In a 1999 interview, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, responded to a question about not being a “pure internet player” by saying, “Internet shminnernet, that doesn’t matter. What matters to me is to provide the best customer service.” In the same interview, Bezos went on to say, “If there’s one thing that Amazon.com is about, it’s obsessive attention to the customer experience end to end.”
Amazon later went on to acquire Zappos, another company renowned for a mission centered around excellent service. They pioneered the “try before you buy” model and consistently go far beyond standard customer service practices to “deliver happiness” to their customers. It is this obsession with customers that has made both businesses so successful. However, with the right strategies, any business can build a similar customer-obsessed culture that generates results.
What Is Customer Obsession?
Customer obsession means building an improved customer experience in every facet of a company. In doing so, businesses employ a customer-first approach everywhere from sales to the customer service department. Obsession means understanding what customers want and delivering on those desires before all else, including ROI and outperforming competitors.
It is important to remember that customer obsession is not a one-time demonstration of good customer service–it is a comprehensive methodology that requires a business’s full commitment to be successful. Customer-obsessed companies build a culture around highlighting the customer experience in all their daily operations with constant reinforcement.
Why Is Customer Obsession Important?
Customer obsession is more than just a strategy– it is a business model. Companies that put this model into practice are more successful in generating customer trust and commitment. A customer-obsessed culture captures the attention and loyalty of consumers, building a sustainable business model that keeps them coming back.
Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh wrote in his book Delivering Happiness, “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel, that’s what matters the most...Make customer service a priority for the whole company, not just a department”.
Amazon’s leadership principles also list consumer obsession as their first priority, “Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”
These customer obsession examples highlight why customers come back to these companies again and again—they know their needs come first. A focus on the consumer builds brand loyalty and generates customer trust so they continue to seek out your business and recommend it to others.
Qualities of Customer Obsession
To generate a culture of customer obsession, you need to understand what it takes. Companies that put customers first focus on two main qualities above all else.
At its core, true customer obsession is about empathy—understanding your customers through obsessive listening. In his book, Likeable Business, Dave Kerpen says, “Listening to prospects enables you to understand what problems and pain points they have so you can solve them [...] Listening to customer insight helps you understand how you can deliver more to them and what changes you need to make.”
Through listening, you understand your customer’s needs well enough to take appropriate action. Create a culture that encourages listening to and understanding their customers so you know how to build the perfect customer experience.
Listening to customers alone isn’t enough. Most companies dedicate significant energy to listening to customers, but few are happy with the results. In-depth satisfaction surveys can be inaccurate and slow to yield results, and most customers who defect are the ones who report high satisfaction. Companies need to build effective customer feedback loops to truly understand their customers.
Companies have more success gathering feedback on the frontlines, where direct interactions between employees and customers occur, compared to building centralized customer research arms. For ecommerce businesses where competition is fierce and customer data is readily available, effective customer feedback loops are a necessity. These feedback loops make employees on the frontlines more effective and center the customer experience across the company.
How To Achieve Customer Obsession
With a thoughtful approach, any business can put the customer first. However, it takes a cross-company focused effort. The following strategies and insights will help you build a customer-obsessed culture in your ecommerce business so your customers keep coming back.
1. Study Customer Data
Ecommerce businesses have an incredible advantage in understanding their customers because they have instant access to the data of every single customer and transaction. Before investing time and energy into building a complete customer feedback loop, study the customer data you already have. Find out who’s buying what and why.
AI companies, like our partners Dynamic Yield, can take your data analytics to the next level. At Linio, the biggest ecommerce platform in Latin America, Dynamic Yield was able to increase click-through rate (CTR) by 300% by identifying the best customer segments to target and then creating personalized homepages.
2. Protect Customer Data Like It’s Your Own
According to recent privacy and personalization research, 86% of respondents said they were concerned about the privacy of their data. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 shoppers abandon a checkout experience because of concerns that the site won’t protect their credit card information.
Therefore, you must ensure your payment system protects against security and fraud issues. To build customer trust, you can display well-known security brands like Norton on your site and provide explanations next to each entry field in checkout for why you’re requesting personal information.
3. Support Customer-Generated Content
Customer voice matters. 77% of people regularly read online reviews when browsing for businesses. Reviews help build customer trust and provide valuable information they can use to make the best shopping decisions. Even negative reviews can help assure customers that the reviews are real. Ecommerce sites can also benefit from other self-service tools, like community forums and knowledge bases. As a result, businesses should focus on encouraging and amplifying customer voice daily.
4. Make the Customer Experience Personal
72% of people said they would only engage with personalized marketing messages. There are countless personalization tools available to ecommerce sites, and one of the biggest challenges is knowing which ones to use. At Guidance, we recommend focusing on one key personalization feature at a time in order to test effectiveness with the most accuracy.
City Chic, a shared Guidance and Nosto client, successfully implemented a personalization platform that learns the preferences of each user through clicks and time spent on each product and then displays them as the user navigates the site. Customers have reported high satisfaction in being presented with products that match their size and fashion style.
5. Design Your Site for Anyone
Keep your site simple and attractive. 73% of customers exit a poorly designed mobile site for a higher-quality site that makes buying easier. A too-long or complicated checkout process accounts for as much as 17% of online cart abandonments, while website errors account for 13%.
Website optimization is a key part of a customer-first strategy. As a Magento website development partner, Guidance was able to simplify the Hearst brands, unifying them in a single platform with unified account management and single sign-on (SSO) on the Magento 2.3 Commerce Cloud. The platform’s solutions are capable of upselling and cross-selling for increased Average Order Value (AOV).
6. Be Transparent
Treat your customers like you would a trusted friend. Only publish content that is accurate and honest, and don’t hide additional fees. In one study, 73% of consumers considered transparency more important than price. As much as 16% of customers abandon carts when they can’t see or calculate the total cost up-front. Putting transparency at the forefront of your ecommerce site goes a long way toward building customer trust.
7. Provide Excellent Customer Service
Invest in customer service: it will pay off. Customer retention can be five to 25 times cheaper than acquiring new customers. On a given day, Zappos answered calls in 25 seconds, chats in 31 seconds, and emails in 4 hours and 15 minutes on average. Calls accounted for more than 70% of the total customer interactions.
Founder Tony Hsieh points to the telephone as the differentiator of Zappos’ customer experience. Zappos collects this data every day in a “Daily Breakdown Report,” values the quality of customer interactions over the cost, and uses these metrics to track its performance as an entire organization.
Remember that employee engagement is crucial here. Engaged and satisfied employees are more driven and provide better customer service. Part of your company culture should be supporting employees with proper training and rewarding strong customer service.
8. Survey Customers for Feedback
To close the customer feedback loop, survey customers after they buy a product or service from your ecommerce store. Allianz automatically sends customers a brief survey after every transaction. The survey results are immediately sent to the employee who facilitated the transaction and published on local intranet dashboards for review.
Then, frontline employees call a sample of customers who answered the survey to listen to and correct issues. Soon after implementing this customer feedback system, Allianz saw a double-digit increase in its Net Promoter Score (NPS) and increased policy renewal rates.
9. Prepare for New Customer Technologies
Stay up to date on how technology and your customers’ behavior are changing. Local searches lead 78% of mobile users to visit stores within one day—meaning that optimizing your SEO for local search is increasingly necessary.
Voice search, which has the power to change ecommerce, is more likely to be local. Customers have increasingly used voice search to buy something online, which will only continue as technology improves. Keep up with your customers by staying updated on voice and other new technologies.
Examples of Customer Obsession in Action
At Guidance, we have seen firsthand how customer obsession transformed company success, including with our own clients, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Drybar. These two customer-obsessed examples prove that focusing on customer needs leads directly to business success.
Anastasia Beverly Hills
Anastasia Beverly Hills obsesses over its customers, and the feeling is mutual. Founded in 1997, the cosmetics brand is adored most for its eyebrow line, which was way ahead of its time.
Instead of assuming what its loyal customer base wants, Anastasia Beverley Hills relies on customer insight and intensive user testing, including in-person interviews, try-on sessions, product tutorials, and deep-dive questionnaires. But most critically, the company's customer-centric data mining isn't limited to products.
Anastasia Beverly Hills also invited users to test its existing website, which was the basis for switching to Magento Commerce. Guidance web developers helped the customer-obsessed company create an immersive web interface with best-in-class performance and long-term cloud-based scalability to maximize customer experience.
The first Drybar opened in 2010, and in just a few years, the beloved blowout salon expanded to over 150 locations. The company is now a coveted haircare brand with more than 100 product offerings, including hot hair tools, treatments, and styling products.
Built on true customer obsession, Drybar sells products on its website and through larger retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom, and Ulta. The brand's 2013 product launch was ultimately a marketing strategy to help customers recreate the unique experience they get at a blow-dry bar, and its website needed to reflect this.
In just three months, Guidance transformed Drybar's website into a comprehensive resource that resonated with customers’ desire for a high-quality at-home experience with Magento Commerce. No longer a dark and moody interface, the site is now on par with the customer journey of walking into a Drybar location—it’s bright, bubbly, fresh, and highlighted by the brand's signature vibrant yellow hues.
Build Your Customer-Obsessed Culture with Guidance
Customer obsession is more than just a concept—it is a practice that, when done right, can transform your business into one that keeps consumers coming back. If you are ready to develop your own customer-obsessed marketing strategy for your online store or brand, give us a call.
Guidance’s strategy team can help you identify opportunities to increase customer retention and even help lay out a two-year customer obsession transformation plan to increase NPS and overall customer satisfaction. Contact us today to get started.