For most businesses, competition is a given. The cream of the crop spends an extraordinary amount of resources on delivering the best for their customers while staying far ahead of their markets. Yet, the real challenge lies in the mindset of business growth. When your company scales up and exponentially expands from all directions, it’s difficult to maintain the customer-centric mindset you initially started with.
But it’s not only about fostering a customer-centric approach and creating a positive experience for your clients. Intimacy, defined as ‘closeness’, requires a complete re-alignment of your entire organization to succeed. This alone can be expensive and time-consuming without the right tools. Read on to discover the origin of the term and ten effective customer intimacy strategies your organization can embrace with open arms and go beyond your day-to-day customer service ambitions.
What is customer intimacy?
Customer intimacy is a business strategy that seeks to understand specific client needs in order to deliver the ‘best total solution.’ It requires all top-level executives down to your support teams to buy-in and be ready to make the necessary investments to achieve this. One of the greatest assets businesses have to leverage this strategy is customer loyalty.
This term is one of the three disciplines noted by two strategy experts, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, in their book The Discipline of Market Leaders:
“No company can succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. It must instead find the unique value that it alone can deliver to a chosen market.”
The three strategies to honing in on your unique value and market are:
Operational excellence: Product or services which are streamlined and automated to minimize costs. Example companies include McDonald's, FedEx and Dell.
Product leadership: Products or services which are constantly undergoing innovative product changes to stay ahead of the competition. Example companies include Intel, Johnson and Johnson and Apple.
Customer intimacy: Products or services which are constantly adapted to specific customer situations and niches. Example companies include Nordstrom, Home Depot and IKEA.
In this article, the spotlight is on the last discipline. In their book, Treacy and Wiersema provide an example of a company that uses this ‘customer intimacy’ strategy at their massive one-stop home improvement chains across the United States.
If you’ve ever walked into a Home Depot store, you’d notice a few things straight off the bat. The size of every store is almost two football fields. All products or services are neatly organized by numbered aisles. And, they have plenty of helpful staff who stand out in orange branded aprons. That’s only the general picture. If you zoom in, you can see how their in-store customer service employees spend a lot of time (hours even) with each customer to help them resolve their home improvement issues. The reason? Home Depot’s business strategy revolves around the customer and finding the right product or service.
Now let’s dive into strategies your business can put into action:
1. Be a customer-first company
Ask yourself one question: “Why is my business here?” If your response is related to your amazing product offerings then think again. As your business continues to grow, it’s easy to lose touch with those who helped you gain success from the very beginning - your customers.
If you want to survive in the ever-changing landscape of modern businesses, putting your customers at the very center of your company culture can’t hurt one bit.
It’s no surprise that companies such as Amazon put the customer at the center of everything they do. From discussing the customer in every staff meeting to building specialized customer feedback tools to improving overall sentiment. But it doesn’t stop there. You can physically adorn your office space with pictures you took with customers at events (with their permission, of course) and a customer guest book where they can write a note when visiting your office. When you surround yourself with customers on a daily basis, it only makes the fight worth fighting for.
2. All hands on deck customer service
Customer service. Every business is delivering it in some form or another. Be it through an outdated fax machine to a powerful help desk software. A big part of a customer intimacy strategy is aligning your entire organization through empathy. One way to do just that is by having your whole company provide customer service. This means involvement from top-level executives such as your CEO and VP of (insert job title here) to your summer interns. It enables every employee to listen and respond to customers.
But first, let’s take a step back. No, this doesn’t mean they’ll be manning the queue or taking calls daily. You already have a talented and trained support team (or individuals) with the right skills. Instead, treat it more as a monthly one-hour shadowing session between an employee and a customer service representative. This way any non-support staff can ask questions on the spot when replying to clients (e.g. tone, language, and providing more details) that will resolve the issue.
3. Show your real face
Building a long-lasting relationship through a screen or phone call has its fair share of challenges, ones which completely lose site of the human touch. To overcome this hurdle, schedule times to meet clients face-to-face. If they are located in a close vicinity to your office, invite them over to explore your work environment, or if they’re a B2B company, hop over to their office. While this may not be cost-efficient or convenient for some, take advantage of meeting clients while on business trips, conferences or meetups.
Your customer will appreciate your endeavors and in return, you’ll greatly improve your relationship by building trust, transparency and customer loyalty.
Learn the differences between B2B and B2C customer service.
4. Understand the customer journey
One of the main challenges businesses face with improving customer intimacy is understanding the stages a client goes through with a product or service. A customer journey map can illustrate more than a funnel to a one-time purchase. In fact, it can be a journey through the customer experience.
To compare it to a real-life situation, let’s look at Starbucks. The journey starts right when the customers enter one of their thirty-thousand chains: From the roasted coffee beans that stimulate your senses to the warm and welcoming lighting. If you’re a regular the friendly barista already knows your name and order. And the background music is set at the right volume allowing people to work in peace or have small talk.
When the goal of customer intimacy is about forming long-term relationships, a journey map is one of those must-have strategies. Furthermore, learning to anticipate client needs will allow you to recognize a pattern and deliver tailor-made products and services.
5. Host customer events
Technology has enabled global businesses to connect with customers in an instant, be it your help desk software to an iMessage. However, the most direct way to build intimacy is meeting your clients in person. Coordinate and host events such as a bi-monthly lunch or dinner around your regular business trips or conferences. These down to earth events offer an intimate and personal way to get to know your customers better, and for them to meet the faces behind your brand.
When your business continues to grow, hosting customer events can become overwhelming, costly and time-consuming, but that shouldn’t stop you. Set up webinars featuring your customers discussing new features, feedback, and stories on how they use your product or service. Additionally, encourage your clients to bring their friends. Why? First of all, these could be potential customers. Second and lastly, word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool. In fact, 72% of people get news from friends and family.
6. Empower customers to host meetups
You may have spent a ton of resources, energy and careful planning on events featuring your customers, but your business doesn’t always need to be present. Sometimes, clients just need space to interact with people who share a mutual interest, such as your product or service.
By empowering your clients to plan and carry out their own event, you can improve customer intimacy without the hassle. Now you’re thinking: How can you maintain customer intimacy without your business’s attendance? As mentioned in point five, you’ll have your die-hard fans most likely attending these meetups and posting about it on social media. If you are a worldwide business, you can have a staff member attend one of these meetups to get a sense of the environment around it and collect feedback.
7. Take personalization to the next level
You’ve taken the time to finesse your offerings so your entire organization is satisfied with the end-product. It’s still not enough. To be customer-intimate, you must ensure your product or service answers your clients' needs and connects with them on a whole other level.
This can range from creating a Facebook campaign targeting a specific audience to allowing clients to customize your products. For example, Coca Cola’s campaign “Share a Coke” printed over 800 popular millennial names on the bottle label. And who doesn’t like receiving something with their name on it? So if Starbucks and Coca Cola can do it, so can you.
U.S. retailer Target conducts behavior research to understand customers shopping lists and then grasp their habits. From their findings, they were able to adapt their offerings depending on what the customer searches. For example, if they noticed diapers, baby clothes and toys appear in the car, then they could predict this profile was most likely a pregnant woman.
8. Use data to make the right moves
Guessing is always fun, but have you ever heard of data? Using analytics in your customer intimacy strategy is essentially the core to boost your business in a vastly competitive market. Chances are you’ve already collected data to better understand your customers. This raw information serves as an important way to build and improve customer intimacy.
Through every client interaction (e.g. live chat, phone calls, emails, surveys, email campaigns, and social events) there is an opportunity for you to utilize this information to fine-tune your audience and better serve them. For example, something as simple as purchase history or most viewed pages can reveal patterns, interests and sentiment. The more focused your strategy becomes, the more customers will feel closer to your brand and get what they want when they least expect it.
9. The most important person in the room
Part of being a customer-intimate company means having constant reminders of your patrons. You’ve decorated your office with customer memorabilia and have celebrated them, be it shared testimonials on your social account or sending a personalized birthday greeting. But, even those cues fall short.
If you’re serious about becoming customer-obsessed, then smartly incorporate the client in every meeting, like Amazon does. How? By always having an empty chair in the room. CEO Jeff Bezos even lets attendees know it’s taken by “the most important person in the room.” and that can be impossible to forget. Use this technique in your next staff meeting. You’ll surely receive some baffled faces but eventually it will become second nature.
10. Offer a complete solution
One of the main concepts behind customer intimacy is recognizing client needs that go beyond what your organization currently offers. It’s about understanding this hierarchy of needs, and getting to the bottom-line of their underlying problem. This new way of business means providing a complete solution that comprises a unique variety of products or services to bring new value and vision to your customers.
For example, businesses can use bundled or separate Wix Answers help desk software features to solve different customer needs. Are your clients unable to find answers? Use an intuitive knowledge base software. Do they want to connect in real-time? Use live chat software. Or maybe you’re a small business in need of an easy-to-use and affordable support solution. Whatever the case, be ready with open arms to customer feedback. They are the only ones in your company who can tell you what’s missing.
Evolving into a customer-centric business means putting client needs, values and loyalty above everything else. These alone cannot be cultivated without customer intimacy. Research by Deloitte found that customer-centric companies were 60% more profitable compared to companies that were not focused on the customer.
If you’re still questioning whether or not these strategies are the right move for your business, implement a couple within your customer service department before making your case to the executives.
Ready to build personal connections with your customers? Try the best help desk software today!