Ongoing lockdowns, social distancing, changing customer expectations. Right now, it seems like everything is hitting businesses hard. Keeping customers is essential, and this means embedding them at the very core of business operations.
With the right customer-centric strategy, you can build long-lasting relationships that focus on meeting customer needs and that deliver personal, engaging experiences.
In our upcoming Digital Thinkers Forum, customer centricity and customer experience expert Laura Schulte will discuss her thoughts on developing truly exceptional customer experiences and why businesses must lead the charge.
Based in Florida, we recently spoke with Laura from our offices in Munich, Germany to discuss her keynote address and gain a few more insights into building a true customer focus and how it’s influenced by the human factor.
Testbirds: You have an extensive background in the field of customer-centricity and customer experience, could you tell us more about that?
Laura Schulte (LS): Thanks. My passion and expertise are positioning the value of innovative products, concepts, and people. Value is assessed by the customer. In my strategy work, it’s vital to assume the perspective of the customer. Whether positioning a cloud solution to clients or a founder’s expertise to investors, first understand your customer’s problems and what they really value.
I gained the most CX experience while running a startup marketplace for new moms with daily flash sale promotions. It was a high-paced test & learn environment perfect for developing customer-centric insights. I trained my team to select and position 10 to 20 new brands per day. When deals went live, sales numbers gave us instant feedback on how well we had matched products to the problems our customers faced. Later, the return rate signaled how well our positioning and description met expectations. We optimized and improved and even began designing private label brands based on what we knew our customers loved.
Testbirds: It seems like every business has their own idea about what customer centricity is, but how would you define it?
LS: Customer centricity is today’s business-critical leadership superpower. It’s the ability to take your customers’ perspective and see their needs today and in the future. It’s about innovating to solve the problems they can’t solve on their own. It’s also a company strategy that provides resources to empower all from CEO to front lines to be heroes for the customer.
Testbirds: What are some of the key things you’ve learnt about customer-centricity and the customer experience?
LS: I’ve learned customer-centricity is about trust, especially in an increasingly digital relationship. Customers who trust us, stay loyal. Every area of your organization can be customer-centric. We need to be constantly asking “How will this help our customers? Does this build their trust in us?” To follow through on those ideas, the front lines need trust, from management. They need to be trusted to solve problems in real-time. That trust starts with the CEO.
Testbirds: What then makes a great customer experience? And how aligned do customers and a company have to be to achieve it – if at all?
LS: We’re all experts at this, but from the customer side. Customer experience excellence is that feeling we get when we feel seen, heard, understood, and respected. It’s more than delivering competence or functionality. I think about opening my first Mac. I was so scared to get a big computer. But everything was so friendly and happy and, well, human. I’m still a Mac customer today. In a superhero world, it means protecting us from danger in advance, and inspiring us to enjoy a better future. That translates in neuroscience lingo to triggering brain chemicals for deep pleasure and safety.
Testbirds: Alternatively, what makes a negative experience and how can that impact a business?
LS: The worst negative experience is when our trust is betrayed, when we are loyal brand lovers, and then we get stuck in some kind of bizarre loop that doesn’t make any sense, and we are told “I understand but there’s nothing I can do to fix it.” Yesterday I had severe internet trouble. I was on a chat for 40 minutes, the internet cut out completely and the chat started over. The next agent happily greeted me. I lost trust. Eroding trust erodes your business.
Testbirds: Does this mean taking a leading role in guiding customer expectations or should the business be more flexible and change-ready depending on customer needs? Perhaps even be a mix of the two?
LS: We expect a superhero to save us. But we also long for them to serve us and inspire us. Customers expect us to respond to their needs, but they also want us to protect them from the unknown, and to delight them constantly with better products than they could ever dream of. CX is business-critical leadership today. Take a leading responsibility, but be flexible of course. Involve the customer to discover new needs and check your assumptions constantly. A superhero who saves someone who doesn’t need help is just super annoying.
Testbirds: Customer expectations and behaviors are constantly changing, which has been very apparent during the pandemic as people re-evaluate what they really need and want. How essential is it that a business understands their customers?
LS: How essential? Understanding customers is what business is. In this last year, every business has been disrupted. And every customer’s needs have been as well. This is an incredible opportunity to re-check those assumptions and discover tremendous new opportunity in change. Especially with digital products because so many more customers are online. Are you overlooking new customer segments? Can you afford to overlook them, and will your competitors too?
Testbirds: How important is communication in achieving this?
LS: Very. To serve a customer you have to ask and listen, then check your biases. Needs change. Context changes. Devices change. In addition to hearing what they say, track what they do. Build your understanding from both.
Testbirds: We’re now starting to see a huge move toward digital and ‘anytime anywhere’ services where customers (through their devices) are intimately connected to stores. In the near future, they’re likely to know more about customers than anyone else. Do you think this will cause too many trust issues when building a solid customer-centric relationship?
LS: The same data can be exactly what personalizes and elevates a customer’s experience. In superhero terms it comes back to trusting us as leaders to serve and inspire – to use our powers for good. Keep in mind that customer expectations will continue to increase. Our services and technology need to evolve as well.
Testbirds: What exactly can people expect to hear during your keynote address at the Testbirds Digital Thinkers Forum? What is its primary theme?
LS: It’s about seeing customer-centricity as a leadership skill that’s deeply rooted in creating trust. Trust essential to innovation, to customer loyalty but also to discovering new opportunities. How? Incorporating customer feedback and listening for edge cases can reveal where future threats and opportunities lie.
Testbirds: Superheroes sounds like a fascinating angle. But, as we know, all good superheroes have a nemesis – when it comes to being customer-centric, what problems could this supervillain cause?
LS: Great question. A nemesis, like an evil twin? I believe, our biggest threat is fear of failure. Every heroic story has a chapter of failure. But it’s the next chapter that inspires us. We will make mistakes. It’s how we act after that matters to our customers.
In my keynote at the Digital Thinkers Forum, I’ll show how a “test & learn” culture can strengthen CX leadership and build trust, even in times of uncertainty. I’m looking forward to sharing my insights with the digital thinkers and I’m excited for the event on May 18!
Testbirds: We’re excited too and are super happy to welcome you as a speaker, Laura. Thanks a lot for this interview.
LS: It was a pleasure. Thank you too!
Ready to put customer-centricity at the heart of your business? Or curious to see how a customer-centric approach can make a significant difference in a business? Then join us at our online event, the Digital Thinkers Forum, where Laura will be expanding on everything you just read and providing further interesting insights into a business must-have!