Customer Intimacy: Worth the Investment to Create Fans

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Three best practices for using high-touch interactions to monetize customer intimacy

Businesses are changing their approach to the customer experience. According to a recent Accenture survey, customer service is the first area where businesses are planning to increase funding when the economy recovers. Why? Done right, creating customer "fanatics" can increase sales and help organizations gain market share.

Customer intimacy as a value discipline

When properly executed, any company's customer service can be a growth engine. And in our current do-more-with-less economic environment, that is a very attractive business proposition.

In The Discipline of Market Leaders, author Michael Treacy advances the concept that corporate success can be achieved by focusing on one of three "value disciplines":

  1. Operational excellence-delivering reliable products/services at competitive prices.
  2. Product leadership-providing products that continually redefine the industry.
  3. Customer intimacy- delivering what specific customers want.

Although a company needs to be good at all three value disciplines, selecting one of these values to excel at can help a company strategically focus to maximize its growth. For example, Wal-Mart has cornered the retail market on delivering reliable products at competitive prices. At the same time, Apple has little regard for competitive pricing, but it owns the market in product innovation.

However, the last value discipline, customer intimacy, is the strongest tenet that will serve as a growth engine in the economic recovery. Customer intimacy takes more than simply delivering an exceptional product or service; it requires superior installation and constant one-to-one support to turn customers into fans-and, ultimately, fans into referrals.

Creating a culture of referrals

Nearly two thirds of customers say they end a relationship based on poor service, and 61 percent of the time these lost customers take their business to a competitor, according to a recent report from Genesys. We have seen firsthand the benefits of putting the right customer experience program in place as a way to engineer real customer loyalty, which reduces customer churn and, in turn, drives growth.

To create fanatical customers who are willing to refer you to others, here are a few strategies that are best practices for anyone seeking to monetize customer intimacy:

  1. Execute on regular customer surveys - While this seems to be a simple strategy that any business school graduate might recommend, it is one that all too often gets pushed into the "we'll do that later" column. Having the discipline to do regular customer surveys is only half the battle; a company must read every single piece of feedback and take action. If a customer is willing to take the time to tell you what you are doing right or what needs work, you better read it and make necessary changes.
  2. Consider the human touch - Although many technology-driven organizations use tools like IVR, support portals and online chat, nothing can put a "face" on an organization like one-to-one human interaction. Assigning customers a single point-of-contact from installation onward to monitor service and support will pay for itself time and time again.
  3. Implement employee incentives - If you're committed to the value discipline of "customer intimacy," everyone in your organization needs to have some skin in the game. The best way to do that is to tie internal incentive compensation to customer satisfaction levels. Such a move ensures that everyone is aligned on the company's customer commitment.

Applying these three best practices gives any organization the tactics needed to continually listen to customers and permits them to put strategies in place that will create a culture of referrals-a level of service so good that your customers will want to tell everyone about you.

As the business outlook continues to improve, there is no doubt that many companies will seek to use stellar customer service to grow their businesses. By focusing on customer intimacy as a value discipline and putting the right customer experience programs in place, a culture of referrals can provide significant growth. Simply put, high-touch customer interaction is worth the investment if you are serious about creating fans.

+ + + + + + + + +

About the Author: Brent Cobb is Chief Revenue and Customer Officer for Cbeyond.