Building Customer Intimacy at Scale: Transforming Customer Experience for Long-Term Play

Building Customer Intimacy

The fastest-growing companies that are dominating and winning the market today — like Apple, Amazon, FedEx, Google, Netflix, Verizon, Warby Parker — all have one thing in common: their ability to deliver not just a reliable and quality service across touchpoints; but also giving customers the personalized attention they need to feel emotionally connected. Thus building long-term relationships by better anticipating, understanding, and meeting core pain points of their customers. They understand the needs and value expectations of the individual customer by empowering employees to deliver accountable actions while safeguarding customer centricity at scale.

If your company is scaling, as a hyper-growth company you realize that as the sales multiply, so do the rising influx of customer inquiries, change requests and support issues. You may also encounter a steep rise in employee count; increased expenses; and miscommunication between stakeholders. While being customer-centric early on helped with a strong start, if you lose that focus it can derail your previously successful business as you grow. Customer intimacy as a ten-person company serving 100 customers is different from a thousand-person company serving 100,000 customers.

Building Customer Intimacy

Currently, the strategy for scaling customer experience (CX) goes in two opposite directions. The first is transactional, where scale means eliminating friction, including price and improving conversion rates. The second is relational, where you are expected to offer superior value by minimizing the gap between the needs and wants of customers and what they presently experience and what you want them to experience.

I am not agnostic here; but my bias is towards blending both approaches to build a flexible and digitally transformed organization, to be better equipped to adapt to the dynamic nature of modern business. The way I see it, the key to any successful scaling of CX is to learn the right lessons from day-to-day interactions with customers by the business and be inclined to rethink how you meet your customers’ wants and needs.

However, building a long-term customer relationship comes with a cost. It starts with a deeper understanding of the fundamental needs & wants of customers to determine what an outstanding end-to-end experience for them should look like. The more significant the relationship and degree of an exceptional experience, the greater that cost. However, it should be considered as an “opportunity cost” or an “investment,” as failing to meet customer expectations can impact customer retention and repurchase behaviours and can dwarf the out-of-pocket cost of providing a great one. Nonetheless, exceeding customer expectations can negatively impact profit margins with higher operating costs.

The relationship between CX and financial return is much more complex. If you are investing in CX, you need to ensure that the cost structures don’t become untenable. Hence, you need to arrive at the right balance between your customers’ expectations and understanding the value attached to it. The predictors of success include — predictable revenue, having diverse revenue streams, high customer retention rates, and creating a value ladder of products to offer to your customers.

According to Treacy and Wiersema in their book ‘The Discipline of Market Leaders ‘, a customer intimate organization doesn’t deliver what the market wants but go all-out to build a lasting personal relationship with its customers that involves loyalty, trust, by constantly tailoring its offerings to meet their exact needs and wants. It is a high-cost strategy, and risky, as it requires the buy-in across all levels in the organization to put the customer’s experience before the bottom line, while striving for operational excellence and product leadership to model the business for success.

Hence, when you scale and consciously promote a culture of customer intimacy, you need to put in place the right talent, strategies, systems, and metrics to build a shared understanding of customer needs among all team members. It helps to cope with an increased amount of workload, while increasing your efficiency effectively with automation and streamlined processes, thus ensuring the operating cost is low and employee creativity and productivity is high.

Is Customer Intimacy Right for Your Company?

Is Customer Intimacy Right for Your Company?

Altering your company’s culture isn’t cheap or easy. But it can create a more sustainable and profitable model if you are willing to transform and be future-ready. To decide whether it is for you, ask yourself the following six questions.

  • How do you and your customers perceive your products, customer service and brand? Is the distance between the stances, significantly huge?
  • Are you in a situation where you can’t reduce prices any further, and to survive you need to offer more value to customers?
  • Do your offerings meet the channel and interaction preferences of your customers?
  • Are you disappointed that you have access to plenty of data, but unable to use it to create meaningful change?
  • Are your social media efforts finding it difficult to get your brand’s message and voice heard and to build relationships?
  • Do you have adequate resources to back up your CX initiatives? Are you unsure of how to prove the “ROI” and hence deferring the much-needed investment?

If you answered “yes” to most or all the above, then kickstarting your journey to build customer intimacy at scale, maybe a solution.

Dr. Vidya Priya RaoDr. Vidya Priya Rao (PhD), is the Founder and Director of Innovatus Marketers Touchpoint LLP, a customer experience, design thinking and marketing consulting firm based in Mumbai, India. She is a design thinking/service design thinking decoder and promotes a proven approach to build a design-led innovation culture. She is also a visiting faculty at leading B-Schools in India. She is an Executive, Marketing & Sales Coach, Trainer, and Keynote Speaker.