After 16 years of growing my business from a small operation to an employer of more than 150 people, I've learned what makes a company culture thrive. Sure, cool office perks are nice, but what really matters is a shared belief in the importance of customer satisfaction.
Without satisfied customers, no business could keep running for very long. It's not hard to understand why unhappy customers won't do business with a company they feel wronged them somehow. The best way to keep your customers happy is to make sure your entire company culture makes customer satisfaction a top priority.
Satisfaction is a tricky term, though: To small businesses, a satisfied customer simply means someone who is willing to transact with them again. Repeat customers and word-of-mouth recommendations can be tremendous boosts to any business, but for the people working inside of them, customer satisfaction must be tied to a purpose that is bigger than any single team member -- a shared goal of excellence.
That's why, at my company, employees usually wake up and think about the dedicated clients they're working with, not the company itself.
Creating a Customer-Centric Culture
According to a study by the Energy Project and the New York Times, employees who find meaning in their work stay at their jobs longer, work harder, and feel more satisfied with their jobs.
Obviously, you want your employees to find meaning in their work and embody your company's vision and mission in all they do. The key is to connect the meaning they're finding in their work to customer satisfaction. When every team member keeps the client in mind -- even those who aren't client-facing -- you'll reap big rewards.
But how can you instill the connection between their daily responsibilities and customer satisfaction on a personal level? Promoting good habits is all about developing feedback loops, which is a magical thing: The more employees can see how their efforts directly affect the happiness of the customer, the more they'll want to do good work. The pride and sense of accomplishment that brings out in them creates a virtuous loop.
Here are some steps you can take to make customer satisfaction the core tenet of your company culture:
1. Realize the customer's perspective.
Successful companies like Apple maintain great customer satisfaction rates by focusing on empathy and communication, so ask your team to put themselves in the customer's shoes (read more about the habits of customer-focused companies here). You might be experts in your field, but your customers rely on you to communicate that knowledge and build trust in your expertise.
To accomplish this, create onboarding processes and communication practices that take into account your customers' varying levels of knowledge about what you do. Don't go too fast or gloss over important details, assuming that they're common knowledge -- you build trust by listening and trying to understand their concerns, rather than by trying to deliver the outcomes as quickly as possible.
In our company, we ask clients questions like "Who on your team should participate in these different types of calls?" We also invite them to join our internal Slack conversations. Letting them be part of the process reassures our customers that we put their needs first.
2. Drill down to what actually creates value.
As a custom software development firm, we think a lot about choosing the right algorithms and optimizing processes for our clients. While those are important elements, if we don't dive deeper to understand how the client will use them and where they see the real value, we risk missing the point of the client's purchase.
As opposed to asking too many "how" questions, we like to focus on the "why." For example, why do they need a certain feature? Why will this appeal to their investors? If they want customers, software with 100 features that attracts no new business won't satisfy them. I like to get as close as possible to what their end user will find valuable, as that's who will be driving the economic benefit.
Ask questions that get to the heart of what your client hopes to accomplish, and then work your way up from there. If you're struggling to get the answers you need, try other creative questions. Ask why they chose you as a partner, how they would describe your services to someone else, or what triggered them to seek you out in the first place.
3. Expand your offerings for clients.
If new opportunities arise to help your customers achieve their goals, be prepared to explore those unexpected avenues. For example, one of our clients wanted to acquire a company that had its own proprietary software. They asked us if we could handle the tech, thrusting us into the role of a technology advisory company.
While this wasn't a service we normally performed, we recognized the opportunity to branch out and took it. Staying nimble and putting our customer's needs first -- rather than our own service offerings -- allowed us to be a better partner and resulted in a more satisfied customer.
Customer satisfaction affects everyone, from the CEO down. You can't build a sustainable company on something that doesn't produce real value for customers. Instead, create a culture focused on satisfaction to ensure that your employees and clients -- current and future -- will always love working with you.
Kuty Shalev is the founder of Clevertech, a New York City-based firm that designs, develops and deploys strategic software for startups.