How Customer Intimacy Helps Boost Sales
Typical corporate organizational structure is anti-customer intimacy. Why?
Organizations are built wrong. It is as simple as that. Decision making, internal communication, power balance… everything is upside down.
And it almost feels that this imbalance is invisible, before the company actually tries to introduce true customer intimacy.
Usually, customers will be offered a product, based on what the company can produce. They will be offered pre-sales information as much as the company can spare, and the resources the company disposes for support will go as far as the budget, the scope of the company and the heavy time- or score- based strategies for support evaluation allow.
Decisions will be based not on what customers require, but on what the company thinks they need. And when customers try to reach out, they will either speak to Sales, or to Support representatives that can’t really help them, other than escalate their issue upwards.
And we all know that if it has already come to the ‘I need to speak to your manager’ part, customer satisfaction has gone through the window.
If a company truly wants to achieve customer intimacy they need to build a relationship with the customers. And that means the employees who work directly with them need to be the most powerful, most knowledgeable, best-paid, best trained people in the company. Which they are usually not.
No decision should be taken without the involvement of Customer Care, because they are the ones that know the customer best.
And only when the company is oriented towards the needs of the customers, can they actually reap the benefits – a relationship with the customer that involves loyalty, trust, personal involvement and a large financial difference.
WHAT IS CUSTOMER INTIMACY ACTUALLY?
Customer intimacy is a marketing strategy. With it, the organization aims at getting closer, almost ‘intimately’ close, to the customer.
Customer intimacy is, first, thought to help create better products, since the seller knows better the requirements of the customer and tailors the features of the goods or services to the demand. Each version of the product is adapted to the constructive feedback of the customer base and is therefore better and better.
Second, it helps with providing better customer support. Focusing more on the customer story and their needs, allows for better problem solving post-purchase.
Third, offering a personalized product and experience increases loyalty in the customer. Engagement is higher, because the base feels their feedback will be listened to and creates the impression the product satisfaction will be increased.
HOW TO INVEST IN CUSTOMER INTIMACY?
Customer intimacy usually sounds well to decision makers before they see the bill.
It is important to have the entire picture and have a good strategy how introducing customer intimacy will look for your organization because if you want it to penetrate all levels of the organization and have ultimately the best results, it might end up being a slow, gradual, expensive process.
Customer intimacy is largely in the hands of employees who have face-to-face communication with end customers. Therefore complex organization structure with multiple levels of management loses its meaning. Customer intimacy is best delivered from companies with a flat structure.
Moreover, customer care employees should be given higher power. ‘I want to speak to the manager’ will not fit there. ‘Lower level’ employees should be able to take management decisions, including financial decisions. In other words, ‘lower level’ must go higher.
Obviously, with great power comes great responsibility.
An organization who aims for customer intimacy would have to have a careful recruitment procedure and test for customer interaction preconceptions. A longer training period should be involved, including shadowing of experienced employees and learning about how to use the higher power to achieve ultimate customer satisfaction.
With such organizational changes some departments need to be enlarged, others will lose their significance. Employee evaluation cannot be time-bound or financially-bound. Trainings, workshops, simulations and other education sessions must become a regular event to teach employees how to deal with atypical situations.
Once the organizational structure has been adapted to the strategy of customer intimacy, next comes the product development process.
From conceptualizing the product type and purpose, to designing its features and form, to coming up with its appearance and presentation, and price, customer input must be the first element to factor in.
It sounds like common sense, but in practice, it is rare that customer opinion is actually acquired in advance. It takes resource and strategy to assure there is sufficient customer contribution.
Johnson & Johnson are a perfect example of an organization that does customer intimacy right. The company recognizes the power of the specialists that work directly with customers. In 1983 the president of Vistakon, a J&J company received a call from an employee in another subsidiary in Denmark saying that a local ophthalmologist had created disposable contact lenses that were a popular idea among customers.
Four years later, Vistakon had bought the rights over the products and were offering it to their clients. In less than 12 months of selling the product, Vistakon had surpassed serious competition, such as Bausch & Lomb, who never quite caught up on that market.
One rule of customer intimacy is to be able to engage the customer at all times – at all steps of the process towards making a purchase.
And the most important step in that process is the exact time of the purchase. A retail company that aims at customer intimacy must be ready to invest in the amount of available employees to all customers.
Beauty consultants at Sephora engage with customers and offer them free matching to their perfect colors, free makeup and even free makeover.
At Victoria secret, employees can help women chose the right size and style for their lingerie.
At Home Depot employees are encouraged to help customers find the best tools for their needs.
None of those interactions are based on the budget the customer will spend or the amount of time the interaction will take.
The employee’s only task is to build trust in the relationship with the customer.
Social media presence
More than 70% of customers who are satisfied with the customer service they have received on social media will recommend the brand to friends and family.
First, a brand must create their social media presence. Make sure your profile speaks about who you are. Then have dedicated employees who will take care of your profile’s content.
Diversify your releases into different types of content. Build your base. Encourage your existing customers to subscribe to your accounts and pay attention to your messages. Use incentives – games, prizes, discounts, etc.
And finally, and most importantly, engage with your customers. Be inviting. Be responsive regardless of whether you receive feedback about a product you shared, request for support with a product that is not performing as expected, or just a good review.
Make it a habit to strike a conversation with customers, who have just made a purchase, just left a comment, just followed you… Catch them while their attention is on you.
Do not use Social media as a support channel. Yes, it can be that, but it has to be more. React to negative AND positive feedback. The positive should prevail.
Now that your organization, your products, and your social media presence are all tailored to the strategy of customer intimacy, you have gathered data for personal stories.
Sharing case studies is a perfect way to tell your entire customer base the news – you care about them and your main goal is to help them individually to solve their problems via your product and to help them make their life better. Spend the time on the project.
Create the habit to ask your customer care employees for top contacts they have good relationships with. Carefully reach out to ask those customers to help you share the good word of the progress of your exchange. Create the narrative together. Give the customer control over the final message but keep the focus on that customer satisfaction is intrinsic to the identity of your company.
Diversify your stories. Make sure personalized product development, the helpful consultants, the support that goes the extra mile… all have their place under the spotlight. There is not one hero.
Share your stories.
Personalized offering and advertising
You have built the ground. Now create more exposure around your product.
As the next step in customer intimacy, make sure the product you have carefully built to answer to every need to your customer actually reaches them.
Target uses behavioral research to analyze its customers shopping lists and learn about its customers habits. Since habits form 45% of the decision making, Target adapts its offering depending on predictive analysis. It gives an opportunity to offer holiday discounts, tailor their offers to new parents or children, to football fans, to pet owners…
Coca cola created the “Share a Coke” campaign to reach out to millennials, printing more than 800 names, popular for their generation, on the label. Cola later continues the same strategy with printing popular vacation destinations, just to remind the customers Coca Cola is the taste of summer. In order to determine what is popular, the company worked with user-generated content – users were encouraged to give proposals to a simple online database. It does not get more personal than designing your own label with the company that invented marketing.
Check what it takes:
When you have built a healthy relationship with your customer base, all you need is to expand it.
Events will give you a way to connect with your customers in person. An event can take different forms, but the essence of it is to involve interaction. Encourage your customers to bring a friend or a relative.
A part of the newcomers are guaranteed to receive a recommendation of the product or service you are offering. And to pay it forward.
Salesforce has reached an 80% rate of closing on new prospects from those who attended one of their city tour events.
A customer meetup is a good way to involve customers in your company culture and strengthen your connection. Invest in a meetup in different location – another city for example – and with that introduce diversity in your meetings, so you can gain a loyal gathering.
Host lunches, brunches and dinners for your new product releases. Offer free samples or presentations.
DON’T-DO-ITS OF CUSTOMER INTIMACY
Every company can reorganize its strategy to achieve customer intimacy. The above segment goes extensively through the 7-step process to adapt your organization to build better relationship with your customer, to strengthen it, to nourish it long-term and to expand your customer base word-of-mouth.
Every company is compatible with the strategy, but not every customer is.
Educate your employees to know when in-person customer intimacy is too much. Usually loyal customers know what they want.
A regular customer will not be happy if he or she is constantly asked about how they can be helped during their shopping.
And their body language and actions will show it.
Some customers will respond well if you ask them to meet in person to discuss their needs, to offer them exclusive pricelists and show them personal attention. Some will not. Your requests for a meeting in person cannot be repetitive and insistent.
Create a strategy to discuss with your customers how involved they want you to be at first contact and carefully keep record of their wishes. Your sales representative being insistent on a get-together will lose customers for you.
Offer different levels of engagement especially when said engagement involves automated processing. A great example would be your newsletter. Some customers may develop tolerance towards your constant reaching out, or even full-on rage.
It is a legal requirement that a customer is able to unsubscribe from being contacted. Don’t do the small print stunt. Allow the user to cancel. It is their right.
HOW CUSTOMER INTIMACY HELPS BOOST SALES
When a brand has reached true customer intimacy, the customer feels more confident in each and every step of their purchase:
Choosing against the competition
If you have gone through all steps listed in the first segment of this article, your fame will speak for you. You have empowered your employees to take management level decisions to make customers happy.
You have created and told the stories of satisfied customers and have shared them on your social media. You are engaging with users in different platforms. You are getting a great overall exposure.
Amazon is definitely a successful business model, but it has been under fire from relentless competition from the Chinese market. One of the factors that recently contributed to a boost in its popularity is the personal involvement from its CEO Jeff Bezos. The chief executive has announced that he takes care that issues sent to him on his personal email @amazon.com are ultimately resolved.
“The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. (…) We talk about it, customer obsession, as opposed to competitor obsession (…) If your whole culture is competitor-obsessed, it’s hard to stay motivated if you are out in front. Whereas customers are also unsatisfied, always discontent, always want more. So no matter how far you get in front of competitors, you are still behind your customers. They are always pulling you along,”
Choosing between diversity of products
Consultation during purchase can be priceless.
When the customer is matched to the right product that has several positive consequences for your brands.
- Higher customer satisfaction. Immediately the customer is more likely to return.
- Satisfaction with employee interaction increases the chance that the customer recommends the product or service to a friend or a relative.
- A customer is likely to share information about themselves – do not lose that information. Train your employees to report and process that data for product development.
- A customer is likely to share information about the competition. They have done their research and can tell you what they could not find with your competitor, or why sometimes they prefer them. Do not lose that data either.
Customer experience – using the product
When the user has a closer relationship with the seller, they trust they are using the best products.
Using a new shampoo, the customer will give it more time to see the better effects. Going to a hotel from a trusted chain, the customer will have better relationship with the staff.
Experiencing a digital service, the user will be more confident in its features.
When it comes to the digital, confidence is particularly important, because there are aspects of the service the customer cannot experience first-hand – the security measures in the code, for example.
When the customer trusts the brand and believes they have been recommended the right product their cooperation when they need support will be more productive.
If you ask any support representative they will tell you the worst aspect of their job is dealing with unhappy customers. Good customer-support relationship, all else aside, will improve employee retention.
Long-term support representatives and experienced employees overall can offer deep-level support for additional pricing.
A customer, loyal to the brand, will be more likely to use those services and bring additional profits to the company – they will be more trusting of the competence of the support to resolve the issue, and that the situation actually requires the extra time they are paying for.
In the digital age the customer has quick and fast access to the opinions and experiences of their peers.
The message that comes from the brand’s website, their advertising and even their social media loses its meaning when they can see the average rating of the brand or the product and compare it to the competition with a few clicks.
We can check product rating over multiple platforms. Every star in the rating matters – when the customer filters out the products by rating, they will only click on the first result.
When it comes to online reviews, customers are more likely to share their experience if they are unhappy. Your customer intimacy strategy can switch this imbalance in your favor.
When you have a personal relationship with your customer they will feel personally invested in the success of your company. They will take it on themselves to recommend, to like, to share your content, to get their friends and family to try and receive impeccable customer treatment.
Your good reviews will swamp the bad reviews. Your ratings will hit the rooftop and with that come sales.
Subscription for product
If your advertisement is good and your interpersonal experience during the sale is satisfactory, if your price is right, you may get a user to purchase your product once.
But if your product has been created, tailored to the customer needs, if your consultants have made sure have recommended the correct product, if the relationship with support is flawless, you have true customer intimacy. And customer intimacy creates, in various ways, subscription.
If a customer has purchased the wrong shade of foundation for her skin color at a drugstore, they will only purchase the product once, even if they do not return it. If a beauty consultant at Sephora has matched her to the right shade and got personal with the customer, they will purchase the foundation between six and twelve times a year, and then maybe a lipstick and a night cream, and a mascara…
Subscription mentality can increase your yearly sales from one customer between five and twenty times.
Increased loyalty is the ultimate goal of any organization that needs to boost its sales. Because now it does not just involve rational choice. It involves passion for a brand that you believe in.
Increased loyalty in one customer increases their budget to spend with that brand. They will do repetitive sales of the same products and variations or entire collections including said product.
They will recommend the brand to friends and family, and to strangers, via social media and online ratings and reviews.
They will fight for the image of the brand and will be forgiving during times of public relations disasters.
They will feel personally involved with the success of the organization.
Many organizations will tell you they have an impeccable relationship with their customers.
‘Yes, we tailor our products to what our customers need.’
’Yes, we truly listen to customer feedback.’
’Yes, we have high levels of customer satisfaction.’
’Yes, our customer support truly goes out of their way to work on your issue.’
Unfortunately, more often than not it is a lie, or, at best, a delusion.
True customer intimacy requires organizational changes, investments in training and education, a shift in the balance of power between organizational levels.
And when, and only when, a company is performing on its strategy of customer intimacy and they do it right, customers feel personally invested in the brand.
They will never forget to reach for their favorite product, to recommend it to a friend, to subscribe to regular purchases online, to attend events and to contribute to the image of the brand.
And so, it is worth it.
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