Conversations about customer experience can be so … squishy.

I regularly hear talk in leadership circles about being customer-centric and an “outside in” approach. To be fair, many leaders genuinely care about CX. But do we really understand what “the perfect customer” is and how we would know one when we see them?

When you start to think about all of the possible attributes of these customers, you quickly realize these customers are groomed and nurtured—they don’t just fall out of the sky fully formed. Beyond understanding who your perfect customer is, do you know how many you have today across your entire customer base?

More importantly, do you have a plan for how, specifically, you’re going to keep these customers coming back?

Start by getting to know your perfect customer really, really well

Unicorns are beautiful and elusive beings.

And most people wouldn’t know what to do if they saw one.

The same goes for the perfect customer: how can you attract this type of person and deliver high impact experiences to grow and nurture them if you don’t know who they are? One of the first inventories that companies should take is a baseline audit of their existing customer base—to put on paper exactly what the perfect customer looks like.

Common business indicators to look for

An ideal customer will usually:

  • Generate sales and repeat business and cost less to serve
  • Have upsell/cross-sell traction
  • Answer emails and respond positively to customer surveys
  • Renew, upgrade, and adopt new versions
  • Participate in marketing events, communities, beta groups
  • Regularly provide feedback
  • Allow data sharing during the use of your products
  • Refer new customers and promote on social media
  • Demonstrate five-year total lifetime value growth

Are you starting to get a picture of exactly who this person is? Now take it a level deeper.

Quantify what a perfect customer is really worth

Your perfect customers—your most engaged and valuable customers—are gold. A single fully engaged or “activated” customer can be worth far more than a single transaction, or even a total lifetime value transaction.

Don’t just take my word for it. Once you understand the attributes of your ideal customer profile, you can begin putting real numbers behind just how valuable this person is. For example:

  • How many of these customers do you have today?
  • What percentage of your customer base is made up by this cohort?
  • How many perfect customers did you grow last year?
  • How many perfect customers did you lose?

What you’ll find is that most companies can only call about one percent of their customer base “fully activated”—the kind of customers who promote you on social media, internalize your company’s social mission, and constantly send useful feedback to help inform product improvements.

Beyond the unicorns, about ten percent of the customer base might be very active, while another twenty percent will sporadically engage you in various channels. The rest—the bulk of your customer base, really—is comprised of lurkers, detractors, and one-time transactions.

Translate customer obsession into tangible business results

The point is, drilling down into this kind of customer data will reveal significant opportunities. What would be the impact, for instance, if you could grow your population of ideal customers by two or three percent? How would this affect the bottom line this year, next year, or over the next five years?

What happens if your percentage of ideal customers shrinks?

To me, these conversations indicate a strong commitment to the customer. They will naturally lead organizations to treat each interaction as an opportunity to steer prospects, existing customers, and even detractors toward the promised land. What are the common journeys these customers take, and where are the opportunities to drive deep engagement by delivery relevant, branded customer experiences when it matters most?

This is what being customer-centric really means.

Because, in the end, each of these interactions has a starting point and an ending point that centers around value realization or value erosion. Each interaction imprints memories—good or bad—in the hearts and minds of your customers. When you get this right at scale, it has the same impact as getting a five-thousand-pound flywheel spinning and generating unstoppable momentum.

Understand inflection points, listen to customers, act and measure the impact

You understand the ideal customer profile. You understand this person’s value to your organization, even what makes them tick. The question is, where does all this information go? Does it ever make its way back into your day-to-day operational processes and procedures? Or into your product features and functionality?

Are we actually doing anything with this information?

What separates truly customer-centric organizations is the internal capacity to change and pivot based on what customers are telling them. They have the authority to hold back R & D and product management cycles to accommodate customer feedback. They routinely close the loop on feedback and make sure it makes it into customer-facing teams’ day-to-day procedures, product use, and functionality education.

In short: to devote resources to a remedy.

To get there, I’m convinced that there needs to be someone at the leadership level that owns customer obsession outside of sales, marketing or customer service. Somebody that persistently asks, “How will this impact our most heavily engaged and activated customers?” and “How will this new strategy, tactic, pricing plan, merger, and so on attract and nurture more perfect customers?”

If you can measure it, you can manage it, and the same goes for customer experience. To act on this data, though, requires a tangible plan for taking what customers are telling you and reflecting it in the product. It takes ACTION—regular action—from the practitioner level all the way to the highest circles of leadership.

Finally, it takes focused measurement of customer success: how many unicorns do you have, and are you focused on growing more?