“Once you achieve intimacy and connection, I predict that innovation, partnership, execution and success won’t be far behind.” – Susan Scott
Customers are a demanding lot and rightly so. However despite the hard-core business demands, they too desire to move beyond just individual transactions and experiences and build long term relationships with the companies they do business with. Companies that recognize this fact have a better understanding of their customers and are able to anticipate and meet even the unstated needs of the customers. Customer intimacy is a strategy that, when woven into the business framework, leads to a customer focused culture that eventually gives a company a competitive edge. Customers feel valued and welcome and know that they can depend on the company they are in business with. If customer intimacy is to be your hallmark, your entire business model and everyday operations will be aligned to meet this ‘value’. This value goes beyond CRM or Social Media – it is about listening to the customer and removing anything circumstances that causes inconvenience and frustration for the customer. It is about engaging with the customer at every level and allowing them to be ‘partners’ in every aspect of your business that amounts to customer service.
Every company is competing on products and or services and tries to build relationships to move forward through customer service. It is only those companies, that understand that each customer is different and seek to learn and meet each customer’s individual needs and expectations, can build customer loyalty and increase profitability over time. In the current scenario, competition has become fiercer and more intense and only those businesses that continually find ways to develop customer intimacy will succeed. This is and will remain the key distinction between successful companies and those only surviving in business. Customer intimacy will prove to be a major growth tactic since customers will know they have your complete attention – this will be true for customers belonging to diverse backgrounds and will transcend demographics.
Customers are and must remain at the heart of business and only they can and continue to push business in the market / industry. Customer intimacy is about going beyond providing good customer service – it is about anticipating and proactively providing for the needs of the customers and customers are not backing down when demanding this kind of service and they are getting it. Customers are demanding in every which way possible – whether it is connecting via a preferred channel or wanting to connect with a company at any time of the day or night or having access to applications that they can use even on their hand-held devices or all of these. With the internet and plethora of on-line options for buying, live chats and round the clock access to information, customers prefer companies that can match their speed and requirements.
The customer of today has changed in a number of ways. They are a tech-savvy bunch that knows where to find information and make choices depending on that knowledge. They also rely and believe what their friends and associates say about companies and brands via social media rather than believing what a company tells them. Equipped with so much information and data, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to bluff their way into getting business. They will leave a company if it fails to please them or live up to the standards they have set. Customers continue to want human contact and interactions and want to feel wanted and businesses that go out of their way to develop ‘customer intimacy’ will be more valued by the customer. The greater the value, the closer the customer feels and over time this translates to loyalty and profitability.
Customer intimacy must start at the very top. The top management must put in place policies and strategies that place superior value on customer relationships. This then becomes more easily disseminated to the rest of the organization and each customer interaction will be more special and something that comes naturally to all. When customer intimacy is culture and a ‘done thing’, it cuts down the need for intense training programs that ‘teach’ customer value and focus. Customer centricity must not be just words or customer service ‘jargon’ used by companies – they must actually deliver on providing true and genuine customer intimacy. As a company’s reputation soars on this front, there is a natural flow of other customers and more business towards the company, cutting down costs on huge promotional campaigns and marketing strategies. Customers become willing and vocal brand ambassadors.
Customer intimacy cannot be a one-time initiative and neither can it be an ‘umbrella’ policy to fit all customers. Such attempts will back-fire making customers leave for companies that will be provide personalized service. It is crucial to build customer relationships and customer intimacy will ensure great customer interactions and experiences, keeping customers with a company for longer and even be willing to recommend them to others. From a customer’s point of view, they have made serious investments by way of money, time and effort and they expect to receive a high level of service that ‘fits them like a glove’, whether it is face to face interactions or connections made with the company via any of the various communication channels. They want to see and feel steadfastness from the company – as a response to the commitment they have made.
It may seem tough at first, but businesses that remain focused and invest resources in truly understanding their customers will be able to display it in everything they do. It would take time but once companies get the balance right, customers will be able to see the dedication and will more than reward the company for it. Developing customer intimacy should start with first asking customers what they like and what they want improved. Based on their feedback, it will become easier for companies to determine what customers view as ‘value’ and what for them is a waste of their investment and therefore look outward to finding companies that will manage their demands.
Customers constantly leave a string of data – recent purchases, sites visited, comments on social media. To develop customer intimacy companies must learn to collect and collate this data, centralize its usage within the company and connect with customers based on this data. Of course, this data must be constantly updated and kept relevant for it to be useful and also to be able to target the right customer segment. Companies can use past data as an indicator but never rely only on past information – customer needs and wants change rapidly and the most current information is what marketing campaigns and promotional strategies must be aimed at. With relevant and current information at hand, companies will be able to more easily reach out to customers that are more likely to respond favourably to a current launch or offer. This also helps to attract a fresh customer segment and thereby increase the current customer base. Customers too are more easily attracted to offers that seem to ‘made for them’ and those that seem to ‘speak directly’ to them. Not only can companies attract more customers, they are less likely to lose customers when they use customer intimacy as a competitive strategy.
As mentioned earlier, while a company may succeed to attracting new business and keeping the current one, it will not last long if they do not come true on the promises they made and service their customers with speed and efficiency. For customer intimacy to happen, stellar customer service must be the foundation. It is a mix of both small and big things that make the difference between the customer, being ‘fixated’ on your company and looking for ways to get out.
In summary, customer intimacy combines stellar customer service with great products and a high and sustained level of relationship building. It is about changing the way a company thinks about and views a customer and their business – towards viewing their business from the eyes of the customer at all times.