sharing early successes with everyone. You can also take steps to minimize conflict by helping one department support the success of another. For example, customer insights extracted by your business intelligence team can be used to promote success with marketing managers, and the successes of the marketing team can go hand in hand with the work of front-line sales associates.

Phase 3

What differentiates stages two and three is that in stage three, the company must deal with increasingly complex coordination problems and must deal with more unknowns, especially when it comes to predicting and anticipating customer needs. For example, stage three deals with questions such as which customers are the most likely to switch to a competitor or which industry verticals pose the greatest risk to profitability.

Your company’s ability to handle data and be savvy with prediction models is critical here. You must use experimental approaches to predict customer behavior, come up with innovative responses to specific consumer actions, know how to measure results, and incorporate customer feedback to improve everything you do.

Propensity-to-buy models, customer value scores, brand ambassadors, and customer focus groups are examples of the techniques used in this stage of the consumer orientation process. Depending on your industry, you may have to start digging into new sources of information, and you also must consider whether to organize your departments by function, geography, or reporting channel. Who reports to whom, who can make decisions and when, and what kinds of actions can be taken in response to a given set of consumer data points all need to be considered in phase three.

Phase 4

Finally, once companies reach phase four, they can bring their new, sophisticated understanding of their customers into everything they do and incorporate it in their daily operations. There will be almost seamless interdepartmental operations and communications as well, which can massively improve efficiency and lower costs. Accounting may find – and share – a new, low-cost vendor to procurement. Sales may pinpoint a particularly difficult demographic to break into that the big data folks can focus on for value-added insights. Factor floor workers may find that a certain part tends to break down, allowing management to take remedial actions, as necessary.

Not only does this sort of collaboration help the entire company – even though it happens behind the scenes from the customer’s point of view – but it can also be automated to a great degree, lending itself to even higher levels of efficiency that the organization as a whole will benefit from.

Conclusion

A lot has been written about customer relationship management, but you can save a lot of time and money by recognizing – early on – that getting it right is more than just investing in IT or customer-focused marketing campaigns.

Getting closer to your customer will require a concerted effort from everyone, and it is a learning journey. You cannot force shifts in attitude, and workers can only be nudged, guided, and encouraged toward making the changes needed to improve end-user experiences. 

Your success or failure hinges on your ability to anticipate and then react to the needs and wants of your target markets. This makes successful customer orientation priority #1 for many companies, and the playbook provided above will hopefully give you what you need to slowly plan and then roll out a customer orientation program of your own.


Frequently Asked Questions


How does Customer Orientation work?

A customer-oriented business focuses on the customer and their experience before anything else, to offer them the most value possible and surpass their competitors in terms of UX and CX.


Why is Customer Orientation important?

Proper customer orientation can help businesses align all teams under a single vision, offering a better experience to the users. As a result, your business can have stronger bonds of trust with users that convert to business metrics.


How can I measure Customer Orientation?

A direct calculation of customer orientation might not be possible, however, keeping a close track of metrics such as Net Promoter Score, Product Adoption Rate, and Churn/Retention Rates will provide you with the necessary answers to your efforts.

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Mert Aktas

Mert is the Marketing Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that helps teams scale user onboarding and boost user engagement.