What is customer orientation?

What is customer orientation?Customer orientation has been studied frequently and comprehensively around the world. Essentially, it means observing the wishes and needs of the customer, anticipating them and then acting accordingly. Research conducted by Heskett et al (1997, 2000) shows that satisfied, loyal and committed employees are more enthusiastic towards customers, which ultimately leads to more satisfied, loyal and committed customers. This relationship is part of the value profit chain. Roughly described: the more enthusiastic the employees, the more loyal the customer and the higher the profits.1

or-ien-ta-tion (n.)
1 focused on the expected interests and needs of (potential) customers

The success of your organisation is dependent on the way in which you anticipate the wishes and needs of your customers. For most organisations, customers are crucial for survival. Customer orientation should thus also be an important focus of an employee or team. Particularly in the current market environment which is characterised by strong competition and price erosion the emphasis should be not just on the creation, but also on the retention of loyal and profitable customers.

Gaining an insight into the expectations of the customer has consequently become crucial for every organisation. 

Customers know what they want

Employees should give customer orientation an increasingly high priority. In the past, customers often waited until they were approached by a 'sales person'. They had a list of other offers to keep prices and service competitive, but that was more a formality than anything else.

In the 1930s, a focus on quality emerged. Since then, organisations have had to do everything in their power to satisfy their stakeholders as efficiently as possible. With the arrival of the condition to embed total quality in both the product and the process, an increasing number of sales people have themselves gone in search of partners who share their quality and process goals.2

Customer orientation and customer satisfaction

Customer orientation is essential for achieving customer satisfaction. Insight into the expectations and satisfaction of customers enables your organisation to improve customer orientation. Monitoring customer satisfaction produces important information that makes it possible to keep an eye on and improve processes. When it is clear to your organisation what customers are and are not satisfied with, goal-oriented improvements can be implemented. This contributes to your organisation's customer orientation.

Insight into the wishes and needs of the customer as well as the working practices of competitors can equip you with tools for dealing with customer orientation. In addition, a well-organised customer survey can provide an in-depth insight into how an organisation performs and even how an organisation will perform in the near future. In order to optimise customer orientation, an organisation can aim to do the following:

Focus on the correct 'package' of customer needs3

Every customer is unique and has individual wishes and needs. Ensure it is clear what those wishes and needs are and the importance customers attach to every form of added value you can provide. Communicate this clearly to employees and act accordingly. 

Link the service, product or maintenance process to customer needs4

If an organisation knows what the customer wants and expects, the next step in achieving customer orientation is ensuring that the service, product and maintenance process links up with the expectations. This will make it easier for employees to be customer oriented.

Customer intimacy

Create a product that is experienced as unique. It is important for customers to feel as if they are special and that everything is tailor-made for them. They want to be helped when it is convenient for them. They want to be treated well, to have the impression they are being looked after. If an organisation responds to this, the customer will have the impression that the organisation is always ready and waiting to serve them.5

  1. Heskett, J.L., Sasser, W.E. and Schlesinger, L.A. (2003) The Value Profit Chain. Business Book Review, Vol. 20, 1-10
  2. Turnbull, P.W. and Wilson, D.T. (1989) Developing and Protecting Profitable Customer Relationships. Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 18, 233-238
  3. Ettlie, J.E. and Johnson, M.D. (1994) Product Development Benchmarking Versus Customer Focus in Applications of Quality Function Development. Marketing Letters, Vol. 5, 107-116
  4. Ettlie, J.E. and Johnson, M.D. (1994) Product Development Benchmarking Versus Customer Focus in Applications of Quality Function Development. Marketing Letters, Vol. 5, 107-116
  5. Drucker, P.F. (1974) Management, Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row 

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