What is Customer Intimacy, Why Does it Matter, and How to Improve it for Your Brand

What is customer intimacy?

Are you confident about the products and services you offer, but feel you’re lacking in customer retention? Sure, you know about customer focus, and you make it a priority—but have you heard of customer intimacy? This tricky value could be the one thing you’re overlooking. It’s key to keeping your customers coming back for more. And it could nudge your brand from good to great.

Customer intimacy is what it sounds like. It’s about getting to know your customer, and taking time to understand their perspective. Businesses lose $1.6 trillion each year to customer switching, and 73% of buyers cite customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions. From a marketing standpoint, customer intimacy is about building strong, meaningful relationships between brands and their customers. The goal is long-range business retention—a wise priority for any company.

The Values Discipline Model

Strategy experts Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema identify customer intimacy as one of three components of their The Values Discipline Model.

They define customer intimacy as follows: “Customer Intimacy: tailoring products and services to meet clients’ needs to the best extent. A company that delivers value based on this concept also builds bonds with clients like those between good old friends. Customer intimate companies provide their stuff in a way that they can offer the ‘best total solution’. Home Depot, Amazon, and Salesforce are among those organizations that show that level of understanding.”

Why is it valuable?

You have your lineup of loyal customers with whom you seem to have a cordial and productive enough relationship—so why should you go out of your way to make customer intimacy a newly sharpened focus for your company? Will that extra effort really make a difference in helping you succeed in the marketplace?

“The companies that remain most closely connected to customers are winning. And you can’t be customer-centric without cultivating and maintaining customer intimacy.

From Nike to Dell Computer, companies that have taken leadership positions in their industries in the last decade have done so by focusing on delivering superior customer value in one of those three value disciplines—operational excellence, product leadership or customer intimacy. They excel in one of these disciplines while meeting industry standards in the other two.

Operational Excellence

Companies who put operational excellence first focus on providing their customers with a reliable product or service with minimal difficulty (Think Dell). Those who excel in product leadership, on the other hand, are all about the unrivaled quality of the product itself (Think Nike). While each value has its own benefits, experts agree customer intimacy secures the most customer loyalty.

And in a marketplace where 67% of customers will switch to a competitor after just one negative experience, and US dealerships lose $266 billion per year due to lack of retention, you can’t afford to let customer relations take the backburner.

If your company needs a boost in this area—and it’s good at product & service customization—customer intimacy may be the value discipline to focus on.

“Companies that push the boundaries of one value discipline while meeting industry standards in the other two gain such a lead that competitors find it hard to catch up.”

Customer intimacy can yield “increased loyalty, lower churn, less internal strife, more loveable products, and more effective team decision-making.” It also fosters bold innovation, as employees constantly strive for more and more effective solutions for their customer.

There are a number of ways to keep tabs on customer intimacy. Relevant metrics include “word-of-mouth (more), product adoption rate (high), churn (low), and NPS (growing relative score + higher than benchmark for your industry)”.

How to improve customer intimacy

“True customer intimacy [occurs by] aligning product development, manufacturing, administration and executive focus around the needs of the individual customer.”

Customer intimacy means tailoring products and services to meet the precise, unique needs of each customer. It also means responding with great agility to any need that arises. This requires two main things:

A team devoted to acquiring detailed customer knowledge, and extreme flexibility.

Customer intimacy favors multiple modes of delivery over strict, one-size-fits-all processes.

Consider TRACER, an electrical diagnostics software created by Tweddle Group. Tweddle Group engineers designed TRACER specifically for automotive diagnostic teams, with easy Tier 1 and dealership test system integration. The software runs on machines already installed in service bays, eliminating the need for new hardware. By considering the end-user’s experience companies greatly enhance a sense of customer intimacy.

All hands on deck

One way to improve customer intimacy is to give all employees—from CEO to intern—a role in customer support. When every team member connects with the customer, customer intimacy spreads and consequently deepens. Things like customer advisory boards and customer interviews are also a great way to increase customer intimacy.

Consider which of the three core value disciplines best suits your company. Then, make it your number one priority. For companies like Amazon, Home Depot and Tweddle Group, customer intimacy is a key competitive advantage. Make sure your team is all on the same page. Select a few methods to secure this as your core value. For example, involve more team members in customer support, or arrange customer interviews and surveys.

Next, define some metrics to gauge your progress. Develop a process to track product adoption rates relative to customer relations. With proper planning, efficient execution and long-term consistency, customer intimacy provides an important edge in the marketplace.


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