All successful businesses have one thing in common: they focus on what best serves their customers. Unfortunately, not every business understands this.

SME owners may be inspired to try and change the world, but they may be more focused on their product than on the people who will benefit from it. While company executives may be too busy managing the business to really recognise their customers’ needs.

If a company’s strategy and processes are customer-centric, striving for the best customer experience possible, that can’t help but be a money-maker. Happy, loyal customers will not only keep giving you money, but they’ll also become ambassadors for your brand.

So here are five ways your company might be failing to understand its customers – and what you can do to avoid making those mistakes.

1. Failing to understand the power of emotions: Understanding customer desires and emotions has always been part and parcel of marketing: we talked about this in more depth in a previous article. Yet a lot of businesses still fail to grasp just how powerful those emotional motivators can be in making, or breaking, a brand. They might understand it at a basic level, but still rely on gut feeling and assumptions rather than properly defining the triggers and really embedding this new science in their strategy.

In an article published in 2015, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) identified 10 key emotional motivators that drive customer buying behaviour. They ranged from being given a sense of freedom, security or belonging, to environmental protection and personal worth. And all 10 have the power to strengthen a customer’s relationship with a business or – conversely – ruin it.

The HBR study described how, for one credit card business, identifying the emotional motivators for millennials (in this case ‘protect the environment’ and ‘be the person I want to be’) enabled them to craft appropriate messaging and features. This led directly to new account growth rising by 40%, while use of that credit card in the millennials customer segment increased by a huge 70%.

Companies that don’t understand or cater to their customers’ emotions can often run into trouble and lose business.

Conversely, companies that don’t understand or cater to their customers’ emotions can often run into trouble and lose business. When one plant-based food company sent out a post on Twitter, suggesting that a healthy diet comprised two-thirds plant-based food and one-third animal-based food, you might think it hardly controversial. Yet considering that the majority of the business’s customers were vegans (advocating an animal-free diet), the message resulted in a huge backlash. The company was forced to apologise, but significant damage was done, with many previously loyal customers withdrawing their support.

Identifying and understanding your customers’ emotions will not only help you build a stronger relationship with them, but will also enable you to avoid mis-steps like this which damage your brand.

2. Not focusing on customer and brand alignment: Research by Gallup has previously shown how important customer and brand alignment is to a business. When a consumer is aligned with a brand, they spend twice as much on that brand – compared to a consumer who isn’t aligned.

Achieving customer and brand alignment isn’t difficult. It’s simply promising an experience, a service or a product to a customer and then making sure that experience, service or product lives up to their expectations.

Unfortunately years of flashy advertising campaigns – making promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled – has dampened consumer trust in many big brands. New platforms for communication have also muddied the waters, with businesses jumping in to touch base with customers without ensuring staff fully understand their own brand promise. Consumers are then left confused, the trust is broken, and brand alignment is harder to achieve.

It’s crucial to identify your brand values up-front, and then to make sure everyone in your organisation (especially customer-facing staff) knows and understands them. Put processes and a work ethic into place to ensure that the consumer experience matches what you’re promising.

If you do all that, you’ll make it easy for customers to align with your brand and give them reason to spend more with you.

It’s crucial to identify your brand values up-front, and then to make sure everyone in your organisation (especially customer-facing staff) knows and understands them.

3. Too much info, not enough implementation: The perfect way to explain this problem is by looking at your company website.

If you’ve got a good web team then your website will have been built properly, will look great and will be working as you always envisaged. Importantly, your team will also have set up Google Analytics (or similar tools) in the background, to make sure that you’re recording as much customer and user data as possible.

The good news is that this data enables you to analyse how visitors interact with your website: which pages they land on and read, at what point they either convert or bounce away, and which kind of blog posts they read. All of which provides you with a wealth of customer-centric information that is invaluable in helping you improve their experience.

The bad news? Few companies use this information to their advantage, and the chances are you’re among them. If so, it not only means you’ve wasted time and effort setting up the analytics in the first place, but you’re also now missing a golden opportunity to give your customers exactly what they’re looking for from you.

So, whether you’re gathering useful information via your website, or surveys, or direct customer feedback, make sure you have a plan in place (and appropriately qualified staff) for the time-consuming job of breaking it down, using it to identify areas for improvement, and then implementing any changes needed.

4. Reacting to the competition too much: This is an issue that affects all companies at one time or another. When you’re keeping such a close eye on your market and your competitors, it’s easy to end up being reactive – to their actions – rather than proactive – in addressing your own customers’ needs.

You might be actively obsessing over your competitors, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is often quoted as saying is commonplace among businesses. Or you might not even be aware of it, making business decisions subconsciously just because of a competitor campaign that you liked, or because you saw a strategy they had implemented which seemed to work for them.

While acknowledging what works and doesn’t work for your competitors is an essential part of running a successful business, you need to take a step back and ask yourself: will this help our customers?

What works for another company might not necessarily work for you if your target audience differs from theirs. A truly successful company doesn’t blindly follow others, but keeps its own audience in mind with every business decision it makes.

What works for another company might not necessarily work for you if your target audience differs from theirs.

5. Poor communication with customers: I would like to think that most problems in the world could be solved through better communication. In business, especially, it’s essential to get this right in order to keep your customers happy.

A recent example of where a business got this horribly wrong can be seen with the Apple iPhone battery debacle, where it was revealed that a software update had slowed performance on some older phone models to (apparently) preserve battery life.

Colin Shaw, the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, wrote in depth about what had happened in the Apple battery saga, describing how Apple seemed to have lost touch with its customers in the light of this episode. They failed to warn their users about the update and its effects and were slow to apologise for any problems caused. They then compounded it all by failing to make customers aware that there weren’t enough battery replacements. This last issue was especially frustrating for people who travelled to stores only to be turned away.

All of which is something of a surprise, given the way Apple has put the customer at the heart of its technology from day one. It just goes to show that even the biggest brands can sometimes make mistakes that severely dent their reputation as customer-centric.

A business is nothing without its customers

It’s essential to keep your customers at the heart of everything you do. From identifying their emotional motivators to making it easy for them to align with your brand values – and keeping those lines of communication open and honest – a customer-centric approach will always give your company the best chance of success, regardless of your industry.

Freshstone Consulting works with clients to set strategic direction, drive business performance and solve problems. The team’s focused and disciplined approach allows Freshstone to reliably influence corporate strategies, increasing the sustainable growth and profits of a company. To meet the team and find out more, please call +971 4 248 5165 or email

tanvir 150x150 fsAbout the author: Tanvir Haque, Founder of Freshstone Consulting. 
Tanvir is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Lifecare International, and he is the Founder and Non-Executive Director of Freshstone Consulting. He thrives on developing customer-centric business relationships, and as such he is currently focused on revolutionising Lifecare’s customer experience and driving the company’s digital transformation plans – all with the aim of unlocking Lifecare’s full technology potential. With a career spanning back more than 20 years, Tanvir’s experience has been gathered in professional services, banking, and telecommunications, having worked with PwC in Sydney, Andersen in Sydney and London, and Standard Chartered Bank in London. He relocated to Dubai in 2008 and spent a number of years advising and consulting international businesses on how to drive growth before joining Lifecare in 2015. Tanvir graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the Australian National University in his home town of Canberra and is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.