HubSpot has defined customer-centric as “a way of doing business so that every team and department foster a positive customer experience, at every stage of the customer journey.” But despite this definition, customer-centric is one of those “you know it when you see it” sort of things.
We’ve all heard the classic examples of Apple, Amazon, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines, and how their customer focus helped them create brand new categories. But are there other customer-centric companies that we can study and learn from?
As it turns out, yes. In this piece, we’ll dive deeper into five brands that are not only customer-centric, but whose focus on the customer helped them break into incredibly competitive, established industries.
5 Customer-Centric Brands to Learn From
In 2013, hadn’t the world seen enough messaging apps?
Between IRC, Microsoft Messenger, GChat, Hipchat and more, it would seem the history books could be closed on messaging. Then Slack came along.
Since publicly announcing its launch in August 2013, Slack has gone absolutely gangbusters, booking a rumored $1 billion in revenue in 2017. And that’s with almost no marketing budget to start out with. And just speaking anecdotally, I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like Slack.
Why is it Slack great? Some argue it’s the usability. Others like how it integrates seamlessly with other services. Others say the way you share all types of files from documents to images to code, so easily.
I could probably write several posts attempting to diagnose what makes Slack so magical, but one thing is clear: Slack won by being customer-centric.
Personally, I describe my love for Slack as follows: It lets me do anything I could think to do with a messaging platform, and then some. It’s not any one feature–it’s that it has nearly every feature I could ever want, and each of those features in it of itself are incredible.
I’m one of those people that emails files to themselves rather than growing up and using Dropbox. I remember discovering that I could send myself a message via Slack. And not only that, the message reads ‘Jot something down’ instead of ‘Message [username]’ as it does in other channels.
That level of product execution and attention to detail can only be achieved through talking to users and intensely focusing on their needs. In fact, Slack took seven months to get feedback from teams of all shape and size between their first complete version, and their launch version. As founder and CEO Stuart Butterfield said, “When key users told us something wasn’t working, we fixed it — immediately.”
Traveling is great. Booking travel, on the other hand, is not so fun.
The original solution to this problem was booking agents, which eventually got displaced by online travel aggregators. Then, there were aggregators of aggregators. These aggregators made booking travel easier, but only at the margin.
Even Hipmunk’s beautifully designed interface still requires me to sit down at my desktop for an hour or so before I can book a weekend trip. And I’m not alone — 79% of travel bookings occur on desktop devices, despite mobile’s dominance of web traffic.
SnapTravel changes all of this. Rather than sit down at your desk or download a clunky mobile app, you simply send a message via messenger and they give you the best options.
I’m not sure how much behind-the-scenes is AI and how much is human, but the first time I used the service, I felt like I was talking to a human that cared about my needs. And I could easily book travel asynchronously — it was easy as texting a friend. It was the first time I actually felt as if booking travel were fun instead of agonizing.
Additionally, the prices seemed lower than expected. And being the curious one, I checked other booking sites and confirmed this.
SnapTravel saves time, is fun to use, and gives the best prices. That sounds like everything anyone could ask for out of a hotel booking app, right?
Not so fast. The first time I booked with SnapTravel, I remember checking in and the gentleman at the hotel informed me that they were able to give me the upgrade I had requested. As it turns out, once SnapTravel books a hotel, they call the hotel and negotiate for a free upgrade.
Co-founder and CEO Hussein Fazal said, “We have taken the speed and convenience of booking with an OTA, the benefits and service of booking with a traditional travel agent, and added a sprinkle of messaging magic to create the absolute best way to a book a hotel.”
SnapTravel is a great example of a company that focuses on what customers need throughout their entire lifecycle, and adding the cherry on top to make a great experience even better.
If you Google “cold email outreach tools” you’ll find more options than you can shake a stick at. That hasn’t stopped Mailshake from carving out its niche in the market.
Mailshake has seen incredible growth over the past few years, with almost no marketing budget.
How? Extreme focus on delighting their target customers.
Many cold email outreach tools try and be everything for everyone, resulting in a large number of mediocre to good features. Mailshake, on the other hand, focuses on the user that needs a lightweight, easy-to-use solution.
Personally, I love Mailshake — it’s almost easier than sending a single message in Gmail. It has almost every feature I need, and my team at LawnStarter loves it as well.
Would I use Mailshake to support a 100 person sales team? Probably not. But that’s the point — customer centricity requires focusing on delighting your core customer. By definition, this means you need to ignore your non-core customers, which takes discipline to do.
It’s not just the features that make me love Mailshake so much, it’s also their support. Founder Sujan Patel is known for proactively reaching out to customers and thanking them for referring friends, as seen in the screenshot below.
As both a data junkie and marketer, I know the pain of using and implementing web and product analytics tools.
Google Analytics is free and easy to install, but doesn’t get you much more than page views. Mixpanel gets you events and good funnels, but only gives surface level insights. Suppose I want to try a different tool? If I don’t know how to code, I’ll need to ask engineering to set this up.
Not to mention each ad platform and email tool you use requires its own tracking code that typically, an engineer has to install.
The team knew they were onto something when their repository broke 1,000 stargazers in 24 hours and decided to turn this open-sourced library into a paid product.
Here’s the first place Segment shows its customer-centricity: If you follow their blog posts from that point onward, you’ll see one release after another for new integrations, prioritized no doubt, by what their users were asking for. Now, they boast 200+ integrations, making it easy for marketers and analysts to use whatever tools they need.
But Segment didn’t stop there. Eventually, a growing company hits the limitations of out-of-box analytics and creates their own, in-house analytics system that aggregates all of their data together. This takes a large amount of engineering time and doesn’t push the core product forward.
Founder Peter Reinhart recognized this need on a series of customer visits. According to Reinhart, his customers “wanted the full power of SQL. To run deep analysis and answer detailed questions. To build recommendation algorithms. And to use business intelligence tools like Tableau, Mode Analytics, and Chartio on top of their Segment data.”
So Segment built it, and I absolutely love it. I can now choose between using a fast out of box tool like Google Analytics, or an in-depth more insightful raw database query.
By focusing on their customers, the team at Segment has created a product that’s grown like wildfire, and that personally, I would never think about leaving for anything else.
5. Paul Reed Smith Guitars
Since the invention of the electric guitar, two brands have ruled the market: Fender and Gibson.
Fender guitars have a cleaner tone, Gibson a bit more aggressive. Fender has the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, Gibson has the Les Paul and the SG. Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton play Fenders; Jimmy Page and Slash play Gibsons.
That is, until 1985 when a man named Paul Reed Smith started his company, Paul Reed Smith Guitars.
These guitars beat out all others on many levels, starting with craftsmanship. As you can see above, the instrument is absolutely beautiful with extraordinary attention to detail. When you take a PRS out of its box for the first time, it’s perfectly set up and tuned. Other guitars typically require a bit of tweaking after purchase.
Additionally, PRS believes in innovation, but not for the sake of innovation. Their mission statement is “Guitar building is an ongoing process of discovery. We are devoted to the guitar’s rich heritage while committed to new technologies that will enrich our products with uncompromised tone, playability and beauty.”
In 1992, PRS started using CNC machines to build their guitar bodies instead of by hand. To me, a mechanical engineer, it’s a no-brainer. A CNC machine is perfect; human hands are not. Fender and Gibson, on the other hand, stuck to “hand-crafting” for whatever reason.
PRS doesn’t stop at building an incredible product. The company actively cultivates their fan base, which is incredible considering most people won’t buy more than one of these guitars.
In 2007, they started a free event called Experience PRS where they opened up their factory, giving tours and showing their research and development process. They also brought in some incredible artists that you’d pay a lot of money to see live. And for those who this isn’t enough for, you can join their Signature Club which gives you more access to exclusive events.
(This is my 17-year-old self at Experience PRS 2008, absolutely stoked to be there. And every one of the attendees I met was equally as excited.)
PRS carved out a valuable niche in an old industry that seemed like there was no room by building an incredible product, continually innovating to make it better, and actively engaging their fan base long after the point of purchase.
How to Become Customer-Centric
Reading through these examples, you’ll notice some common themes: beautiful design, simplicity, a focus on a core audience, and delighting customers after the point of purchase.
However, you can’t become a customer-centric company simply by copying these attributes, nor do you need to. For example, Amazon — the canonical example of customer centricity — has a pretty mediocre design and does not focus on a small niche.
Rather, customer centricity comes from the inside of your company; those common attributes are simply how the mentality manifests itself. To learn more about how to make your brand customer-centric, read this blog post about how to build customer-centric companies.