Becoming customer obsessed with the five stages of digital customer focus

Arif Harbott
Arif Harbott

The Five Stages of Digital Customer Focus describe a framework that will help you listen, learn, react and value digital customers.

The turning point in my early career, that opened my eyes to the power of customer focus, was when a new executive joined the business I was working at and addressing his customer team for the first time.  He walked confidently into the room and looked carefully at the 50 or so people who reported to him, all of which were part of the customer service, customer experience or customer data team.

First he asked a simple question, “Who in this room thinks they are customer focused?”, everyone in the room had to raise their hand as the vast majority of them had the word customer in their job title. Then he picked a couple of people at random and asked them, “How many customers have you spoken to this week?”, a mumbled reply of none came back as the people asked had been busy launching a new project. Then he asked “How many active customers do we have?”, and he received three different answers.  What quickly became clear was that this team that thought they were customer focused in reality were not, but under this new leadership they soon would be.

Listening, learning and caring for your customers is the most important part of being a digital leader. Your customers are virtual so you cannot sit in a store and watch them but that does not mean that they do not want to talk to you.

Five stages of digital customer focus

Over the last few years I have developed the Five Stages of Digital Customer Focus which I use with my teams and the companies I work with to take them on a journey to listen, learn, react and value digital customers.  The reason being that I believe that customer satisfaction is the most important metric in your business (my next post covers this in more detail).

Five stages of digital customer focus
Five stages of digital customer focus

Stage 1 = Passive

Key stage question: How many customer queries do you read that come into your business either through email, web forms, social media or live chat?

Passive is reading and responding to reactive communication that is not real-time e.g. emails, social media, feedback, complaints. Your aim, as a digital leader, should be for you to read and/ or reply to at least 10 customer emails (or other passive communications) per week.

It is easy to become overwhelmed and make snap judgments based on each and every communication that you read, but be careful not to make a knee jerk response based on one customer’s comments. This yo-yo approach can cause a lot of wasted time for your team. The key skill is to recognise the patterns and find the recurring themes that are cropping up again and again.

Simple steps to get started:

  1. Spend two hours a week reading customer feedback, ideally with a couple of members of your team to get them into the habit as well
  2. Make a note of the key themes that are recurring and start investigating whether if you fixed these issue whether it would move the dial on customer satisfaction

Stage 2 = Semi active

Key question: How often do you visit the customer call centre which is one of the main channels of support for your digital customers?

This stage is still reactive but now the communication is real-time.  Live chat is good example of this but the best forum is your customer call centre which is a goldmine of insight. Firstly listening to customers’ tone of voice and language gives you rich insights that you cannot get from email and secondly you can ask questions to customers if you do not understand their issue or if you would like more detailed information.

If you have not been to the call centre before start slowly. The first step is listening, sit with an operative and only listen in to conversations, try to resist the urge to speak. Get used to the way that operatives speak to customers, how they ask questions and their approach to helping customers. They are the experts they spend all day, every day on the phone with your customers so take the time to learn how they work. Once you have listened to 10-15 calls then you can start to get involved. Again let the operative lead but this time when you feel the time is right you can introduce yourself to the customer and ask questions or empathise.

Simple steps to get started:

  1. Spend at least an hour every couple of weeks in the call centre to really start some dialogue with customers
  2. Call one or two customers each day – if there are issues that you cannot solve on the call then find the root cause and then call them back with a response

Stage 3 = Active

Key question: How much time do you spend talking to customers in person either in your branches or at your customers’ home/ place of work?

We are now into proactive, real-time communication and this is best done in person.

The best source of feedback is talking to customers one on one or in small groups to really get under the skin of what they think and to learn first hand what they like and dislike.

If you are a multichannel business, i.e. you have online and branches, then there is no excuse for not getting out onto the front line and actually seeing and experiencing what level of service your customers get from your business. What you learn will be gold dust and if you chose to make changes to your business will create measurable improvements to your business.

If you are a purely online business it is a bit harder to get in front of your customers face to face but not impossible if you have the motivation to do so.

Whilst it is great to see your customers in your branches it is even better if you can visit them at their place of work or home where they actually use your service. There have been many occasions where seeing your customers use your website or mobile app in their living room, office or place of work where you find insights you would not ordinarily find.

Simple steps to get started:

  1. Spend one day per week out with customers in your branches, in their home or at their place of work
  2. If appropriate follow-up with each customer you meet either by responding to their feedback or letting them know if you have solved their issue/ problem

Stage 4 = Leadership

Key question: As a leader do you champion the voice of the customer in meetings and take a customer lens with performance metrics?

Have you ever been in a cross functional meeting and each team puts their views across on the latest and greatest project. Finance, operations, risk and sales all give the project the green light. Who is the voice of the customer in these meetings? Just because a project ticks all your corporate boxes that does not mean it is right for the customer.  Leadership stage is about voicing the customers’ views and opinions in meetings and taking a customer lens when it comes to performance metrics.

A good example of this is when you see a scorecard with 4% product substitutions. Most people would see that as a very good performance and would not look to improve this. But look at this from a customer lens.
In an average grocery order of 55 items that would mean that two items were not delivered to the customers. Imagine that you have ordered all the ingredients for a special home cooked meal and two ingredients did not arrive, you would not be happy.

When you translate your metrics into what the customer actually receives then it makes you look at your metrics very differently.

Simple steps to get started:

  1. “Walk your digital store” – browse your website everyday to see what the customer sees
  2. Ensure your start every meeting talking about customer feedback
  3. Look at metrics/ change from a customer point of view

Stage 5 = Organisational

Key question: Do your team and the wider organisation talk to at least 10-15 customers per week and champion the customer in internal meetings

It is all well and good for you to be customer focused, but as a leader you only have so much impact. The real power is when you lead from the front, obsess about customers and then your team will model your actions and then soon they will follow suit.

I like to include one or two members of my team when I visit customers, go to the call centre or when I am reading customer emails. This way they will take this experience back to their teams and it will slowly start to become habit forming.

When you are not around in meetings or in the office and you learn that your team are talking about customer feedback, looking at change from a customer point of view and getting out to see customers you know you have reached stage 5.

Simple steps to get started:

  1. Get each member of your team talking to at least 10 customers per week
  2. Take your whole team out to see customers at least one day per month
  3. Collaborate with customers during projects

Final thoughts

I will leave you with one pearl of wisdom that a great line manager once told me after he saw I was frustrated at not being able to help the customer as much as I had wanted. He said, “Arif, customers don’t care if you solve their problem, they only care that you care.”, then he went on to say “You will not be able to help every customer but if you genuinely care about helping them they will pick up on that and have more loyalty for your brand.”

Becoming customer obsessed with the five stages of digital customer focus

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