Customer-Centric Marketing Guide: 9 Lessons from Top Brands

For many organizations, creating a customer-centric brand is high priority.

When 87% of customers feel a brand needs a better customer experience, it’s time to listen.

But a great customer experience isn’t a bag of tricks. It must be present in every aspect of the organization – from marketing and sales to product design and customer support.

We’ve put together a list of our 9 favorite brands who we believe are paving the way for customer-centric marketing. With each example, we’ve included key takeaways, distilling the lessons each brand can teach us.

1) ASDA

Showing you truly care about your customers can be simple. Sometimes all you need to do is the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

This is what ASDA did during Black Friday. Instead of throwing a sale like everybody else, ASDA stayed put.

Andy Clarke, CEO of ASDA, puts it best in his own words:
asda

“The decision to step away from Black Friday is not about the event itself. Over the last two years we’ve developed an organised, well-executed plan, but this year customers have told us loud and clear that they don’t want to be held hostage to a day or two of sales.”

Instead of pouring their promotional efforts into Black Friday, they spread their discounts and offers over the entire holiday season. They listened to what their customers were saying and truly listened.

Key takeaways:

Customer-centricity isn’t just a marketing buzzword. It should be a part of your entire organization’s culture.

This means every single person must be in touch with the customer. This includes the boardroom.

The CEO of ASDA’s actions said, “We’re listening to you, and this is what we’re doing about it.” When somebody in a position usually hidden behind the brand comes forward to say this, you can’t help but connect with them.

And they didn’t leave this to chance. They built a community of customers they could rely on to generate the insight they needed to make the right decisions.

Do this by identifying your top customers. Who are your biggest fans and regular buyers? Reach out to them on a regular basis in order to generate feedback to inform decisions.

Yield data from customer intelligence for broader insight.

2) EA

After receiving much backlash on their online fees, EA’s most recent CEO Andrew Wilson has taken the company into a completely different direction. His promise was the make sure that gamers were put first, no matter what.

Turning a company from “worst company in the world” (according to Consumerist) into one that puts customers first doesn’t sound like an easy feat.

This was three years ago. So, how has the new CEO performed? According to this post on Glassdoor from December 2016, things are looking up:

“The company culture has been dramatically shifted since the current CEO took over to a highly positive one behind the mantra of “Player First.” EA is 100% behind producing great products for people to enjoy and that has had a knock-on effect to a very positive working environment where all feel welcome.”

Other acts of faith have included scrapping the aforementioned fees and offering players money-back guarantees. Not only does this demonstrate that they’re truly listening, but shows they’re going the extra mile.

Key takeaways:

Sometimes, listening to your customers can mean facing some uncomfortable truths. EA knew they had to turn dissatisfied gamers into happy ones.

This starts with looking at the data and stripping back what customers don’t want. Back in 2013, Wilson understood they weren’t using data to its full potential:

“The challenge with data is you never seek to do anything profound or inspired. We weren’t thinking about everything we were doing in the context of the player experience.”

The lesson here? Don’t let the data go to waste. Especially if it means your organization will sink or swim.

3) Shake Shack

Incumbents can be found in all industries. Fast food is no exception.

So when newcomers like Shake Shack come along to “shake” things up, the big guys better take notice.

Shake Shack focuses on three core areas in order to provide the best possible customer experience:

  • Listening to customer feedback
  • Sophisticated store design
  • Employee empowerment

The last point is key. They empower their employees with what CEO Randy Guratti describes as “charitable assumption” – allowing them to make customers leave their restaurants feeling ‘I can’t believe what they did for me.’

Their founder’s background in fine dining has contributed greatly to the experience the restaurants bring. He spent hours working on their first store’s design, trying 100 different layouts before settling for one with the right vibe.

Shake Shack

Furthermore, they take localization into account. They want each store to accommodate the vibe of the communities they open up in.

Finally, customer feedback is everything. This was best demonstrated with a mistake they made in 2013, where they replaced their frozen crinkle cut fries with a fresh, hand-cut version.

While the change kept in line with their beliefs, customers weren’t happy. They prefered the original frozen fries, and so Guratti made the decision to revert back. They heard their customers and adapted, a move some brands are reluctant to take.

Key takeaways:

When growing your business, don’t be afraid to make changes. In the same breath, don’t hesitate to go back if it doesn’t work.

Garutti didn’t realize how much fans loved their original fries, and publicly stated so. He even took it as a compliment, saying “It’s humbling to know that so many people care so deeply about our menu.”

Admitting your mistakes and making them right makes your customers feel like you truly value them.

Make sure your entire organization is on the same page. Give them the permission they need to make your customers’ day. The way Shake Shack empowers their employees helps this belief spread through the entire organization.

4) Microsoft

Back in 2015, Microsoft’s CEO made a bold claim. He was going to change the way they measure success, and the metrics that contribute to them.

“We no longer talk about the lagging indicators of success, right, which is revenue, profit. What are the leading indicators of success? Customer love.”

This meant scrapping certain products, even at the risk of revenue. All of their energy would shift to creating products that customers love.

And it’s working. In December 2016, they announced the Surface Studio – a desktop computer aimed at creatives and consumers. It generated huge amounts of positive buzz.

On Reddit, the launch video garnered comments such as, “I have no idea if the actual device will be any good. But whoever designed/created this video deserves an award of some sort.”

Even Product Hunt, a community full of Apple lovers, got excited. In fact it generated over 2,500 upvotes and generated enthusiastic comments like these:

Microsoft

Key takeaways:

Telling the world you’re putting revenue second to the customer aside, there’s a lot going on under the hood here.

First of all, Microsoft’s product have always been positioned towards business and professional users. So why did they go in this direction?

By analyzing U.S. consumer data, they saw an opportunity for their Surface products to succeed. They dug deep into insights yielded from psychographics and interests of U.S. consumers. The result is the brilliant marketing you see for the Surface products today.

Whether this is third party data or in-house insight, look to what the market is saying at scale to make better decisions.

5) Sainsbury’s

Great customer service can sometimes look like “having a bit of fun.” Sainsbury’s support staff did this when they took upon an opportunity to do something outside of the box.

3-year-old Lily Robinson wrote in to the supermarket chain, sharing confusion over one of their products. Tiger bread, she insisted, looked more like a giraffe.
giraffe bread

Lily received a response (as well as a £3 voucher) from one of their customer managers. He wrote:

“I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a loooong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.”

Lily’s mother shared this story on her blog, and so a campaign was started to get the name changed. Understanding that the customer was indeed right, they changed the name:

giraffe bread 2

You can still buy “giraffe bread” in Sainsbury’s stores today.

Key takeaways:

Being a customer-centric organization means sweating the small stuff. Every piece of customer correspondence is an opportunity to make somebody’s day.

Again, this comes down to giving your support teams more agency over execution. Provide them with training on how to look out for opportunities to delight. Show them examples like these and develop best practices that fit in line with your brand.

These opportunities can appear through various channels, like handwritten letters like Lily’s to posts and tweets on social media. Having the right mechanisms in place to listen and respond accordingly are key.

6) Amazon

It’s easy to say you’re a customer-centric organization. But when your company hires thousands of people, how do you keep in touch?

Jeff Bezos makes sure he gets his hands dirty on a regular basis. He believes everyone must be able to work in a call center. So he ensures all executives attend support training and take customer calls for two days of the year.

Furthermore, they test customer reactions to new features and site designs to ensure they get the right one. If a customer feels confused or disinterested, they go back to the drawing board.

Everything they build is based on the desires of their customers. They put the needs of the customer first and work backwards, putting engineering preferences aside. If the customer doesn’t want it, it’s gone.

Key takeaways:

Customer-centricity must be a part of your entire organization’s culture. That means everybody must get involved.

Bezos and his team are not afraid to do whatever it takes to keep in touch with their customers. No matter what your role, take some time to listen and even respond to support requests.

Treat it like jury duty. On a regular basis, schedule time for the key decision makers to get involved with customer support.

The benefits for this are many, and vary across department. Sales and marketing will be able to understand the pain points of their audience. Product development can get feedback on certain features or services.

No matter how complex your organizational structure, this humble approach can bring huge rewards.

7) Marriott International

The principles left behind by Marriott founder, J. Willard Marriott, can still be seen throughout the company today.

He shared characteristics of other entrepreneurs who established themselves in the early 20th century. His work ethic started at a young age when he looked after his father’s sheep.

It was this ethic that helped him turn a root-beer stand into one of the most successful hospitality companies in the world.

Much of his success can be emulated in how he treated his employees. In his own words: “Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.”

He understood the importance of hard work. But he also believed that “No person can get very far in life working 40 hours a week.” Marriott was a pioneer of the philosophy that results, inputs and outcomes are more important than the hours one puts in.

Key takeaways:

Empowering your employees gives them the tools to take care of your customers. But truly caring about them will motivate them to do so.

Employee happiness will shine through in everything they do, which makes for a terrific customer service experience.

Put your employees in a thankless environment, where toilet breaks are monitored and nobody asks how you’re doing, and their dissatisfaction will come across when talking to customers.

Instead, give them an environment that keeps them fulfilled and allows them to grow. The benefits of this mindset speak for themselves. Marriott, for example, was voted as “Best Company to Work For” and gained 28% in stock value.

A philosophy like J. Willard Marriott’s reach far beyond vanity metrics.

8) Bungie Studios

Companies that go above-and-beyond the call of duty are usually the ones to reap the biggest rewards.

Much like Sainsbury’s, Bungie Studios went all-out when a fan of their was in need.

The father of a young boy undergoing a liver transplant reached out to Bungie with a plea, as he was unable to play the latest edition of his favourite game franchise, Halo.

So, how did Bungie respond? First, the whole team signed a get-well card:
Bungie

Now, at this point you would assume Bungie also sent them free product.

Instead, the team custom built a helmet worn by the main character in the game, along with artwork, tees and even toys – all designed by the team at Bungie. And they came to the hospital to hand deliver it themselves.

You can check out a post from the father himself on Reddit.

Key takeaways:

This is a great example of “going all-out” when delighting your customers.

Bungie could have just sent a funny letter. They could have even given free product. Instead, they thought about what would really make this kid’s day.

Don’t be afraid to bring people together to make one person happy. If an opportunity like this arises, ask yourself: “what can we do to make this person incredibly happy?”

Make or do something completely unique. Bring a true fan immense amounts of joy by doing something for them that you’ve never done for anybody else.

9) Hyundai

The auto industry is undergoing a huge array of changes. Although they manufacture most of their cars in the U.S., Hyundai still face the same challenges as everyone else.

Drivers expect new technologies. Contenders such as Tesla are willing to step up and deliver what they want.

Instead of letting this happen, Hyundai have a group of 5,000 customers that they continuously go to for feedback and insight. Departments across the entire organization tap into this group to help make good decisions on product development.

This means the decision-making process is lead by the customers, not by opinions made in the boardroom. Not only does this help create new vehicle concepts, but tests new marketing and advertising approaches, too.

Key takeaways:

While testing a new advertising concept, Hyundai looked to their community for feedback. It was a controversial idea, but by listening to what their customers liked and disliked, they managed to find a sweet spot.

There’s a huge amount of value in customer feedback. But it’s not truly effective when done on an ad-hoc basis.

Instead, identify a group of your best customers and bring them together. Be clear on your objectives and why you need them. Incentivize the program, providing something exclusive that’s only available as part of the group.

How to build a customer-centric organization

Reading through this list, you may have observed some overarching themes.

To wrap up this guide, here’s a step-by-step formula you can use to help your organization put customers first.

Of course, this isn’t just a list of tactics. Rather best practices to keep in mind and some beliefs you should let permeate throughout your entire culture. Follow these if you truly want to put your customer at the center of your decision-making and product development process.

1) Practice what you preach

Show your team how customer-centricity can serve them and the organization by demonstrating what it looks like.

Even the most motivated of employees may still need some incentivizing. Show them what happens when everybody takes care of their customers. Give them numbers on how it affects revenue, marketing, branding and your ability to succeed in the future.

Again, this means taking a page from Amazon’s book. Get into the dirt and show them what great customer service truly looks like. Share your own experiences from conversations with your customers.

2) Equip employees with the tools to succeed

Empowering employees means striking a balance between creativity and guidance. Teams need a framework to follow, yet the autonomy to respond quickly and effectively.

Let them make their own decisions, but provide guidelines on elements such as charitable limits and specific scenarios that may be over their head.

Don’t create rigid rules. Instead, give them a framework that provides coaching, allowing them to work and think on their feet. This will not only help them best serve your customers, but ensure you don’t end up pouring money away.

3) Listen closely

Customer-centricity is all about listening to and valuing the customer point of view. Hearing what your audience has to say is baked into a good customer-centric culture.

Without a system to collect feedback, it’s difficult to create products and experiences the customer actually wants. Start with customer feedback surveys. Ask them a mixture of questions about your product/service as well as their challenges, needs and desires.

You might end up sacrificing innovation in areas where customer feedback is more important. But by giving customers what they want you can grow quicker. This will lead to resources that contribute to innovation.

4) Go deep on the little things

Many of the examples in this guide are where brands have over delivered on their responses. Whether it’s a playful piece of feedback or a father’s plea, they’ve gone deep for the sake of one customer.

With millions of customers, these brands didn’t need to do this. But they value each and every one of them, and they’ve gone the extra mile to prove it.

Encourage your team to focus on these tiny details and create massive amounts of value and goodwill. While this can lead to word-of-mouth and viral buzz, you should do it without expectation.

The bottom line: provide a personalized service for as many customers as possible.

5) Culture as an asset

Intentional or otherwise, your company has a culture. It’s a big mistake to leave it to chance.

You invest in the right talent, the right tools and the right product. So why not invest in your culture?

This means creating a strategy and plan for how your culture should look. Inspire and reward your team. Be clear and transparent with core business KPIs and educate everyone how this affects them.

Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.