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Customer-centric marketing: Why you need to start paying more attention to what your customers want

Customer-centric marketing: Why you need to start paying more attention to what your customers want

by: George Iacovou

It all started in 2010, when Bill Macaitis was the Senior Vice-President of Marketing at Salesforce, a leading cloud SaaS provider. (He’s worked at Zendesk and Slack since.) Over a period of a few weeks, Macaitis noticed Salesforce’s website leads had dropped by 10%.  

This was puzzling. Salesforce had just run a successful rebranding campaign announcing a fresh new position. They were now “the social enterprise”. (Think social media, but for company teams to communicate across departments.) Straight-forward enough.

At that point, a fork opened up in the road for Macaitis. 

He could look inward and keep assessing Salesforce’s website performance based on his own criteria, needs and assumptions. Or he could try to re-understand Salesforce’s web content through the eyes of their customers. 

Macaitis chose the second path. He put the Salesforce landing page to the 5-Second Test.  

The 5-Second Test is a web service that shows your website to a group of random users for five seconds. Participants are then asked what they thought of the experience and what they remembered: basically, their strongest impressions of your brand.

When visitors got to the Salesforce website, they ran into a brick wall. They just didn’t get Salesforce’s new messaging.

In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why the new slogan, “the social enterprise”, was a flop. Social media was still a new thing in 2010 and it meant something entirely different to those in the know (tech companies and early adopters) and to the average B2B user.

Test users outside tech assumed Salesforce specialized in helping non-profits with social causes, an automatic bounce for any for-profit leads, Salesforce’s primary target audience.

Salesforce had, in effect, generated a tagline designed to drive away business and they’d slapped it on their website for everyone to see. They hadn’t realized this because, as a tech company, they were blinkered by their own assumptions. 

Bill Macaitis learned a very important lesson that day: if you want your company to stick around for the long haul, you need to see it the way your customers see it. 

Listen to Macaitis’ story in his own words here.

Getting into the customer-first mindset 

Uri Geller might be able to bend a spoon just by thinking about it. You won’t be able to grow your leads just by thinking like your customers. That’s because transitioning to a customer-centric user experience takes more than a shift in mindset.

You’re going to need to change the way you do some things you’ve taken for granted forever, like customer support and retention, and maybe even invest in new technology like a customer data platform.

However serious you are about recalibrating your relationship with your customers—and however much transformation you can actually afford—you should make sure you cover these five bases during the process. 

Retention and loyalty (versus acquisition) 

In 2020, we shouldn’t need to preach the gospel of retention and loyalty. We all know that customer acquisition is way more expensive than retention, and that a loyal customer is the best customer to have. 

Still, old, brand-centric habits die hard. 44% of companies still spend more on acquiring new customers than on keeping those they already have

That’s because when you’re looking through a brand-centric lens, the instant and intense rush of landing a new customer makes sense. It’s one more lead converted.

If you look at growth through a customer-centric filter, however, you’ll see another audience segment that can potentially make that one new lead seem puny: the customers you already have.

Remember, massive companies like Amazon and Google may retain customers by sheer force of presence, like black holes that suck in anything in their orbits. You can’t.

Then again, when was the last time you heard anyone say: “I just got off the phone with Jeff Bezos and he thanked me personally for my years of loyal support.” 

You haven’t. 

But you have heard the voice of a customer whose day you just made brighter. (Feels good, right?) If you make retaining that customer a priority—or even better, making them loyal—they’ll become a lifelong brand ambassador. 

And that kind of ROI is, as the Visa ads go, priceless. 


If you want your company to stick around for the long haul, you need to see it the way your customers see it. 

Micro personalization 

Imagine your favorite Mexican restaurant. 

It probably ticks most of your boxes. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be your favorite restaurant. But there may be one or two things they don’t get right. Like the “mole” is out of this world, but sometimes the chips are a little soggy. And, yes, there are nights when they’re completely out of your favorite beer.

Ok, now imagine that the next time you went to eat there, your waiter knew ahead of time that you liked your chips extra crisp. And the inventory management system (automated, of course) knew to make sure your beer was in the fridge the moment you booked your table. If it wasn’t, it would order a new shipment.

Sound far-fetched? That’s actually what micro personalization can do for your app, website or social media customer experiences.

Today, with unified, silo-busting single customer views, you can figure out your customers at a truly granular level and show them exactly what they want to see, eliminating pain points in individual user journeys that can lead to delivery gaps, abandoned carts and even customer defection.

Of course, this means that the good old days of static website experiences with a 5-year shelf life built on our best hunches are out the window. If your data has shown you that two of your customer profiles earn you 25% more click-throughs than all of your other traffic combined, you’re going to need two new landing pages pronto.

Preferences at the micro level may also reveal exciting new audience engagement opportunities you never even considered.

Streaming giant Netflix figured out, for example, that they’ve only got 90 seconds to hook viewers under intense competition. So they started looking for creative, data-driven solutions to improve click-through rates. The first pain point they tackled was movie artwork, something they hadn’t given much thought to in the past. 

Netflix ran an A/B test, showing three different versions (two new and one original) of a poster for the same kid’s movie, The Short Game. They quickly determined that the two new designs they’d created for the test earned them 6% and 14% more engagement, respectively, than the original (studio) artwork.

You can imagine how much artwork there is on Netflix, and how fast they got  to A/B testing all of it. 

The takeaway? 

Customer preferences are now mappable in cartographic detail. Your content strategy needs to find ways not only to chart and make sense of that data. Content creators also need to look for footholds in areas of user engagement they might have considered insignificant or impregnable in the past. 

Flexible customer support 

Is customer support a headache for you? Is it taking too much of your valuable time? 

That’s too bad for your company. Because if you want to reap the benefits of a truly customer-first experience—loyal customers who are crazy about your company—you’ll need to stop dragging your feet and reprioritize.

The figures speak for themselves. Customers buy (up to 50%) more and are willing to spend (up to 25%) more on services if their customer support experience makes them feel good.

Designing stellar customer support experiences doesn’t mean driving your customer support team like huskies.

It means putting yourself and your team into the shoes of the customers who come to you seeking the most efficient, painless answers to their problems. 

Diagnosis and assessment are key. Do your customers typically come to you looking for solutions to niche tech or billing issues? Then make sure you have specialized employees on hand who know or can find the answers. Because there’s no better way to drive away your customers than putting them on the phone for half an hour with an employee they suspect knows less about your products or services than they do. 

If this means growing your customer support team (channels, locations or expertise), and you can make the investment, do it. You’ll be following in the footsteps of customer-first success stories like website-building platform Squarespace and collaboration hub Slack (175 support agents in 5 countries with 25,000 support tickets served monthly), which early on staked their brand growth on stellar, dependable omnichannel customer support.  


Customer preferences are now mappable in cartographic detail. Your content strategy needs to find ways not only to chart and make sense of that data. Content creators also need to look for footholds in areas of user engagement they might have considered insignificant or impregnable in the past. 


Valuable metrics

It’s 11 pm and you get a phone call. You answer it because the number seems to be local. It’s probably not a friend at that time of night, but you never know. They may have lost their phone and are calling from the roadside with a flat tire and a mobile they borrowed from a good Samaritan.

But it’s not.

It’s a robocall from a medical insurance company you’ve never heard of spoofing a local phone number. In the mood to buy?

This is a toxic lead in every sense of the word. Carpet bombing for leads isn’t just a sure way to sabotage your brand name. It’s also a very good example of thinking in short-term metrics.

Robocalling isn’t an approach you’re ever likely to consider. But it does raise a serious point. When you think of metrics, think long-term.

Aided recall, for example, will tell you how well visitors remember your brand with a little nudge (brand recall). Say they saw your ad on TV. If you showed them the first few seconds of the ad later on, would they remember your company? If not, you may need to rethink that ad.

Similarly, unaided recall (brand recognition) also measures the memorableness of your brand, but without crutches. Let’s say you sell rare comic books and someone saw your ad on Instagram. Later on a friend asks them if they know of any e-shops that sell hard-to-find comic books, but without showing them the ad. Would they be able to remember your name? 

Finally, but no less valuable a metric, is customer sentiment. When your brand name comes up in conversation, how does it make people feel? Does it generate a pleasant buzz (from that wonderful email they just got offering them a 25% discount on that premium upgrade they’ve been considering for years), smoldering resentment (from that last horrible, dead end chat with support), or no feelings at all? Let’s say your brand was actually making people angry, like Peloton did recently with its 2019 Christmas ad, The Gift That Gives Back. Wouldn’t you want to know?

All of these metrics provide strong Voice of the Customer (VOC) data whose value lies in their ability to help you diagnose gaps (and strengths) in your customer journey so you can build successful long-term customer retention and loyalty strategies. 

Collecting VOC data is simple: you can build your own surveys with online services like Typeform or SurveyMonkey, or tap into customer reviews. A service like Amazon Comprehend, for example, uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to analyze troves of keywords for qualitative indicators of customer sentiment about your products and services.

Similarly, if you want to see who your brand ambassadors are, you can go to Net Promoter Score (NPS), which will tell you how likely your customers are to recommend your company to friends, colleagues and loved ones.

The takeaway?

As the old proverb goes: selling a ton of umbrellas in the rain doesn’t make you a better umbrella salesman. Figuring out why your customers are buying your umbrellas when it’s sunny does. 

In other words, if you want to spearhead customer experiences that drive growth, don’t think in quick boosts and two-day patches. Find out what’s made your best customers happy and loyal over time, and give them as much of that as you can. 

Investing in a customer data platform with a customer lifecycle model 

This is last on the list simply because it’s not a measure all SMEs can afford to take, or have the data complexity to justify. So let’s just say this: whether you invest in a platform or not, without the science to manage your data, your data is useless. 

Well-designed customer data platforms (CDPs) are just the most sophisticated, user-friendly way to leverage your data. They basically work like this: whatever data you collect online and off is funneled in real time into a non-siloed, high-definition, single customer view that you can use to build micro personalized web and social campaigns more or less guaranteed to break you out of customer experience performance ruts. 

To be clear: you may still be operating on trial and error, but you’ll have the data to recover from your misses and turn them into hits much more quickly.

When you use a CDP, you’ll also be able to handle customer lifecycle issues systematically at all touchpoints of the brand experience, from acquisition to retention and winback. So, if you do have customers at risk of defection, you can identify the audience segment and stage of defection right away. Your CDP will analyze your retention options  and even launch the best retention campaign for you.

Final thoughts

If the 2010s belonged to social media, the 2020s are big data’s. 

The data at our fingertips today is so rich it can feel boundless. But there is a boundary and it’s the fine line between being consumer-centric and consumer-obsessed.

Like the over-eager friend in the fourth grade who monopolized your attention too often and too long, consumers quickly tire of companies that try too hard to be their friends or demand too much of their time.

As one marketing analyst nicely put it, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should.” 

Micro personalization, no matter how sophisticated, doesn’t guarantee conversions. Having a pirate’s chest of user data might not win you more customers or even keep your loyal ones.

Most important of all: we rarely know how comfortable our customers are with our use of their data until we end up breaching their trust. And once we do, our customer relationship is over.

This is less a warning than a wake-up call.  

Data is here to stay, and the quality of your customer relationships clearly depends on it. Like Bill Macaitis realized at Salesforce, there’s a fork in the road that every business will eventually come to. 

One road leads back to traditional brand-centered thinking. One leads forward to better customer experiences. Only one of those roads will lead to substantial growth for your company. 

The one you follow is up to you.

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