A recent Forbes article discusses customer intimacy in the capacity that a company should possess detailed knowledge of, and even be capable of anticipating, customer preference – then apply that knowledge to affect action outcomes and decision-making.

OK, I support this idea. It’s a foundational tenant of CRM. But I think real customer intimacy is created from a more closely balanced relationship between customer and brand. Not one where the data-mining company pushes consumers’ figurative buttons to sell product. But one where the consumer is predisposed to consider a brand because of favorable prior experience and the sense that their choice matters. That there is a concerned someone inside the brand who wants them to walk away happy.

To my way of thinking, customer intimacy more closely mirrors person-to-person relationships where the mature stage of true intimacy is achieved through shared knowledge, understanding, commonly held beliefs and mutualcompassion. Yes, this can happen in business but only when a company moves from a transaction-based mindset to  one with more  long-term goals. Relationships where one party connects deeply with the other but the reciprocal emotional tie is weak, well those are shallow and short-lived relationships. When it happens in our personal lives we experience heartbreak. When it happens in statistically relevant number in business, the broken and bloody pieces left behind are loyalty, referrals, satisfaction, and reputation.

Balanced customer relationships

So how does a company go about nurturing an intimate environment with customers? Here are a few broad-stroke ideas to think about:

  1. Conduct a brand gut-check. Figure out if your company’s image is fractured by varietal logo marks, type treatments, inconsistent experiences between real-life and brand claims, or positioning that’s aspirational, fuzzy, or off-target. This is actually a lot of work because it’s a challenge to look at existing processes and assets through a neutral lens. Denise Lee Yohn does a great job at getting brands to really examine what they say and what they do. When there’s a disparity, it’s felt pretty deeply by customers.
  2. Strip off your branded logo wear and pull on your civvies. Take a look at all external communications like segmented emails, web pages and online forms, direct mail and blogs. If your model is a little hard to explain to new trainees, chances are the nuances of your offerings and reasons to be (RTB) are confusing (or muddled) to outsiders, too. Sure, it’s probably useful to categorize projects according to certain internal work groups and cull certain records for targeted mailings. But data mining is an ongoing process of working with fluid information. Some customers are surely victims of crossed communications streams. When that happens, they probably receive varying offers and discounts. It might confuse or worse, frustrate, causing them to take a mental step backward from your brand.
  3. Keep stoking the emotional fires.  Thanks to the personas your team researched and maintains, you have some insight into hot buttons and interests. Find ways to align your business objectives with the practical needs and philosophical and moral issues important to your buyers.
  4. Give them the stage. Consumers trust others who have had cause to observe or interact with a brand. By giving your customers a platform for reaching (and helping) prospects, your marketing efforts become more objective and inclusive in ways that demonstrate a competitive difference instead of just simply claiming one.
  5. Surprise and delight. Many folks have become accustomed to sub-par service and products that underwhelm. Are there ways your company can economically scale and operationalize the kind of personal touches that get remembered?

These are some general ideas. Thinking about the nature of your business and the reasons why your customers choose you, what innovative new ideas can you come up with? Instead of assuming the cost to implement would be prohibitive or the process too complicated, push yourself to think of the potential long-term gain. Are there economical ways to take some first steps to forging intimacy with your customers (or at least removing barriers to intimacy)?

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bricksmith Brenda Rick Smith

    This post really hits home for me.  The most powerful moments for me on social media are those moments where I have the opportunity to help someone solve a problem, connect with a person/resource.  I appreciate the same in return. 

    This is what motivates me as a customer to share enthusiastically about a business or service — if I’ve had a great experience with a business, it’s impossible to stop me from talking about it.  That’s what I want to inspire in my customers: an experience so great that they can’t help but share it.

    Thanks for inspiring me this morning!

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Sounds like great aspirations to have! Your comment made me think of an example – I often get packages at home via UPS and FedEx. I don’t give a hoot about either carrier in most ways – but the UPS driver (Jimmy) is super friendly. He brings treats for my dogs and takes the initiative to creatively deliver packages when I’m not home so the mutts won’t get into them. By contrast, the FedEx guy is rather grumpy and cold. He left a box of chocolate (marked as such) at my door one day when I wasn’t home, even though my dogs (who are on electric collars) were clearly evident. It’s the little extra effort from Jimmy that makes me prefer to ship via UPS when I can. 

  • http://twitter.com/cksyme Chris Syme

    Thanks. This is the side of customer relationships we need to hear about–not how mining big data will help us sell more stuff to people because we know their every move. Thanks for the practical info. I’ve been a big believer that good online relationships have the same qualities good offline ones do. Your definition of intimacy helps that understanding. Nobody likes pretension and self-service offline–it doesn’t work online either.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Chris, it seems the points I wanted to make rang true with you. That’s great. I wish more enterprise-level companies tapped into the elements that originally made them successful – and I’m sure in most cases it had less to do with connecting the data dots to push an upsell, and more to do with genuine, sincere helpfulness in its many permutations. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  • Lapastell

    I found this blog very interesting! I like how it listed different tips to help keep a good customer environment. This is important information for any organization or business.  Customer relations can help benefit the company and also bring about more potential customers for the business. Thanks for the great tips and very informative blog!

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  • Caitlin Kelly

    This should all be pretty obvious to retailers, especially, since bricks-and-mortar shopping is meant to be a social experience, not the ordeal it often becomes. I lecture on how to improve customer service and name four outstanding associates whose encounters with me were so impressive I share them as examples of what to do…and each of them (no surprise) is inherently a “people person” who enjoys helping others. You can’t teach or train that into anyone.

    FYI, the word I believe you meant to use was “tenet”, not tenant.

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  • Jiamin Ren

    Great post. I also think to boost intimacy between an organization and the customer,
    one-to-one communication model is necessary. This means a higher
    standard of listening to the consumers’ need and higher level of engagement.
    One of the results of it is the crossover between customer service and PR. More commonly,
    PR pros now have to participate in real-time communication in order to improve
    customer satisfaction and prevent a potential crisis.

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