I got asked a question today. I was asked by one of the readers of my site, who has become a friend, “Do you know about Customer Intimacy?” I first thought it was a trick question 🙂 but eventually, rather than do all the work of writing and sending to just one person, I have decided to make this available here for you as well. Who knows, we all have customers, and it will be useful to somebody!
Customer intimacy? First it sounds like a concept fraught with more downsides than upsides, but no. Customer Intimacy is a currently growing terminology used to describe the act of becoming responsible for your customer’s results. This is not merely more customer satisfaction, but actually working with your customers to ensure that their objective of patronizing you is met. With customer intimacy it’s not only just a matter of goodwill to the customer it’s all the way support, loyalty and collaborative pursuit of results. Customer intimacy has actually been a topic of discussion now for over 8yrs. Fred Wiersema wrote a book in 1998 about customer intimacy.
Today, customer intimacy is reputed to be the largest source of growth, competitive advantage and profit. A customer intimate outlook is one that helps organizations use more out of the box thinking methods in discovering and solving unknown problems. In these day and age where the world is shrinking due to technology advancement, where product uniqueness is more and more difficult as multiple vendor production is reducing products to commodities, the strongest competitive advantage is the ability to retain customers. Interstingly however, even satisfied customers can walk away. The customers that will stay are those that are intimate with your organization. The quick questions then, ought to be, how can I achieve customer intimacay, what are my critical success factors?
The big factor in customer intimacy is running your company, not matter how big, like a small company. In fact like a retail neighbourhood shop! This way you can concieve the practicality of knowing every employee and every customer, understanding their needs and positioning yourself to be responsible for their results. Imagine a pharmacy retail shop in the neighbourhood, when the customer comes back again you want to know if the headache was cured, you want to know if the medicine was taken the way it was prescribed, your primary concern is not your profit, it’s their health. You are a partner in success. Customer intimacy involves developing a win win relationship with your customer. Interestingly there have been a strange connection between some successful CEO’s and their paradigm of running a big company like a small one. John Pepper of Procter and Gamble had run a retail shop and was able to connect that experience into value for P&G, similarly GE’s Jack Welch was able to give GE a grocery store outlook as well. Customer intimacy thinking takes customer satisfaction an octave higher.
Key factors in a small company that are worthy of emulation in developing customer intimacy include, simpicity (i.e uncluttered and linear processes) and informal settings. Small companies are driven by passion and survive on good ideas, they live with little or no bureaucracy, they need everyone and involve everyone. These are the underlying concepts that drive customer intimacy.
As a company that desires to practice customer intimacy, you will need to practice the following
1. Take responsibility for your customers success. This is easily concieveable with big customers like suppliers and distributors. Companies like P&G for example make it their business to grow their distributors business, they don’t only supply them products, they have forged an intimate relationship. Taking responsibility for a customers success involves sharing information with them (training) and gradually building trust. In the final analysis, people will do business with you, because the know you, like your or trust you.
2. Engage in truely cooperative partnerships with your customers. This involves integrating them into your operations. These integration for example can lead to new products and new solutions. This in itself involves creative and breakthrough thinking.
3. See your customers problem as you own. It’s only by doing this that you are able to generate tangible and rewarding results for both parties. This will shift the paradigm of transaction from prescriptive to diagnostic.
4. Personalize. Customers leave because of indifference, make the customer feel different.
Customer intimacy is also current trend in developing internet customer service technology. For this website for example aside of regularly monitoring traffic, location, and basic demographics of users, I’m regularly trying to create means to make it achieve more customer intimacy, since incidentally my chief aim is to help people and businesses succeed.
Customer intimacy also helps companies escape customer satisfaction illusions. Some of these illusions for example includes a CEO thinking he has finished his job once he has made his number and email address available to his customers, or for companies to believe that by doing focus groups and research they know their customers! These are well meaning activities but only offer partial solutions to the loyalty that can be developed by intimacy.
Remember the Customer Service Statistics?
1.It costs between five and six times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
2.Companies can boost profits anywhere from 25 to 125% by retaining merely 5% more existing customers.
3.Only one out of 25 dissatisfied customers will express dissatisfaction.
4.Happy customers tell 4 to 5 others of their positive experience. Dissatisfied customers tell 9 to 12 how bad it was.
5.Two-thirds of customers do not feel valued by those serving them.
On the long run, customer intimacy benefits not only the customers, but also every one in the organization. If you find this useful, leave a comment to encourage this type of articles.