Smart companies know that acquiring and keeping customers for life requires more than just a good product or good service. The best way to build a loyal customer base is to create a relationship based on constant interaction throughout an ongoing cycle.
The Customer Focus Cycle is a way of thinking about connecting with customers in ways that drive both the business and the relationship forward. By improving each stage of the Customer Focus Cycle, companies can drive innovation in business results in a responsive way and create happy customers for life.
Here are the four phases of the Customer Focus Cycle and how you can maximize your impact in each phase:
In the relationship phase of the Customer Focus Cycle, your customer may only be a prospect. This is where you define needs and find ways to connect with and listen to customers and prospects. Estimates vary, but the general agreement across industries is that there are six to eight touchpoints for a prospect to “convert,”—which may only mean moving to an initial meeting or phone call. Your role at this point in the cycle is to build a relationship by demonstrating that you understand a customer’s needs and know how to fill them.
In the research phase, you anticipate, predict, and plan. You’ve had an initial call with your prospective customer. What did you learn? How can you respond to the questions?
In an established customer relationship, this stage may involve looking for ways to improve services or prices or provide an additional benefit. With an established relationship, you can act proactively by contacting your customer before they know what they need. If you see a new way to meet their needs, present it ahead of time—before they decide to find another provider.
3. Relate and Align
Every industry has its language and terms, and the more technical or specialized the sector, the more jargon may abound. Your customers will likely not have the same industry knowledge you have, and they probably will not be interested in learning more than necessary. Be prepared to translate and speak to your customers in their language. Don’t wait for customers to ask you what words mean—because they probably won’t! Speak in plain terms with clear explanations, and align your presentation with your customer’s expectations.
4. Result and Renew
Once you’ve reached your final transaction with your customer, ask for feedback. If you didn’t exceed the customer’s expectations, where did you go wrong? What can you do next time to improve?
If you’ve done your job well, the cycle will return to the first phase again, and you will start with a stronger customer relationship that you can build on over time.
With an understanding of the basic Customer Focus Cycle, you can now evaluate how well your organization responds to each phase. Here are some questions to ask:
- Where do you spend your time? Where you spend the most time may depend mainly on what kind of products or services you offer. Understand that each phase of the Customer Focus Cycle feeds into the next stage, and they all feed back into the Relationship phase to begin again. If you spend your time in the correct phase, you will grow a more positive relationship. You will damage your relationships if customers are left uncertain of your ability to meet their needs.
- Where should you spend more of your time? If you sell customized products or services, you may need to spend much of your time in the research phase to fully understand your customer's needs. Those same highly technical or specialized products or services may also require more time translating jargon so that your customer understands how you can meet their needs.
- Where can you listen more? Although we put listening in the relationship-building phase of the cycle, it’s something that permeates the entire process. Customers sometimes send messages in ways other than words. How are they responding to you when you present pricing options? Are you picking up confusion when you present technical solutions? Listening requires more than just hearing; it requires being attuned to the subtle cues your customers may be sending. Ask questions to clarify, and provide ample opportunities for your customers to ask questions and give input.
Ultimately, the customer relationship is very similar to any other relationship in that it is built on open communication, clear expectations, and mutual trust. When these three qualities are present throughout the Customer Focus Cycle, you can build long-term relationships that result in customers for life.
- What is one new question I can ask in the Relationship phase to improve understanding of customer needs?
- Can I list five to ten industry-specific words, phrases, or acronyms that regularly confuse people outside my industry? How can I demystify those?
- Is there one consistent piece of feedback we get that we can actively improve?