If your organization is on a journey to becoming more customer-centric, then it might be time to take the leap toward customer intimacy. Often defined as a means to support marketing, customer intimacy is the practice of getting closer to your customer so you can communicate with them more effectively. But what if we switched the perspective from simply a marketing strategy to a true closeness and ongoing conversation between customers and internal stakeholders?
So much of the customer programs developed today focus on “listening,” but this can fall short of truly transformative thinking when you move beyond listening to engaging with customers. The great news is many organizations already have the resources available to achieve customer intimacy, and just need a shift in perspective on how to empower their teams to take advantage of this possibility.
A Pathway to Customer Intimacy: Online Communities
Online communities provide ready access to people that your teams care about. Many times, however, engagement often resorts to a simple ask/answer process, where your internal team identifies a knowledge gap, and research is conducted among the community to answer these questions. While this is a start, this model of engaging with customers is distanced and doesn’t allow for residual insights or compassionate learning to take shape. When you break down the barriers between internal stakeholders and customers, you enable a new reality to take shape, where stakeholders:
- Connect with customers on a holistic level
- Develop intuition and anticipation of customer wants and needs
- Become better stewards (or even active advocates) of the customer
- Seek the customer perspective with enthusiasm
Practical Strategies to Advance Customer Intimacy
Taking a generalized effort where “everyone needs customer intimacy” is likely too big of a leap but uncovering high impact efforts to drive this forward opens the door for impact – in both short- and long-term ways. Consider avenues to create a more focused community initiative, tying customer intimacy directly to team processes and goals.
Three ways this can come to life include:
Brand Strategy: Before engaging an agency to redefine, reposition, or otherwise evolve your brand strategy, consider the opportunity to infuse the customer perspective throughout the process.
- Immerse in the connections customers have with your brand (and competitive brands)
- Explore needs and opportunities for greater market differentiation
- Gain in-the-moment reaction to creative (from value proposition to positioning statement to marketing collateral)
Innovation: With the agile and iterative nature of innovation, taking time out to conduct research can be constraining. With a ready sample of customers engaged and ready to be involved, this barrier is removed.
- Gain empathy through immersive and longitudinal discoveries
- Translate trends to customer lifestyles
- Co-create solutions
- Test and iterate ideas for market success
Customer Experience: While traditional listening systems tell us the “what,” pairing with an online community can tell us the “why.”
- Gain touchpoint specific feedback and user experience to drive improvement
- Explore competitive experiences to bolster opportunities for differentiation
- Solve ongoing pain points along the experience to drive structural evolution
When shifting towards customer intimacy, consider avenues that let the customer in on what you are trying to accomplish, treating them as a true stakeholder within the organization. This doesn’t replace valuable research opportunities, however, instead the goal is to ensure the customer is integrated into decisions in ways they currently aren’t given timing and resource constraints. The next time you’re engaging with your team, explore how intimately they know their customer, and if it’s time to advance your commitment to customer centricity through customer intimacy.