We all know that customers should be at the center of our business. But, let's face it -- sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day craziness of growing a business and lose sight of them.

I advise some of the world's top CEOs and business leaders on growth and leadership, and I've learned that the most successful companies are truly customer-focused. They listen, understand, and respond to their customers' needs.

You can do this, too.

Many companies invest time and money on customer research, but then the data gets wasted. It gets cleaned up and fed back to a small number of people in marketing, then further sanitized and fed back to senior leadership. How often have you seen research firms have more connection with the customers than the company does?

When leaders ask me how to get people to change, I ask how much time their top executives spend really talking with customers, external partners, and employees about how their world is changing. Too often executives speak in safe surroundings and discuss carefully structured topics.

Instead of listening to and understanding different perspectives, too many executives spend their time talking. This reinforces their own thinking instead of changing it. So talk less and listen more.

Then it's time to address innovation. You can include your customers in this, too. Businesses like Philips, Lego, GE, Sony, and Visa have made significant breakthroughs by giving their customers a role in co-designing or co-creating products or services.

Giving customers a part to play in innovation forces your business to make stronger connections between what's happening externally and what it is planning to create and sell in the future. The better we can look out, learn, and act quickly on insights, the stronger our growth capabilities and culture will be.

To think and act outside-in, you need regular and repeated routines that give you new insights into how the world is changing for your customers and key business partners. To innovate in a way that is customer-aligned, you need to translate insights from your customers into what and how you sell to them.

Here are five routines to get your business focusing on customers today

1. Start on day one.

Make serving your customer part of your on-boarding process. This builds empathy and motivates employees to make their customer's life better.

2. Listen from the top.

Make all your leaders spend time listening to customers on a regular basis. Regularly put a time in your own calendar to spend interacting with customers.

3. Use the data.

Integrate research data from customers into routine meetings between leaders and their team or business. Link customer data to employee data to identify employee attitudes and behaviors that lead to customer retention and spending.

4. Invite your customers to the table.

Set up a customer council, invite them to leadership dialogues, learn with them through shared training, or even invite them to work alongside you in design centers.

5. Involve employees.

Involve a broader cross-section of employees in your innovation process so it also changes the way your employees think and act.

Published on: Jun 13, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.