The Secret to Building a True Customer-Centric Business

Danielle Gillespie
4 min readJan 14, 2022


Truthfully? There are no secrets.

I define a customer-centric business by the feeling I get when I interact with the business. Do I feel happy, neutral or anxious? Do I look forward to the interaction or do I put it off? As a business you should strive to make people feel happy and excited to interact with you.

There are a handful of companies I love for various reasons but two that consistently top my list are Nordstrom and The Vail Ski Resort.

Nordstrom: I think most people would agree that Nordstrom is a no-brainer when it comes to customer service. Staff training, frictionless returns and loyalty points routinely contribute to an experience of exceeded expectations. One of my friends went so far as to say she does all of her holiday shopping at Nordstrom because of the loyalty points and easy returns. For me, I became a true believer when they adopted their frictionless return process. For context; when you purchase something from Nordstrom, they place a bar code sticker on the hangtag that links the purchase to the receipt. So, an item can simply be scanned for return versus needing to have a printed paper receipt. Eliminating the friction caused by requiring a paper receipt for returns was a game changer. It was even more impressive because Nordstrom had to change core operational procedures. Across all of their stores they had to invest in the equipment to print the return stickers, change their POS to handle return labels and, most impressively, they retrained their entire workforce to change their check out procedure. I’m sure this was extremely challenging to accomplish in terms of capital and resources but, what they gained in customer loyalty, repeat business and word of mouth referrals far outweighed the short term cost. Nordstrom made a major operating change in order to keep customers front and center.

Vail Ski Resort: We are a ski family. When we could swing it, our vacation was always to a ski resort. Skiing can be expensive so, although it was a budget stretch, we always tried to make it work. One year we decided to go to Vail with our three young children. On our first day at the mountain, we dropped them off at ski school and hopped on a lift up the mountain. As we reached the top of the first lift, we got a call that one of our daughters had fainted. So, my husband went to pick her up and they spent the day eating hot dogs and drinking hot chocolate. Without any prompt from us, the resort proactively refunded us for my daughter’s day of ski school, her day of rentals and also my husband’s lift ticket. I have never been more unexpectedly surprised by a customer experience and to this day have remained a loyal customer. Vail was not obligated to refund our money but they chose to do so to foster a longterm relationship with our family.

We all know good customer-centric businesses when we see them but how do we make sure that our customers are having outstanding start-to-finish experiences, every time they interact with us?


When you build a customer-centric business you are laser focused on your customer; every decision you make relating to products and services must support the customer’s experience. At every juncture you ask yourself: does this new product, feature or initiative improve the customer’s experience? Does it eliminate friction, does it address a pain point?


Start with a definition of what success looks like for your business. There are financial metrics that you could use but, start with a simple definition. For example, success could be: a user creates an account, the user stays on the platform for X number of years, the user interacts with the product X times/day, week or month, there are X number of positive reviews, etc. When you can articulate success, quantify the success metics.

Once you have defined success, establish an overall plan to measure the activities and outcomes that lead to success. Even if you have limited resources or are unsure where to start, you can start small and track your metrics manually.

A few other tips:

  • Whenever possible observe people using your product.
  • Find power users and engage them more aggressively for feedback or as advocates.
  • Make sure that every touch point from the first introduction to your product through success is consistent.
  • Create a frictionless on-boarding experience and thoughtful customer care.
  • Introduce some unexpected delight.

No matter where you start, empower your entire team (back office, customer care, product development, marketing, etc.) to collaborate and support your success objectives.


True customer-centric businesses are founded on sincerity and integrity. Ensuring that your customers are at the center of your product strategy must be woven into your core culture.

It can be difficult to transition from a product strategy that is driven by internal beliefs to one that is driven by validated customer perceptions and expectations. However, in making the transition, you will find that you will foster lasting relationships with your customers that are built on trust, resulting in a positive brand reputation, loyalty and viral word of mouth referrals.

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein



Danielle Gillespie

Defining the intersection between technology and human connection (I also help entrepreneurs build rock solid tech products: