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