Movie night happens once a month at my house.

It usually involves Netflix, quality time with the kids, and too many carbs.

Our family tradition didn't always play out like this. For me--and for many of you--movie night meant making a trip to a nearby Blockbuster.

Ten years ago, Blockbuster was a multibillion dollar company. Now, it's an ominous warning. A case study on how things can go terribly wrong.

A Lesson We Still Haven't Learned

The demise of Blockbuster wasn't brought on by Netflix. And it wasn't caused by the internet. The company was taken down by its own  customers--by the mistake it made in taking them for granted.

Blockbuster made hundreds of millions annually in late fees. It monetized, in part, by punishing the people it was meant to serve. And over time, these customers stopped being loyal. They stopped recommending it to their friends.

Then they stopped coming altogether.

I bring this story up because, three years after Blockbuster closed its doors for the last time, it still has a valuable lesson to teach us. A lesson many companies, large and small, still struggle to internalize: The customer really is always right. Forgetting this simple fact is a fatal error.

Why Customer Focus Is So Difficult

While easy to write down, or passionately declare in a board meeting, staying focused on the customer is an incredibly difficult thing to do.

Many entrepreneurs get lost in the quagmire of scaling a business. They worry about how they can increase brand awareness. They obsess about competitors. They get distracted by rumors from Silicon Valley. It happens to everyone.

In doing all of these things, they lose sight of the thing that matters most. They stop putting the customer first.

It's not immediate, and certainly not intentional, but it happens. If you find yourself in this position, here are a few tips that can help.

From Day One, Make the Customer Your Singular Focus

I spent the earliest days of my company uncovering what sort of value we could provide. It was my singular focus.

I asked our clients what social media capabilities they needed. I asked them what they lacked. What they hoped would be possible.

Through countless interactions, I learned about their greatest aspirations and their challenges. I let their needs define how we could serve them. And then I worked with them to co-invent our product to serve those exact needs.

While building a successful company requires hard work, dedication, and many invaluable people on the inside, you must never forget that it's the customer standing outside who matters most.

Let your customers set your compass and--from day one--work your hardest to follow that True North.

Look to Your Customers' Budget for Validation

I once went to one of the largest enterprise companies and gave them a Scope of Work without pricing. I told them, "You can put down what you want to pay me--it just can't be zero."

At the time, my colleagues thought it was crazy. To me, it was logic. It didn't matter how much we thought our product was worth. Or how excited we could get clients about it. It only mattered how much our customers were willing to pay for it.

Our value creation was first defined by our customers, then validated by them. And to this day, we defer to our customers when making tough decisions. I advise you to do the same.

Will your latest app really create significant value for them? Are you investing in the areas that your customers need most? If your product or service is not a line item in their budget, then it's probably not what they really want. It's not creating the value you think it does.

Create a Company Culture Built Around Your Customers

My proudest achievement is not our product, nor our company's growth. It's the culture we've worked tirelessly to build and maintain.

What truly defines a " Sprinklrite" are the behaviors when no one else is watching. Their actions when the lights are off. I trust them to make the right calls in these situations.

In fact, I know they will. Everyone follows the same True North--everyone makes decisions based on putting our customers first. We've created a cultural DNA that stems from our customers.

You need to make sure yours does, too.

Building a successful company takes a perfect storm. And even then, things will go awry. But having a singular focus--an unbridled and unapologetic dedication to your customer--will give you a much higher chance of success.

Published on: Nov 14, 2016