I was seated in the middle seat of the first leg of a recent trip and wanted out. There wasn’t anything I could do to regain the armrests I had already lost to the folks on either side of me, but I was desperate to avoid the same situation on the second leg of my journey. Already on a plane and unable to pick up a phone and call, I tweeted at the airline with my flight information and asked if there were any seat upgrades on the second flight that were not middle seats. They replied within minutes, which was delightful. Their response, however, was not. They informed me that I could call them to learn more about upgrades. They informed me that I could call them to learn more about upgrades after they saw I was already on one of their planes. Huh? I ended up not being able to upgrade to a window or aisle seat by the time I landed, but my mood had shifted from frustrated to bewildered. Why would an airline ask me to turn off my cellular devices and also ask me to call them during my flight? It’s because they are struggling with customer intimacy.
Many brands are shifting their focus from 1-to-many support and to 1-to-1 message-based interactions as they develop their customer intimacy initiatives. In this blog, I am going to define customer intimacy, share what this looks like in the contact center, and provide examples of common customer intimacy pitfalls. Let’s dive in!
What is customer intimacy?
Tactically speaking, customer intimacy is segmenting and targeting markets precisely and subsequently tailoring specific (and relevant) offerings to individual segments. So what does this look like broadly speaking? Making decisions in customer interactions based on the customer’s lifetime value, not just the value of the current transaction.
Customer intimacy is rooted in fulfilling customer needs first and foremost. This means that marketing, sales, and customer service representatives must consider the entire customer experience and journey when engaging with their clients.
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So how was my missed upgrade opportunity a customer intimacy misstep? If the agent had taken into consideration that I was currently on their aircraft based on the information I provided, they might have offered a better alternative to calling. However, their focus was deflecting to phone channels for true support instead of providing needed information. By unsuccessfully resolving my issue, the airline missed out on the opportunity to charge me more for my ticket. Furthermore, they actually lowered my loyalty (especially since I know many airlines that provide actual customer service on social channels).
Overarching customer intimacy goals
Let’s talk about customer intimacy goals. The objective is pretty simple: When going to make a purchase, a customer will choose your brand based on a positive past experience. Familiar with Pavlov’s dogs? Customer intimacy is similar, but a lot more challenging. It’s a tough goal: To ensure your customer will be predisposed to have a favorable consideration of your brand.
Quick side story: When visiting Zappos.com HQ recently, I saw a letter written to a team member who had gone above and beyond helping the customer find a custom suit jacket for her husband. The impressive part of her story was that when the team member was unable to find a product that fit the customer’s description, they checked other retailers and eventually connected the customer with a local designer who was able to create the jacket as specified. The letter writer had sent a note to thank the team member and let Zappos.com know that she was “wowed” by their dedication to service and would continue to be a loyal customer for life based on that experience. Brands like Zappos.com and Nordstrom are often cited as leading examples of customer intimacy initiatives. These efforts have grown out of customer support and service teams, which leads us to our next section…
What does customer intimacy mean for the contact center?
At the heart of it, intimacy-driven customer support interactions move away from transactional one-off interactions and toward an “end to end” customer experience. Digital interactions create opportunities for magical moments.
Four common customer intimacy goals in the contact center
Maintain a focus on resolving the customer’s issue, not marketing or selling to them
Ever been on a support call with your bank in the MIDDLE of an issue when they offer you the “perfect credit card” for a spender like you? This kind of experience is one of my biggest pet peeves. Since customer intimacy hinges on the entire customer journey, you’re actually short-changing the lifetime value of your purchasers by pushing a product or up-sell before you have resolved their issue. Intimacy-driven initiatives are based on the idea that if you are successful in providing value to your customer, they will want to return.
Make sure the customer gets the right product or answer whether their transaction value is “59 cents or 59 dollars”
HBR provided this quote in an article about customer intimacy from 1993, and it still rings true today. When you are considering your customer’s journey and the multiple opportunities you have to engage with and sell to them throughout their lifetime, the total cost of one transaction pales in comparison. To maintain a focus on the customer is to set aside qualms about “small issues” that may seem trivial to your brand in favor of an improved customer lifetime experience.
Quantify and increase customer lifetime value and customer loyalty
Though it can be a challenge, intimacy-driven programs maintain a focus on metrics. They understand the individual customer lifetime value to the brand. They know how to best segment customers for marketing and for support (and they know these segments aren’t always the same for marketing and support). They encourage loyalty through superior products, customer experience, and service. They quantify customer behavior patterns and track trends over time. They do all this with improving the customer experience in mind.
Build personal and emotional connections with customers during service interactions
Here’s where the word “intimacy” really comes into play. When brands can establish a connection that is both personal and emotional with a customer, they are creating a magical experience that is not soon forgotten. The digital messaging in the contact center is a great way of gathering customer information, keeping up with purchase and interaction history, and creating moments of “surprise and delight.” Zappos.com has built an entire company on the premise of being a service organization (one that just happens to sell shoes, apparel, and accessories). They are a shining example of a brand driven by creating personal and emotional connections.
Common customer intimacy pitfalls
Trying to up-sell before the customer’s issue has been resolved
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a time and a place for selling and it is not in the middle of solving a customer issue. Focus first on the question or problem at hand before trying to up-sell a customer.
Over-engaging with customers
Be aware of how frequently you are in touch with your customers – establish clear communication between your marketing and customer service teams. We’ve got some best practices for bridging that gap that here!
Faking it or being “extra” with customers on social media
Let’s be honest with ourselves – we can tell when a brand is faking it when it comes to customer service. Your customers want an effortless experience more than they want to hear a customer service rep’s life story. So while it is important to create personal connections, don’t do this at the expense of resolving issues.
Confusing marketing and customer support customer segments
I mentioned this issue earlier, so allow me to explain more how this segmentation differs. From a marketing and sales perspective, customers may be segmented by demographic information. For support purposes, demographic information is helpful, but past purchase history is more valuable in helping you resolve issues quicker. Take stock of your current customer segments to make sure they are helpful throughout the customer journey, not just pre-sale.
Leaving customer support out of the customer intimacy initiatives
A pitfall that is painful to both customers and employees is forgetting to include customer support teams in customer intimacy efforts. Brands like bodybuilding.com are examples of organizations that have a focus on customer intimacy throughout several teams and in all aspects of the customer journey.
Not being solution-oriented during interactions
At the end of the day, the foundation of customer intimacy is fulfilling customer needs. Each interaction must be solution-oriented and tailored to that customer at that time. The good news is that this is a cultural approach, not an operational one, so you can begin to instill these beliefs and principles to your customer support operations today.
Customer intimacy conversation starters
Want to bring intimacy to your customer efforts? Here are some great questions to ask your team to get a discussion going:
- What is the difference between profit or loss on an individual transaction for our brand?
- What is the customer lifetime value (potential profit over the lifetime of the customer)?
- What are we willing to do to make things right for our customers?
- Where do we sacrifice customer experience in order to meet our current goals?
- How can we tailor our support to meet the needs of individuals?
- Are we communicating clearly with sales and marketing teams?
- What is our customer journey?
- Do we have the platforms and solutions to bring customer intimacy to our contact center?
- How does our leadership demonstrate a customer-first approach?
- Are we truly solution-oriented when engaging with customers on social media and messaging channels?
Customer intimacy on social media and digital messaging apps
Your customers have been having a conversation with and about you for longer than you have been part of it. The advent of social media and messaging apps have allowed brands to participate for the first time. As you join in on more conversations, keep a focus on authenticity. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun!
We’ve got your back
One thing I love about working with our partners at Sparkcentral is how hands-on we get to be in helping shape these initiatives. By ensuring our partners are equipped with a platform setup to meet their goals and provide effortless customer interactions, we get to play a part in their customer intimacy initiatives. If you have more questions about how to get started or would like to learn more about how Sparkcentral can provide a workflow built for intimacy-drive digital care teams, send us a message!