Customer Intimacy Doesn’t Scale


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After twenty five plus years of CRM, is there any other possible conclusion to be reached? And for that matter, as Esteban Kolsky challenged me last week when I tweeted this statement, does customer intimacy even exist? Or should it?

Now don’t get me wrong, we see all around us countless examples of great customer experience (and no, I’m not talking about this). My friend Stan Phelps is on a wonderful mission to find random acts of marketing and customer service lagniappe. And he’s found plenty.

But none of that has anything to do with intimacy. Nowhere in the definition is the mention of the word “customer”. And my point is further exemplified when you compare these descriptions of intimacy with the watered-down, tepid description of customer intimacy here.

Asking Esteban’s indulgence for a moment here, lets assume it actually does exist. It exists at my corner antique book store. It does not exist on Amazon (sorry Amazon. I dig you. But its true). It exists at my local hardware and feed supply store (yes, I live in a place where feed supplies are still in demand). It does not exist at Lowes. And it exists at my favorite bakery where the owner knows the personal details of every occasion for which I’ve ordered one of their totally decadent chocolate three layer cakes. At the bakery counter of Wegmans? Not so much.

Think about it. I chose to call out these big companies intentionally. They happen to be some of my favorite companies with which to do business. And, all of them deliver a pretty darn good customer experience.

But, are we intimate? It’s just not possible. Intimacy doesn’t scale.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Barry Dalton
Telerx Marketing
Consumed by the pursuit of delightful service. Into all things customer loyalty and technology. My current mission is developing new service channels and the vision of the contact center of the future.


  1. Barry,

    Here is the definition of intimacy according to the Free Dictionary:

    A close or warm friendship or understanding; personal relationship.

    I agree that it is extremely difficult or near impossible to scale intimacy. However, I believe you can incorporate signature extras or personal touches into the customer experience. These little things can move you beyond a mere transactional business model. They are signs that show you care about the relationship.

    Here are some examples:
    * Four Seasons – walking around the counter to hand you your key
    * Les Schwab Tire – they run up to your car to greet you when you pull in for service.
    * Mitchell’s – handwritten ‘thank you’ notes
    * Zappos – recommending up to 3 competitors when out of stock on an item
    * Capital Grille – servers hand out business cards to customers and record preferences for personalized service on future visits

    All of these extras are enblematic of a close or warm friendship. Going above and beyond the transaction to demonstrate you care. Differentiation via added value.

    Even if intimacy isn’t realistic at scale, it should still be the goal.


    ‘The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing . . . is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer.”

  2. In some ways, you can argue that the robust record-keeping and technology of bigger organizations can actually help create intimacy. For example, while I might love my local bookstore, if the person behind the counter can’t remember my preferences they don’t really feel connected to me. Amazon, for example, always knows what I might like!

    I think the next wave is a combination of the two ideas. Hmm…that might be a post for me. Great discussion, Barry!

  3. I wanted to agree with your post so much, but Stan made some good points. I think what it comes down to is a large company has to focus on the little touches, as it makes many customers feel like they are getting the intimacy they appreciate in smaller companies. The key for a company to be successful at this, though, is they have to make it a priority, a core of their company values. Looking at the list Stan shared, I’d say all those companies have done just that and because of it, have a great customer service reputation.


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