Customer focus for a future-proof business

Customers are the reason your company exists. It makes sense that for most entrepreneurs acquisition and customer retention are at the top of their list of priorities. After all, no customers means no turnover. Without a good customer experience and satisfied customers, the future might suddenly look a lot less rosy. If you do not take care of your customers, your company will soon lose its relevance.

You only get happy customers if you get it all right: the right offer, the right commercial approach, and good business management. Customer-focused entrepreneurship looks to the future. But how do you do that? And how do you distinguish yourself from the competition?

Guess what? Entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of customer-focused entrepreneurship have 7 characteristics – or success factors – in common. Curious what those are? Discover them in our most-read e-book “Customer-focused entrepreneurship” and go for that wow factor. Read the e-book now (in Dutch).

Please note: The e-book is available in Dutch only. This article summarises the seven success factors.

Success factor 1: A customer-focused business knows the customers better than they know themselves

By getting to know your customer better, you can better respond to their needs and they will be more inclined to stay with you. But how to go about that?

There are several practical ways:

  • Talk to your customer
    Have conversations with your customers, especially important clients and suppliers. Discuss your joint perspectives and invite your customer to look toward the future with you. “What do you need?”, “How can we do be better?”, and “Does today’s solution still fit tomorrow’s problem?”.
  • Observe your customer
    Literally sit with your customer or shadow them for a few hours. When they use your product, observe what goes well and what your customer encounters. By looking closely, you can see where you might add value.
  • Keep track of your customer data
    Another way to get to know your customer better is to keep track of your customer data. The better your data, the more knowledge, so the more personal your relationship can be. And: the sooner customers buy something from you.

Success Factor 2: A customer-focused business creates more value for their existing customer

Every entrepreneur knows: it is easier to keep existing customers than to find new ones. One of the ways to maintain your turnover is to create more value for your existing customers on what you already offer.

Consider the following ways of adding value:

  • Knowledge: for example, give workshops in which you share your knowledge. Or provide information via a book, video, blog, vlog, or webinar.
  • A subscription: offer your product as a service with an attractive fixed price per month for a low entry level.
  • Also consider a maintenance contract, a delivery service, or a return service. Not just as an add-on, but exceptionally well-organised.
  • Diversification: look for additional assortment that solves customer demand in a broader context. Do you deliver flowers? Deliver them in a vase. Do you sell instruments? Think of offering lessons or a way to connect with other musicians.
  • Make your product ‘smart’. Is it possible to provide your product with sensors? That makes your product smart, and allows you to add extra services.
  • Thinking of community. Build a community in which members come up with solutions together. That way, you do not constantly have to offer new content – after all, the customers are doing that – but you still remain current and relevant.

Success factor 3: A customer-focused business attracts new customers and markets

Because customers come and go, it is important to always put effort into replenishing. That is not only important for maintaining your customer base, but also for your sales.

The first step to getting new customers or clients is, of course, to approach them. A few tips to become more successful at this and to enjoy it more:

  • Prepare an elevator pitch. That is a 1-minute description of what you have to offer. Make sure to have a strong opening line (usually signalling the problem you are about solve), touch on the “why” of your product/service, and close with a clear call to action (website to visit, number to call, social media connection request).
  • You do not have to go on about how “great” you are. Give an example of what your effort has meant to someone else. This way, you don't talk about yourself, but about the success of your customer – and what your role was in that success.
  • If you know who you will chat with, prepare your conversation with some research about them on Google and social media.
  • Make sure to really zoom in on the problem your conversation partner has. Do not offer the solution right away, but really take time to unearth the impact of this problem. Finding the sore point gives you insight into what the value of a solution potentially is.

Platforms abroad

Are you looking for international growth? Make sure to take a solid approach. Think about which product or service you want to market across the border, to which countries, and which contacts you will need. The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK Export Guide (in Dutch) helps you with all the steps you need to take. You can also opt for a digital platform abroad or local marketplace. More about the advantages and disadvantages can be found in the KVK article Selling via platforms abroad (in Dutch).

Online acquisition

  • Join a digital platform (in Dutch), an online marketplace that efficiently brings supply and demand together. Think of Amazon, e-Bay, or Marktplaats. A platform provides you with a wealth of customer information so that you can provide more customization. The disadvantage is that you pay commission and lose a portion of your margin.
  • Start your own platform. That gives you a scalable business model (see success factor 5).

Success factor 4: A customer-focused business has an online presence

How can you best support your customers digitally? Your customers are often online. So it is smart to be where your customers are. Internet helps you find and engage with customers, to add value for them or to involve them in product innovations or developments.

A few principles:

  • A website alone is just a store sign. On your website you can, of course, invite your (potential) customers to interact with you in several ways.
  • Social media make your customer relationship more personal and ensure that your customer does not forget about you. Which channels you choose depends on where exactly your customers are located.
  • Also consider influencers, vloggers: they often share their personal experiences with your product or company – paid or unpaid. Young people in particular are easy to reach through this channel.
  • Take an integrated approach: the customer should have the same customer experience via each of your channels, including telephone, e-mail, chat, shop floor, social media, and website.

You will find more information in this article from Marketing facts (in Dutch) and Customer contact via social media.

Success factor 5: A customer-focused business has a scalable business model

You cannot work harder or sell more than you do now. So, then the question is: how can you earn more with the same effort? The answer: with a scalable business model. Where is your scalability?

First, consider what the bottleneck is for your growth. Is it the output (for example, production) or the sales? There are a few ways to easily scale up your production or sales without excessive costs and risks.

There are two ways to scale up your output: Outsourcing and standardizing customization. Outsourcing allows you to take on larger assignments with the help of other entrepreneurs or to grow your distribution network. Standardizing customization means knowing what needs most of your customers have in common and delivering a modular concept of high-quality standardized products that can be mixed and matched. This saves costs and effort, which leaves space for that smaller percentage of tailor-made solutions.

There are several smart ways to scale your sales:

  • Franchising: you can share your idea to grow or become a franchisee yourself.
  • Online platform: you can start a platform or join one. A platform brings supply and demand together.
  • Community: By creating a community through paid membership, you ensure that you are not the only one who has to come up with answers and solutions. After all, the members will also support and engage with each other.
  • Partners/agents abroad: partners abroad often know their own market better than you and know their way around. Offering your products or services through them can therefore really pay off.

To discover where your scalability lies, you can use the Business Model Canvas. The model consists of nine building blocks to build your own (scalable) business plan. It allows you to look at your business in a new way.

Success factor 6: A customer-focused business relies on numbers

By taking a closer look at your numbers and figures, you can improve your business operations. This also has a positive effect on your customer relationship. With a few simple interventions you can get a better grip on how your business runs.

  • Take a critical look at your customer base. Which customers would you like to have more of? Who is the 20% you earn most on or work best with? Can you recognize characteristics that your 'ideal customers' meet?
  • For which customers are at least 2 of the 3 Ps – Pennies , Pleasure, and Prestige – present in the customer relationship? And for which customers none of these three?
  • Take a critical look at the costs and benefits. Many entrepreneurs do not know what their net earnings are from an assignment. Read the KVK article Determining product price: info and tips (in Dutch).

Success factor 7: A customer-focused business achieves the wow factor

How do you ensure that the customer experiences your company as excellent in a way that suits you?

You only reach the wow factor when everything is just right: an offer that really helps the customer, pleasant commercial contact, and a well-oiled organisation that delivers.

It is helpful to choose where you want to achieve that 'wow'. For instance:

  • Best product or service. Your product or service must then truly be innovative or superior – in the eyes of the customer. For the wow factor to really be there, it must meet customers’ subconscious needs. That is a recipe for great customer satisfaction. You can find out how to achieve this in the Kano tool (in Dutch).
  • Excellent customer approach, service, and experience.
  • Efficient business operations. For example, super-fast delivery or affordable convenience ensures customer satisfaction.

Please note: You can pick one focus point, but do not neglect the others if you want to achieve the wow factor.

Customer journey

Your customer ‘travels’ to your company in different ways and at different times – before, during, and after the purchase. Think of your website, your social media, the ordering process, the shop floor, your customer service, your shop window, the final product use, and of course your employees. This is called the 'customer journey’. Discover which journey your customer takes with the help of the customer experience circle (in Dutch) and how you can influence the customer experience.