Being customer focused is likely to make customers more interested in dealing with you (as opposed to choosing your competitor). As a result, being customer focused can help you improve your sales, business, and profits. Let me explain this in detail – or, if you’re in a hurry, just watch the below video to cut to the chase.
What does customer focus mean?
To properly understand what the concept ‘customer focus’ refers to and what being customer focused means, let’s first look at the broader picture and how customer focus relates to and differs from ‘customer orientation’. At this point, some might ask “Aren’t they the same thing?”. Well, not really, they’re not. But, they are closely related. To understand how they interrelate, a good place to start is to define customer orientation (in the context of selling and buying).
When searching for a definition, nowadays many people turn to a search engine for help. A quick Google search results in the Business Dictionary being awarded a top hit for defining customer orientation. That definition is rather narrow, merely focusing on actions. This is to some extent helpful but doesn’t quite solve the riddle, which is why a somewhat more scientific approach is selected.
According to the seminal scientific study on sales vs. customer orientation of salespeople in the Journal of Marketing Research by Saxe and Weitz (1982), customer-oriented selling refers to: “the degree to which salespeople practice the marketing concept by trying to help customers make purchase decisions that will satisfy customers needs” (Saxe & Weitz, 1982: 344). In their article, they present a scale that can be used to determine the degree to which a salesperson is sales oriented or customer oriented, the SOCO scale. Being sales oriented refers to focusing on the salesperson’s and selling firm’s interest, whereas being customer oriented refers to focusing on the customer. As Saxe and Weitz state, “highly customer-oriented salespeople engage in behaviors aimed at increasing customer long-term satisfaction” (1982:344). Moreover, as they point out, adopting a customer-oriented way of working involves avoiding actions that sacrifice customer interest and satisfaction to increase the likelihood of making an immediate sale.
However, as argued by Viio and Nordin (2017), customer orientation and focus on the customer not only manifests in one’s behavior or actions. For an organization or salesperson to be truly customer oriented, this involves a customer-oriented behavior and mindset. In the context of sales adaptation, Viio and Nordin (2017) refer to this as double-loop sales adaptation, which they present and discuss in their recent article Double-Loop Sales Adaptation: A Conceptual Model and an Empirical Investigation published in the Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing. For those who are interested, the study by Viio and Nordin that resulted in the model of double-loop sales adaptation was inspired by Chris Argyris’ model for organizational double-loop learning (see, Argyris, 1977, 2002).
With the above introduction, customer orientation can be understood as an approach, as a mindset that puts the customer and his/her interest first. Although customer focus is closely related to that, customer focus can be understood as forming the strategy for customer orientation for the salesperson or organization. Upon closer examination, customer orientation is – or seems to be – on a higher level of abstraction than customer focus. This is not always prevalent or even included in definitions for example found through a simple Google search (see, for example, customer focus by the Business Dictionary). In the context of sales and the interaction between the seller and buyer, being customer focused refers to the seller taking the viewpoint of the customer. This means putting yourself in the shoes of your customer and viewing things from the buyer’s or customer’s perspective. This entails feeling what your customer is feeling, thinking of what the customer is dreaming of and what he/she is aspiring to achieve or become. In brief, it means putting the customer in the driving seat and focusing on his/her needs, wishes, aspirations and dreams – as opposed to you focusing on yourself and your business.
Why is it advisable to be customer focused?
Now that we have defined, discussed and clarified the concepts customer orientation and customer focus, it probably makes sense to elaborate on why it makes sense to be customer focused. Putting yourself in the customers’ situations and viewing things from their perspective is important because it helps us better understand the customer and what is likely to form the right solution for him/her. It helps to take away some of the guesswork and puts the seller on the same page with the buyer/customer.
Being customer focused puts you in a better position to help your customers, in an honest way. Your customer will sense and see that you are making an extra effort to understand the situation at which they are and to really understand them to be better able to help them get where they want to be.
Focusing on your customer usually makes it more appealing for customers to work with you, it creates mutual engagement. A problem that your customer first thought they are facing suddenly becomes a mutual project between you and your customer. Also, the goal becomes a mutual goal that both you and your customer are aiming at. For example, perhaps your customer wants to be awarded a contract with their customer, but they are missing something that their competitor has. Once you focus on your customer and understand their situation, you are in a better position to help them. Their challenge/problem becomes your mutual problem. Their challenge to become awarded that contract becomes your mutual goal. (See, double-loop sales adaptation, Viio & Nordin, 2017).
As a result of being customer focused, you will not only feel good about what you are doing and how you are working, but you are also likely to sleep better (knowing that you are not taking advantage of others, in this case, your customers), and – maybe most importantly, at least from a sales perspective – you will probably be more successful than your competitors. In fact, it is not unlikely that the “tide will turn” and that you are more frequently than before contacted by customers who want your help, as opposed to you having to chase them to offer your support. The power of word-of-mouth should not be underestimated.
How to become customer focused?
As pointed out in the study on double-loop sales adaptation (Viio & Nordin, 2017), also being customer focused can be understood as occurring on two levels: behavior and mindset. Of course, these two are interconnected. Hence, one needs to work at both levels.
First, we need to switch on the mindset of focusing on the customer. This involves letting go of our own priorities – and ego. Let go of focusing on your own needs and wants, and focus on those of your customer. Ask yourself: How can I help my customer?
You can train and practice your customer focus skills in reverse: when being in a situation where you are the customer, work on your senses and reflection. Ask yourself how the seller or service provider makes you feel. Is he/she interested in your needs, wants, priorities, situation, and desires? Or, is he/she more interested in just making a sale. Does the service and attention that you receive from the seller or service provider increase or decrease your level of satisfaction and wellbeing?
When it comes to improving your customer-focused behavior, also there you can work in reverse. When you are the customer, reflect on what the seller or service provider does that causes you to feel the way you do. How do they behave, what do they do, and how do they do it? Analyze what they could do better, how they could improve their performance? Consider what you would do in their situation that could increase the level of satisfaction, appreciation, and happiness that you are experiencing. Train yourself in customer focus skills by making the most of service encounters in daily situations, no matter how small or big they might be.
Combining mindset and behavior
When you are selling to or serving a customer, focus on both your mindset and behavior. Ask yourself if your mindset is tuned to primarily help your customer and if you are acting in the best interest of your customer. Be honest, be sincere. If not, customers will sense your dishonesty and insincerity, and you will not sleep well (I hope). Keep your focus on your customer and act in the best interest of your customer.
As a conclusion, when done right, focusing on your customers can help change a company from an ordinary company to a great one. In fact, as a result of transforming their approach and strategy to become highly customer focused, the biggest challenge a Swedish company, Upplands Motor (which I have covered before in a previous blog post) that I know encountered was coping to serve all new customers that chose to switch to them. That shows how powerful an approach customer orientation can be and what the strategy of customer focus can result in when properly implemented. To me, that validates the points that I’m making in this post.
Hope this clarifies what customer focus is and, why being customer focused matters, and how to practice becoming more customer focused. Furthermore, I hope this inspires you to reflect on your customer-focus competencies, to practice those competencies and skills, and to successfully implement those in a way that improves your sales performance and in life in general.
Wishing you lots of success,
Dr. Paul Viio
P.S. Should you have comments or points that you want to share, please go ahead. Looking forward to hearing from you.
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Scientific articles (peer-reviewed):
Companies referred to:
Google (Alphabet Inc)
Other material referred to:
Video by Dr. Paul Viio: Customer focus: https://youtu.be/wTnI3S7F7Io
Blog post by Dr. Paul Viio: How to build a service business that can revolutionize an industry
Business Dictionary – customer orientation: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer-orientation.html
Business Dictionary – customer focus: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer-focus.html