Firas Kittaneh (@firaskittaneh) is the CEO and co-founder of One Mall Group, a group of specialty e-commerce brands including Amerisleep, an eco-friendly luxury mattress company. His award-winning team is focused on bringing housewares online to a larger consumer base using cutting-edge technology.

Take it from Google: "Focus on the user, and all else will follow."

Building a customer-first company means doing everything, no matter how small, with your clients in mind and exceeding their needs and expectations. Though fostering customer loyalty can be a daunting task, there are several simple changes you can make to begin to grow a passionate user base.

1. Get to know your customers.

Before you can put any customer-focused plans into action, start by developing in-depth buyer personas. Who are your customers? What do they need? Data can help you unlock useful information about your users, but you will need to spend real time getting to know them personally too.

Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of Groove, embodies this idea. Turnbull dedicates a large portion of his time to calling his customers in an effort to understand their unique needs. By speaking directly with your users, you learn very quickly what is important to them.

2. Give them an easy-to-use interface.

Since many of your customers will have one of their first interactions with your brand through your website, an easy-to-use interface is important. Usability Post identified eight characteristics of a successful UI: clear, concise, familiar, responsive, consistent, attractive, efficient and forgiving.

Your website should not come with a learning curve. A first-time user should be able to immediately identify how to navigate to what they are looking for, whether that is exploring products or contacting support. Keep your interface simple. Only show the user what they absolutely need, and group similar concepts, services or items together. If you have a FAQ page, make sure the contact information for your customer service team is also readily available so visitors can also get answers fast.

3. Serve with emotion.

Zappos is often lauded for its above-and-beyond customer service. In every interaction--with retailers, employees and customers--the brand's loyalty team aims to "WOW" shoppers. No cost is spared to deliver happiness.

One of the ways the company amazes and delights users is by providing support for an individual's needs instead of simply fulfilling a transaction. In one case, a woman ordered several pairs of shoes for her mother, whose feet were sensitive from many medical procedures. When the woman called Zappos to return the pairs that did not hit the mark, a Zappos employee learned of the mother's condition through small talk--and then had flowers sent to the woman's mother to let her know the company and its team genuinely cared.

While some might see a bouquet as an extra and unnecessary cost, it effectively engaged the customer emotionally and ensured that she would return to Zappos for future footwear needs. Show your clients they are more than just another number to you.

4. Reward frequent customers.

You appreciate your best clients for continuing to purchase from you, so give them more reasons to come back. JetBlue's TrueBlue rewards system incentivizes travelers to fly more frequently on JetBlue by offering an upgraded seat with points (which do not expire), no blackout dates and the ability to pool points with family members.

Providing exclusive perks to regular customers lets them know they are as special to you as your business is to them. Consider offering upgraded shipping for frequent purchasers, access to special sales, or gifts once they spend a certain amount.

5. Get everyone on the same page.

If someone walked through your office today and chose three people at random to ask about your company's goals, ideally they should all give identical answers. While it is important for you to know what your brand stands for, your employees should also understand your firm's purpose. If your brand stands for superior customer service, you need to breed it.

At Zappos, all employees go through the same intensive four-week training. Regardless of whatever job they will hold after training, Zappos puts all trainees on the phones so they can interact with the company's customer base and learn the Zappos standard of customer service. The benefits are two-fold: Zappos has a few extra hands during busy times, and the quality of service begins uniformly.

6. Handle upset customers gracefully.

On a first attempt, you cannot please everyone. When a customer reaches out because they are dissatisfied with your product or service, remind your associates to remain calm and objective. Often, a caller's anger is not directed at you personally, and he likely just needs to vent about his issue. Use active listening, including repeating back the customer's complaint and asking any questions to clarify. Most importantly, make sure to offer a solution to your buyer's problem.

In an article for CMO.com, Jerry Jao, co-founder & CEO of Retention Science wrote, "Existing customers are much easier to sell to. According to Marketing Metrics, the probability of converting an existing customer is 60 percent to 70 percent." Jao also adds, "Data from Laura Lake shows that repeat customers spend 33 percent more compared to new customers." High client retention allows you to increase revenues and scale a strong, sustainable business.

To create a truly customer-first brand, you need to make your clients a top priority at every level of your business. Consider small sacrifices like spending extra time on a support call or sending a bouquet of flowers to let shoppers know your company cares. When you invest in a customer's overall happiness, you build a trustworthy brand that wins repeat business a million times over.

Published on: Mar 25, 2015