Customer loyalty is arguably the most coveted attribute in business. You’ve probably heard that it’s far cheaper to retain customers than to obtain new ones. In fact, according to research from Invesp Consulting, it can be five times more expensive1 to attract new customers than to keep existing ones.
Few companies would willingly admit that they’re not customer-centric. Back in 2011, Forrester boldly declared that we had entered “the age of the customer,” due to how customers have been empowered by technology to have a louder voice than ever before. These days, one vocally angry customer could potentially scare off a lot of new business.
You’re probably not reading this article because you want to know about customer-centricity; chances are, you’re already there. You’re reading this so you can learn how to take your business to the next level. And to do that, you need customer intimacy.
It’s worth noting that customer intimacy is not cheap to implement—and that goes for maintaining it too. It costs money to put customers first and to prioritize helping them for what might be a relatively small payout. But that small payout can quickly multiply—loyal customers are likely to spend up to 67% more2 after they’ve grown to trust you.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- The importance of customer intimacy
- 5 ways to improve your customer intimacy strategy
- Real-life examples from 4 businesses that really get customer intimacy
How customer-obsessed is your business? Take the quiz. 💚
Why is customer intimacy important?
To practice customer intimacy is to be deeply aligned with your customer’s needs. Prioritizing customers is a huge part of this of course, but you need to go deeper beyond just understanding. You have to be able to anticipate your customers’ needs and wants.
Companies that foster customer intimacy look past the value of individual transactions, instead focusing on the lifetime value of each individual customer to their business. This helps on tons of different fronts: loyal customers will keep coming back, they’ll recommend you to friends and family, and their spend will increase with their loyalty.
Customers want to feel like companies care: according to Adobe, 88% percent of U.S. consumers want to engage with brands that set new standards to meet their expectations, and 74% said brands can achieve this by providing a higher level of customer service.3
Another benefit for companies that focus on customer intimacy, as well as the customers themselves, is innovation. Being closely aligned with customers allows you to detect where you can improve more quickly and how to continuously meet customer needs better. This, in turn, helps you come up with new ideas and evolve faster, as opposed to waiting around and hoping that you’ll just happen upon your next brilliant move.
5 different ways to build your customer intimacy strategy
There are many tactics you can use to build your customer intimacy strategy. Here are a few good places to start.
1. Keep records of interactions with your customers (and refer back to them)
Every interaction with a customer is a chance to learn more about them and their needs.
So, it makes sense to keep a record or a profile of your customers. Otherwise you’re wasting valuable learning opportunities.
RingCentral Contact Center™ can help you to easily create and access customer records from different channels, all in the same place. Here’s a quick look at how it works:
If you can offer omnichannel customer service, that means your customers can reach out to you via their preferred communication channel, whether that’s voice, SMS, social media, or email. The perk of using a platform like RingCentral’s is that you’ll see all these conversations, in all the different channels, in one handy dashboard.
You can even merge customer identities across touchpoints, adding every communication into a cohesive customer profile. Whenever you or one of your teammates are in contact with a customer, the customer’s profile will be there to provide all the background information you need.
By knowing your customers, you can anticipate their needs, and make sure they’re instantly connected with the employee who can best help them.
Having lots of info about your customers will also help you analyze your business on a broader scale—what your customers want from you, why they’re coming to you, what’s going well, and what needs work.
For you, and your staff, strong customer service training is a must. It takes so much work to build customer retention and intimacy—and one bad experience can ruin it.
Automated customer service is usually beneficial. It’s saved businesses probably hours, even years, of time when you add it all up. But when it comes to customer service, poorly thought-out automation can end up adding to a customer’s frustration.
For example, if a customer is having an issue with your product or service, FAQs will only get them so far. While online chatbots are useful for gathering information about customers and passing them on to real customer support agents, they’re not yet advanced enough to stand in for humans, especially if the customer has a complicated question.
And while agents are better than chatbots for online discussions, it’s still not a replacement for talking to a real human on the phone. According to HBR, humans speak at 125-175 words per minute, and listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute. When it comes to typing, the average person types 38-40 words per minute (and that’s on a proper keyboard, not a phone)—and that type of conversation may lack important context cues.
The bottom line is, by over-automating your customer service process, you might end up alienating customers and driving them away from your business. Which defeats the whole point of customer service.
Instead, focus your process on actively engaging with and helping your customer, as well as enabling your team to help each other with customer service requests. Keeping detailed and easily accessible records is one good way to make customer engagement—and customer service teamwork—easier.
2. Collect customer feedback—and act on it
Having customer feedback is absolutely essential to building customer intimacy.
We’ve already established that you should be in contact with customers often. On top of that, you should be continuously asking for feedback.
There’s a number of simple ways to do this. One common method is to collect customer service KPIs like the customer satisfaction score (CSAT for short), which asks customers how satisfied they are with your business and asks them to rate your business via a numbered scale.
Learn how to come up with customer satisfaction survey questions.
Another way is the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. An NPS is measured by asking customers, “How likely is it that you would recommend our company, product, or service to a friend or colleague?” along with a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being least likely and 10 being a definite recommend).
Both the CSAT and the NPS should be followed by an open-ended question, allowing respondents to explain their ratings and/or give suggestions for improvements.
With a tool like RingCentral Surveys, setting up and collecting these responses can be made easy. Surveys integrates directly with RingCentral’s Contact Center too, so you can automatically send out customer surveys while the experience is still fresh in your customer’s mind.
Once you’ve collected your feedback, you’ll be able to identify some of your biggest problem areas, and you can go about improving them. Following up with customers from whom you’ve collected feedback is a highly effective way to measure customer intimacy, since you’ll be able to see if they’re still a customer after you’ve done all that work and if they’ve noticed the improvements you’ve made.
If your business is using customer experience analytics or metrics to gauge how effective your customer service is, don’t use this one: the number of customers helped or tickets closed. This can easily result in your team trying to resolve situations so fast that you don’t end up solving anything at all. Average handle time, CSAT and NPS scores will give you a much better idea of how good your customer service process is.
3. Prepare to scale up your customer intimacy as you grow
As businesses grow, processes become more difficult to maintain. But as we’ve already mentioned, attracting new customers costs more than keeping existing ones. Don’t let your customer intimacy become a casualty of growth.
There are a few easy ways to maintain intimacy as you grow. Making customer support a mandatory duty for every employee, even higher-level ones, is a great way of making sure that your team as a whole stays in touch with customer needs.
Think it isn’t realistic to make everyone in the company responsible for customer service? A less extreme way of doing this is to fold a quick one-week jaunt on the customer service team into your new hire onboarding process.
Properly allocating resources is another must. Massively expanding your sales force might be good for making a quick buck, but if you don’t have enough support agents or a good customer service app, all those new customers will quickly turn into detractors.
As you grow, keep prioritizing your customers and continuously review your company policies to make sure that customers stay at the forefront.
4. Have a customer stand-in during meetings
Amazon’s “empty chair tactic”4 is well-known, and many companies are replicating it.
Their reasoning is simple: never forget who your company is there to serve. For businesses with solid customer-centric strategies, the customer is always the most important person—even if they’re not at the meeting. So they use a stand-in.
It doesn’t have to be an empty chair. It could be a stuffed moose. It could even be a mannequin (though that would be a little creepy). The point is, it needs to be something that everyone else at the meeting can look at as a reminder of their customers.
We’re not saying you have to go as far as getting the team to talk to or even apologize to the customer’s stand-in—but a reminder of your company’s purpose during important meetings can’t be a bad thing.
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5. Maximize your event potential
Events are another great way to increase customer intimacy. Hey, nothing builds intimacy like face-to-face contact.
Here are a few examples of events that can help nurture customer intimacy:
Okay, so this one’s not face-to-face, but it’s tough to get people from different cities in the same room. And in some circumstances, virtual meetings are the safest type!
Webinars can take many forms, such as instructional presentations, interviews, or panel discussions. Whatever the form is, they should be designed to benefit your clients.
Your attendees need to come away with something useful. As long as you keep that core tenet, your webinar will have an impact. Of course, in a perfect world, it should also be exciting and entertaining. But focus on usefulness first.
RingCentral Video lets you host webinars for up to 100 participants—and they don’t need to download anything to join your webinar from a computer or mobile device either. Alternatively, here are some tips on how to record a webinar on different devices.
Online customer meetups
Whether it’s because of a pandemic or because your team is distributed around the world, online meetups (where a rep from your company talks to a group of customers in a video conference) are a great way to replicate traditional company road shows and conferences.
The topic is up to you: if you’re finding common themes in the questions you’re getting in customer service requests, then maybe you should host an event to answer them. Maybe you have a new product or service, or are making changes to existing ones. Why not do an online launch and invite your customers?
Events and conferences are made for networking and building those connections with customers. Depending on your industry, this might not be the best use of your time and budget, but if you work at a wholesale company, for example, renting a booth and having that valuable presence will make sure that you can make a personal impression on potential clients, vendors, and partners.
Beyond presence, there are many options you could take to differentiate your booth from the others at the conference. How about a bouldering wall? Want to give attendees a reason to drop by? Host a cocktail party.
Free swag is another ubiquitous (and increasingly maligned) part of conferences. Pens and buttons are overdone—try something that stands out, like a snack that’s unique to your company. Working in fintech? Try a credit card protector. The options are endless. Brainstorm with your team and let the ideas flow.
In-person customer meetups
Smaller meetups, whether it’s a dinner, drinks at a nearby bar, or a get-together at the office, are also good events to facilitate customer intimacy. Outside of the hustle and bustle of a conference, clients might be more relaxed and feel less pressure.
Some companies, like Unbounce, have built a whole brand around their customer meetups and in-person events. Not only do they have their road show (a mini-version of their annual conference where they travel to different cities and host meetups), they also host the buzzworthy CTA Conference in Vancouver every year:
The key here is that the focus doesn’t need to be on work. Get to know your clients outside of their specific roles and titles—it just might give you some more insights into who they are and what they need.
4 customer intimacy examples from real-life businesses
Some companies have built their entire businesses around customer intimacy from the start, while others came to it after deciding they needed to change their business model. These four companies are great examples of different strategies that a business can use to build customer intimacy (and you can learn more about B2B customer service here).
1. The Home Depot
The Home Depot is one of the most often-cited examples of a customer-intimate company. It’s the biggest home improvement store in the United States, and one of the biggest in Canada and Mexico.
The Home Depot’s staff don’t work on commission because they’re encouraged to spend however much time is needed to help each customer get the right product, whether that product costs two dollars or two thousand.
While commissions don’t exist at the Home Depot, the staff are able to win Homer awards. These awards are given to individuals who go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service. Tying these awards to service over money shows that the Home Depot truly understands customer intimacy: building close relationships means customer loyalty and increased long-term profits.
And if you’ve ever been in a Home Depot, you probably already know that it’s an absolutely wonderful and stress-free customer experience.
Zappos is an online footwear retailer founded in 1999. While Amazon acquired the company as a subsidiary in 2009, CEO Tony Hsieh managed to negotiate a deal where Zappos would operate somewhat independently and keep their company culture intact.
Zappos’s motto is “To Live and Deliver WOW.” It’s a big statement, and one that they hold fast to. As part of this, Zappos deliberately overstaffs their contact centers so that support agents have some breathing room between customer service calls. Agents are encouraged to find a connection during every single call, plus the overstaffing reduces the usual intensity of a call center job. It’s a complete 180 of how most companies think of their call center metrics.
Another thing that Zappos does well: social media. According to the Zappos employee handbook, their #6 core value is to “build open and honest relationships with communication.” Tony Hsieh is great at Twitter, and he encourages Zappos employees to create and use work Twitter accounts for both personal and casual communication, to make the company feel even more accessible.
Jyske (pronounced YEESKA) is the third largest bank in the Netherlands, with approximately 3,700 employees. They’re also the only major Danish bank headquartered outside of Copenhagen.
About 14 years ago, Jyske’s CEO decided to introduce a new standard of customer care at his bank. The company began to study stores from companies like Starbucks and Apple—stores that people want to be at.
This led to Jyske massively overhauling their layouts. Their research showed them that nobody wanted to hang around at banks (understandable), so Jyske decided to make their branches more desirable.
Branches are comfortable, have a concierge-type person at the entrance to direct visitors, and many even feature a coffee bar area: Jyske made it a side mission to serve fantastic coffee. This might seem totally unrelated to banking, but one undeniable fact is that Nordic countries love their coffee.5
Jyske also did away with square and rectangular desks for their advisors, replacing them with round tables. This makes it so that clients and advisers need to sit beside each other to review or read through documents and information. It’s a small touch but a thoughtful one.
4. Tetra Pak
Our last example, Tetra Pak, is a food packaging company founded in Sweden in 1951. Today, they’re the world’s largest food packaging company: their patented aseptic packaging technology allows perishable foods to be stored without the need for refrigeration.
When it launched in the 1950s, this revolutionized the food packaging industry. The Institute of Food Technologists (an international nonprofit society of professionals engaged in food science, comprising 17, 000+ members) called it “the greatest food innovation of the 20th century.”
But that was decades ago, and companies can only hold on to past glory for so long. One of the main ways that Tetra Pak has stayed on top is by holding to an incredibly high standard of customer care. They also directly support an amazing amount of nonprofit nutrition programs and organizations.
Tetra Pak engages directly with their clients to continuously develop more efficient, inexpensive, and sustainable packaging and processes. They’re also extremely open about their prices and practices, which makes it easier for customers to trust them with their business. (The company has received many environmental awards for their sustainability efforts.)
In addition to this, Tetra Pak developed a somewhat unique customer service strategy: their manufacturing machines are all connected to continuously send diagnostics feedback to their information centers, so when there are issues, they can identify them fast.
When customers using their machines encounter problems, Tetra Pak sends a local serviceperson to do the repairs. This person wears a Microsoft HoloLens (an augmented reality headset) so that a technology specialist at Tetra Pak’s headquarters can remotely guide them through the repair process.
Finally, Tetra Pak has supported nutrition in developing countries for over 45 years. They provide their packaging for milk and other foodstuffs at cost for schools all over the world and have provided food packaging for disaster relief efforts throughout the 21st century.
Admittedly, Tetra Pak is a huge company, and few businesses would have the resources to commit to the kind of customer intimacy that they have. But there’s still a lot to learn from their openness with clients, nonprofit efforts, or intense customer support policy.
Customer intimacy is the new customer service standard
Don’t let it overwhelm you: customer intimacy is achievable and within your reach. By using the right tools, the right customer service software, and the right tactics, you can build loyalty with any of your customers. Start with putting clients and their needs first, and you’re already on the way.
Collaboration is the key to customer intimacy. We hope these customer service tips have given you a solid foundation to building a strong customer intimacy strategy.
Originally published Jun 01, 2020, updated Feb 26, 2021