Nobody wants to admit it, but every organization has its share of customer relationships that go south.
We’ve spent time analyzing ours, examining them to find trends. In each one, there is 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 and apps and designs, but what we sell is trust. And 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.
Obvious Takeaway: Don’t lose trust.
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, 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 know-know-know that I don't to have 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. "
I submit: It goes beyond that. 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.
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 that prioritize customers.
- Customer meetings and engagements take priority over anything else.
- When a customer calls, we answer. Every time. No exceptions.
- We work our customers’ hours, whenever possible — not letting timezones be an issue.
Listen more and ask dumb questions. Admit they are dumb questions.
- 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.
- 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.
Assign a team that best aligns with the 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.
- 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.
Admit your faults
- 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 happen. So, be ready to admit them. This makes your organization and the individuals in it 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.
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.
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.
Customer Intimacy is foundational for good customer partnerships. And 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.