How to Make Customer Obsession a Company Habit

The word “obsession” may have a negative connotation, but when it comes to businesses and their customers, it’s actually a good thing.

We have Amazon to thank for first introducing the idea of “obsessing over customers” in 1997. The term “customer obsession” resurfaced in Amazon’s list of Leadership Principles , and has since been buzzed about in the business world.

Companies, in an attempt to secure even just a fragment of Amazon’s business success, latched onto customer obsession and praised Bezos for his Wall Street wisdom.

This post will give you a straightforward explanation of the allusive term. We’ll also share leading principles and some actionable steps for integrating customer obsession into your company’s culture.

What is customer obsession?

To give a definition, customer obsession is a core cultural behaviorism that aligns a company’s employees to focus on deeply understanding its customers and using that knowledge to better serve their needs.

If this sounds similar to customer centricity , you’re right. It’s the same concept.

The main difference is the more visceral feeling that customer obsession ignites. You could claim to be “customer centric” and justify it by pointing to your dedicated customer research team. But that's not enough to claim “customer obsession.”

To be customer-obsessed, every bone in your organizational body needs to be aimed at satisfying your customers. This means deeply understanding them and acting on those insights.

A customer obsession culture has to develop and grow within your own company. Here are five all-encompassing principles to help get you in the right headspace:

Obsess over your customers, not your competition . By definition, “competitor obsession” prohibits your ability to be innovative and puts you into follower mode. Duplicating the actions of strong competitors can work for some businesses, but they’ll likely never be self-reliant or pioneers in their field.

If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we'll turn out all right.

Jeff Bezos

Start from the customer, work backward from there . “Working backward” means starting with your customers’ needs first and not your product idea. Revise your proposal until customers are excited, and then build your product. Amazon does this, for example, by releasing a press release about a new product development, and only developing it once they’ve received enough positive customer feedback.

Pioneer innovative solutions . Use the insights your company gains from being customer obsessed to pioneer new ways to satisfy their needs. Be inventive and create a safe space for experimentation and failures.

a photo of a meeting

Immerse yourself in your customer’s world . Read transcripts, listen to support calls, visit your physical stores. Test your software on a variety of devices, browsers and in various situations (say, on airport WiFi) to better understand your customers’ relationship with your company.

Think and act long-term . Customers' needs and desires don't actually change that much over time. Defining your “evergreen” needs allows you to prioritize them on a long-term basis – and to pioneer solutions that push the frontiers of those needs.

But how do you become customer-obsessed?

How do you become fit and healthy? How do you stick to a good sleep schedule? Habits.

Eating oatmeal and fruit instead of your usual pastry one morning won’t change your outlook on health. You may not even see the point at first. But the more you learn about nutrition and put your knowledge to the test each and every day, the more your perspective, and body, changes.

To make customer obsession a company habit, you need to build it into your company’s values , communication and processes.

Here are some healthy customer obsession habits and ideas to consider putting into effect:

Compete with behaviors, not businesses

Staying in the realm of nutrition, MyFitnessPal identified their true competition: unhealthy life choices .

Instead of closely watching similar companies like Weight Watchers , the online food and exercise diary combat anything that makes it difficult to live a healthy life.

To achieve this mindset, first think about what your product or service achieves, not what it does . For example, Asana helps teams visualize their work by keeping projects, goals and tasks all in one place.

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Test Userlike for free and chat with your customers on your website, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram.

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Second, think of why customers may not use your product or service . In Asana’s case, there are businesses that still organize tasks and schedules on paper. Other businesses have a lack of transparency and prefer to keep individual workflows private.

Lastly, determine how your business can speak to customer struggles . Asana can argue that paper is more prone to being lost, hard to share and inflexible.

When you start to obsess over the real-life factors that affect your customers, business competitors start to seem unimportant.

Define your evergreen customer needs

What basic needs does your business fulfill for customers? For Amazon, it’s low prices, wide choice and fast delivery. For Userlike, our customers want more sales, good customer relationships and lower service costs .

They’re the needs that will stay constant for years and years. If you can clearly define them, then you know where to focus your time and energy .

All-hands support

Having everyone in your team help out in customer support gives them a chance to share their expertise (like a developer helping with a technical question) and learn directly from your customers.

a photo of a developer from our team

This isn’t meant to suggest that anyone can work in customer support. The idea is to have a shared experience and understanding, the foundation of customer obsession. It helps eliminate the “not my job” attitude and improves everyone’s knowledge of the company.

Ask “why” like a three-year-old

Know what you truly value and express that. Many companies say they’re “this-oriented” and “that-focused” but it’s all just pretty marketing talk.

Christa Collins, vice president of customer care at Shopkeep and former customer support specialist at Squarespace , says to ask “why” like a three-year-old to learn the background needed to address customers:

a list of why questions for different departments

Does your website copy and customer service truly reflect your values, vision and mission? Or are you just saying things you think the customer wants to hear?

By being honest with yourself and asking “why,” your team can determine if your decisions and words are truly customer-focused.

Meet your customers face-to-face

It’s nice to put a face to a name. Meeting in-person humanizes both your customers and your business.

For upper management,consider regularly visiting your physical stores and help customers wherever you can. This can help supplement the feedback you get from your frontline team, and may spark some ideas on how to improve processes, the store layout, etc.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.

Steve Jobs

If your business exists solely online, you could host dinners or meet-ups with your customers – like we do at Userlike .

a photo from Userlike's last customer dialogue dinner

Whether it’s a get-together at your office or a swanky meal in the heart of your city, it’s a good chance to solidify relationships.

Keep a customer health score

Taking care of your customers is just as important as acquiring new ones. Create a customer health score (CHS) to stay on top of your customers’ relationship with your company.

Too often businesses do everything they can to make the sale, but quickly forget about the customer once their card transaction goes through.

A CHS monitors the metrics that matter to your business, such as activity, loyalty, time spent on app, renewal cycle, etc.

cartoon an emoji scale

Once you have a customer health score in place, it can help facilitate other customer obsession habits mentioned in this article:

  • Learning more about customers (especially why they leave )
  • Gaining ideas for new inventive solutions
  • Earning trust by making the customer feel noticed and cared for
  • Rising to the occasion and delivering meaningful results

It’s like a report card; you see which disciplines the customer is struggling with and then give them the guidance and resources they need to develop their skills.

Implement tools that foster closer customer relationships

Connecting with customers isn’t restricted to in-person interactions. There are customer engagement tools and support solutions designed to make online communication more personal .

Customer obsession helps build loyalty to your brand, but tools like help you track what exactly it is that’s keeping them hooked. You can measure customer sentiment and predict their behavior to address unhappy customers before they leave.

If you’re looking for honest feedback from your customers, SurveyAnyplace helps you create successful satisfaction surveys and assessments. Sometimes it’s difficult for a customer to tell you how they really feel. Oftentimes they just don’t. SurveyAnyplace makes it more enticing for customers to share their true opinions.

For personal customer interactions, we recommend using live chat as your primary communication channel. It’s available on a variety of messengers and devices, making it easier for customers to contact you directly at their convenience.

How do you show customer obsession?

Is it important to show your customer obsession? For Amazon, customer obsession has turned into a nice cultural gem for their brand, but the real fruits are long-term: company alignment, long-term customer relationships, innovative product and service offerings.

Customer obsession isn’t about showing – it’s about being . Call it what you want — “ obsession,” “centricity,” “focus” — it’s about anchoring your business to a deep understanding of your customers. They won’t care about the term, but they will notice the change – and so will you.