Nobody wants to admit they've done it, but any organization that has neglected to foster and maintain customer intimacy can often cause important and established customer relationships to go south.
Table of Contents:
- Importance of Building Trust in Customers
- Operational Practices: Prioritizing Customers
- Active Listening and Humility: Building Customer Trust
- Create Team Alignment for Maximum Customer Retention
- Transparency and Humility in Admitting Faults
- Understanding Your Customer's Customer
- Building Trust Through Personal Connections
- Conclusion: Building Customer Intimacy for Stronger Partnerships
Importance of Building Trust in Customers
We’ve spent time analyzing our customer relationships, examining them to find trends. A few haven't gone well. In each of those, there was an inflection point; some specific and discernible point in which trust was lost and became unrecoverable. This realization is one that helped us to understand something critical: What we sell is trust. Sure, our currency is hours, apps, and designs, but what we sell is trust. If we lose that trust, then we have failed to deliver on our promise.
Trust is hard. When you lose a little, it takes something like 10x more effort to regain the ground that has been lost than it would have to just not lose it in the first place.
The Impact of Intimacy on Trust and Customer Retention
There often occurs some event when the trust that has been built gets tested. Whether the trust survives that test is dependent on a number of things, but most prominently, it depends on the level of intimacy in the relationship. Strong, intimate relationships can endure grievous errors. Intimacy is what turns the possibility of trouble on its head.
Customer intimacy goes beyond simple trust. I can trust someone to make good design or technical decisions and to be an expert in their field. I can trust them to get things done on time and on budget. But intimacy is what allows that trust to be implicit. I can absolutely 100% know that I don't have to worry that a decision or timeline is right. It is the foundation upon which trust is built and maintained; it allows the whole unit to make decisions quickly and move on.
An economist would say that Customer Intimacy is "...segmenting and targeting markets precisely and then tailoring offerings to match exactly the demands of those niches. " “Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, https://hbr.org/1993/01/customer-intimacy-and-other-value-disciplines.
Establishing Deep Connections with Customers for Business Growth
I submit: It goes beyond that economist's idea. It is a business’s ability to be more than just a vendor or a trusted resource; it is the deep and abiding connection between two organizations whose values and practices align to build a greater whole than either of the separate parts could ever be. People want to be seen and brought into other people’s circles. Do that.
By focusing on establishing these deep connections, businesses can not only retain customers but also create a network of loyal advocates who can drive growth and profitability through positive word-of-mouth referrals. These loyal advocates can also provide valuable feedback and insights that can help businesses improve their offerings and services, further strengthening the relationship between the two organizations. Additionally, by prioritizing customer intimacy, businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors and create a competitive advantage that can lead to long-term success.
In striving to have intimacy with our customers and partners, Anthroware has several DNA-level values and reinforces those values as often as possible.
Operational Practices: Prioritizing Customers
Here are some operational practices that businesses can adopt to prioritize their customers and build intimacy, thereby enhancing customer retention. These practices include prioritizing customer meetings and engagements, listening to customers, assigning teams that align with customers' values and priorities, and admitting faults to create alignment and build trust.
Customer Meetings and Engagements Take Priority Over Anything Else
In order to prioritize customers and build deep relationships, businesses need to place customer meetings and engagements at the top of their list. This means that customer needs come first and that their requests should be addressed as soon as possible, even if it means putting other tasks on hold. By making customers feel valued and heard, businesses can build trust and loyalty, which can lead to long-term relationships and repeat business. Additionally, prioritizing customer meetings and engagements can help businesses gain a deeper understanding of their customers' needs and pain points, which can inform product and service development and lead to greater customer satisfaction.
When a Customer Calls, We Answer. Every Time. No Exceptions.
By setting up seamless channels of communication for our customer retention strategy, we can make our customers feel valued and heard, and help them resolve any issues or concerns they may have in a timely manner. We must always be available to assist our customers, as this can make a huge difference in their experience with our business. Even if we are busy or have other tasks to complete, answering customer calls should always take priority. By providing exceptional customer service and being there for our customers when they need us, we can build strong relationships and earn their loyalty.
We Work Our Customers’ Hours. Time Zones Aren't an Issue.
We understand that our client's time is precious. We work to ensure that their schedules and work hours are respected throughout the entire project process. Our team is flexible and adaptable to accommodate any time zone differences to ensure that our client's needs are met in a timely and efficient manner. Whether it requires working late hours or early mornings, we are dedicated to working our clients’ hours and making time zones a non-issue for them. This level of commitment helps to build trust and strengthens our relationship with our clients, ensuring their satisfaction with our services.
Active Listening and Humility: Building Customer Trust
Listen more and ask dumb questions. Admit they are dumb questions. To build intimacy with customers, it's important to practice active listening and show humility in our interactions. By admitting when we don't know something and asking thoughtful questions, we can gain a better understanding of our customer's needs and become better equipped to serve them. This approach demonstrates respect for their expertise and helps to establish a foundation of trust over time.
Our Customers Are the Masters of Their Domain
Our customers are the masters of their domain. They are the subject matter experts, not us. If we’re going to know how to do what they need us to do, we need to listen more, opine less, and tons of questions. By truly listening to our customers, we gain a deeper understanding of their unique needs and challenges, which allows us to tailor our solutions accordingly. Asking thoughtful questions not only demonstrates our commitment to their success but also helps to foster a collaborative partnership.
People Don't Like When They're Told What To Do
They hire us for a reason, so we shore up that reason by respecting them enough to listen first, then explain our thinking and win their trust. Over time, this creates intimacy. By showing respect and listening to the customer's needs, we can better understand their perspective and build a strong relationship based on mutual trust. This approach can also lead to more effective problem-solving and better outcomes for the customer.
Create Team Alignment for Maximum Customer Retention
Aligning team values and priorities with customers helps create a deep sense of intimacy between the two organizations. Having diverse teams allows you to staff a client with people whose outlook aligns with your customer’s outlook. Assigning the right team to a project ensures that the customer's operational tendencies are met, leading to the best possible outcome. Creating alignment at every step is crucial for building trust, maintaining intimacy, and ensuring maximum customer retention.
Assign a Team That Aligns With Customer’s Values and Priorities
Hire team members with diverse backgrounds and worldviews. No two customers are 100% alike, and so having diverse teams allows you to staff a client with people whose outlook aligns with your customer’s outlook. Having a team with diverse backgrounds and worldviews not only allows for better alignment with the customer's outlook but also enables more creative problem-solving and innovation. It promotes an inclusive and welcoming culture that values different perspectives and experiences.
Operationally, No Two Projects Are Alike
Every engagement has its own flavor. This is an important point. Assign the team that best fits the operational tendencies of the customer counterparts. E.g., If the project has a lot of unknowns, then assign team members who are not daunted by unknowns and chaos and can flourish in it. If the product is well-defined and has a tight budget, then assign a team who works best in that way. Create alignment at every step.
Transparency and Humility in Admitting Faults
Being transparent and admitting mistakes not only helps to build trust with customers but also allows for growth and improvement within the organization. By acknowledging faults and taking steps to correct them, a company can show a commitment to constantly improving its processes and services.
Positioning For Humility: Trust and Understanding
Starting from a position of humility builds trust and understanding. This means that, at every level of the organization, team members have to be willing to admit faults, correct bad decisions, and learn from them. Of course, we work to minimize bad decisions, but they can still happen. So, be ready to admit them. This makes your organization and the individuals in it feel more human and approachable. Bonus: It puts everyone (Customer and Vendor alike) on the same side; there is no Us vs. Them; it is one cohesive team.
Understanding Your Customer's Customer
To truly understand and meet your customer's needs, it is important to have a deep understanding of their customers as well. By understanding their customer's goals, pain points, and journey, you can align your own solutions and offerings to better serve them.
Be Hyper-Focused On Your Customer’s Customer.
Customers need to know that you understand what they're doing and why they do what they do. Thus, we need to understand our customer’s customer. You’re helping your customer take their customer on a journey, and you can’t take a journey without knowing the starting point, ending point, and the landscape in between. Understanding your customer's customer requires a deep dive into their needs, values, and priorities. It's important to gather insights and feedback directly from them to ensure that the journey you're taking them on aligns with their expectations and goals.
Building Trust Through Personal Connections
Personal connections are an essential aspect of building trust with customers. When customers feel seen, heard, and understood on a personal level, they are more likely to trust and invest in the partnership. Taking the time to establish and nurture personal connections also demonstrates a commitment to long-term relationships, rather than short-term gains.
Let Them Into Your Life
Somewhere in Peoria, IL, there was a whiteboard with “Why is peas?” written on it. This was written there in Spring 2019 after my toddler son asked me that question during dinner. I told my customer about it during a team meeting. We all laughed and threw out a few possible answers, all ridiculous. The question made it onto their open whiteboard and started getting responses from all kinds of people who I will never meet.
We need to let our guard down in front of our customers. They already know that we offer something they need—they don’t need us to shove that down their throats. People want to be seen and brought into other people’s circles. Do that.
Conclusion: Building Customer Intimacy for Stronger Partnerships
Customer intimacy is not just a buzzword, but rather a powerful tool to build long-lasting and meaningful relationships with customers. By focusing on their needs and building trust through personal connections, companies can create a loyal customer base that will support them through thick and thin. In today's competitive market, customer intimacy is more important than ever, and those who prioritize it will undoubtedly reap the benefits.
Like all intimate relationships, it takes work, commitment, and a deep understanding of your customer’s needs, values, and goals. It takes letting them into your life, and treating them like individuals with intrinsic value and not just cash cows. Thus, when trust gets tested, it has the footing to pass the test. Customer intimacy is foundational for good customer partnerships.