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Customer Intimacy

June 13, 2011

One of my first school friends, Frank, left school at 16 and set up his own cycle shop in Burnley. He was bike mad, which in hilly East Lancashire, was a challenge! Today,  thirty-three years later, I still see him every week, and he still runs his bike shop. For every bike he fixes, he charges by the hour, and even a small job takes an hour, but he does his best. Then he spends five extra minutes doing something special.

During that first hour, Frank is a fine cycle mechanic, He pays attention to the detail and does stuff you see in every bike shop around the country. He is careful, focused and diligent. He’s happy in his work, and like a thousand other bike mechanics, he gets the job done. In the last five minutes though, Frank transforms himself from a workman into an artist. In those few extra minutes, he becomes remarkable, and memorable for his customers. Sometimes all he does is carefully clean the chain, other times he’ll take the bike out to the street and ensure the gears are adjusted properly, and sometimes, especially if the bike is for a child, he’ll attach a horn, a water bottle or give some frame transfers – anything worth noticing – and give it for free. He’ll also spend just a couple of minutes with his customer telling them what he’s done for them, an amusing tale about his biking exploits in Europe, or recommend some good cycle routes. When the customer leaves the shop, it’s been a memorable experience, even for something as simple as getting your bike repaired.

The astonishing thing isn’t how unusual Frank is, the astonishing thing is how easy it is to do what Frank does, and how most people don’t do it. It doesn’t matter what your job is, those last five minutes make it easy for your customer to find the difference between you and every one else. It takes 99% of the time you spend just to be average. The remarkable stuff can happen in 1% of your time – in a flash.

Frank is authentic, sincere and filled with humility. He bothers to spend time, and in return, builds customer intimacy and trust. Franks’ customers demand great value as a result of price competition from major organisations such as Asda, Tesco and Halfords, but he wins based on the customer’s experience – his business ethos is all about the needs of individual customers. His relationship based approach, where the depth and strength of individual consumer interaction is the key to long-term sustainability, growth and profit, is based on the concepts of Customer TouchPoints and Service Personality.

Customer TouchPoints are defined as the physical, communication and human interactions that a customer experiences over their relationship with a business. For example, the TouchPoints regarding a hotel visit: the online booking system, was it user-friendly? The check-in process – was it effective and welcoming? Was the room allocated per your reservation? Was the concierge service helpful? All ‘critical non-essentials’ to the product purchased – accommodation – but they determine the overall experience, and your decision to revisit and repeat purchase, and also pass on your experience by word of mouth, the best marketing for any SME.

TouchPoints encourage a business to develop a Service Personality that can be recognised instantly – ‘the way we do business’ and the style of customer interaction. This helps a business to focus on its ‘moments of truth’ – those points where the customer decides if the service personality has delivered on its promise and met or exceeded expectations. This creates trust, and the final element to growing revenues – Customer Intimacy, creating a meaningful long-term relationship which builds loyalty and repeat business from advocates. It gives a business the opportunity to know, in detail, what their customers want and how to treat them, offering personalised products and services based on knowledge of them as individuals.The growth of online interactivity and self-service, and ease of use have had a huge impact on customer intimacy – Frank now has to compete with online retailers some 20% than his sharpest price – but it’s the face-to-face interaction and customer intimacy that delivers value.

Here’s another great example of customer intimacy.

A man wrote a letter to a small bed & breakfast hotel in Llandudno where he planned to visit on his holidays. He wrote: I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well-groomed and very well-behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night? An immediate reply came from the hotel owner, who said: I’ve been operating this hotel for many years. In all that time, I’ve never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes or silverware or pictures off the wall. I’ve never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly. And I’ve never had a dog run out without paying a hotel bill. Yes, indeed, your dog is welcome at my hotel. And, if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome to stay here too.

Two simple businesses, two examples of Touching a Customer, making the customer experience unique and memorable from all the competition.

So, put Customer Intimacy at the heart of your business and follow three simple rules: Deliver on the promise; Go the extra mile; Make it personal. It’ll make you different and captivate your customers.

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