Making a genuine connection with someone unexpected is one of life’s small graces. While much of those warm interactions are left to chance, customer-first businesses seek to make those connections by design. But finding and forging relationships with customers isn’t merely about emotional fulfillment – having a customer-first mentality is proving to be a critical element of success for forward-thinking organizations.

Customer-first businesses have a deep understanding and proactive strategy around customer experience, and use the open community to allow customers to connect and engage with each other at any stage of their journey. Companies that foster thriving customer communities that are well-integrated into the heart of the business, quickly see the customer-sourced benefits ripple throughout their organization across marketing, sales, support and product teams—something we at Get Satisfaction call “The Community Effect.”

According to Watermark Consulting, an analysis of the six-year stock performance of customer experience leaders versus laggards compared to the S&P 500 shows that customer experience leaders clearly outperform the market. The business performance of companies that successfully differentiate their customer experience speak for themselves. 

While there’s no fixed checklist, here are five attributes that successful customer-first business share:

1. Cultivation of a customer-centered culture across the organization

In many ways, a successful customer-centered culture is indicative of a united and focused company. The little-known secret to successful communities is that they are highly dependent upon a strong web of internal relationships between executives and employees spanning a wide range of departments.  Companies who focus on customer experience recognize that the strategy is largely dependent on interdependency across functional groups. The entire team must be motivated to work together to respond to customer questions, issues, ideas, and praise elevated in the community in a systematic, timely manner. This ultimately results in the breaking down of silos across the company and a united focus on serving the customer.

2. The ability to generate and scale customer-generated marketing content

Customer communities are engines of authentic, word of mouth marketing. They help free up marketing resources while at the same time creating easy-to-search marketing content written by customers for customers. Since the content is written by actual people who are advocates of the brand—not marketers trying to sell a product—prospects are much more likely to see the content as authentic. The conversations generated are from unbiased people who come together to engage about a brand, product or service they share a passion about. Finally, the content is permanently indexed and stored within the community and is easily discoverable through natural search.  

3. Highly effective self-service and social support that scales as you grow

The benefits of The Community Effect don’t lie in marketing alone — communities offer always-on customer support and service — even when the support team is out of the office. Savvy consumers no longer want to call customer service lines and wait on hold, or email support teams to get generic responses a week later. Today’s consumers want immediate responses from their peers with whom they can have authentic conversations with. Communities not only better serve customers looking for answers, but also help reduce much of the costs associated with service and support.

4. Improved customer loyalty, brand perceptions and lifetime customer value

A study done at the University of Alabama regarding customer loyalty found that businesses that want to reap the benefits of heightened loyalty and attract consumers who are willing to pay more for such services need to actively build community connections with customers. People crave more than just a product – they want to feel that a company they do business with is equally invested in them. By fostering a place where customers, prospects and the companies they love can come together to engage, companies generate customer loyalty and lifetime customer value.

5. The incorporation of voice of customer (VOC) into decision-making across the company

Consider this story shared by Prezi — a business that develops cloud-based software that brings presentations to life. When a developer helped the support team to answer questions and issues raised in Prezi’s community, he realized the real impact of his work and remarked, “Oh my god—I have to be more careful with my work. I had no idea it had such an immediate effect!” Just hearing the VOC through the community got this developer thinking outside of his coding bubble and focused on quality and excellence in the areas customers care about.

Customer-first businesses that create thriving communities have clear insight into what their customers think about their brand, how they’re experiencing the products, and how they feel about the company. The conversations raise the level of awareness and accountability that departments and even individual employees have regarding the quality of the customer experience. Actively incorporate the attributes and take the steps to becoming a truly customer-first company.


Wendy Lea is the CEO of Get Satisfaction, a customer community platform that helps customer-centric organizations engage millions of consumers in meaningful conversations about their products and services. Wendy is also a strategic advisor, investor and mentor. Follow Wendy on Twitter @wendyslea or connected with her on LinkedIn