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  • By Bryan Pearson
  • Sales and Service Excellence
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Customer Intimacy: Making the Leap to True Loyalty

Few events so clearly epitomize a nationwide conversion to brand intimacy as did the moment when consumers began referring to Target stores as Tar-Jay.

At that moment, Target’s image was transformed from that of a low-priced seller of detergent and T-shirts to a fashionable merchant that understood and delivered on the special demands of its shoppers—with flair, function and feasibility. In return, consumers elevated its brand equity with the chic moniker.

Target succeeded with an ingenious, almost magical, mix of merchandising, practicality, and marketing. But how did it get the formula just right? Today, we have access to the most advanced technological resources for identifying the purchasing patterns and lifestyles of our consumers. Yet for many, customer intimacy continues to be elusive.

Part of the reason may simply be a matter of perception. Don’t confuse repeat business with customer intimacy. Repeat business may be a result of various functions: location, price, service or product. But it also is likely being driven by routine, needs, and availability.

Intimacy, however, is when a customer chooses to stay with your brand, even when an equal or potentially better alternative is available.

The solution lies, naturally, in your management, strategies, employees, and vision. But the tool that puts these elements to work is customer information. Still, getting data to work for you can be an onerous task. Data processes that provide rich customer insights also contribute to privacy concerns, as well as competition from other companies.

Three Key Principles

Here are three principles you can use to achieve customer intimacy:

1. Build emotional loyalty. If customer intimacy is proof of commitment even in the face of competition, then loyalty, especially emotional loyalty, is the result of knowing what your best customers love about you and building on that.

For example, a shopper may say she is loyal to one supermarket because she stops there every week. But in reality, she may only shop there because it is on her way home from work. If a new superstore, perhaps Target, opened nearby, she would likely try it, and if she preferred the prices, selection and services, she would switch brands.

But. . . if the shopper has a relationship with the market’s pharmacist who greets her by name; the cashiers offer her coupons for products she purchases; and the market’s mailers recognize her shopping habits and create value via relevant product and special offers —then when the bigger store opens nearby, she chooses to stay with her market. This is emotional loyalty; and to retain customer intimacy, you need to nurture this elevated brand commitment.

2. Assure you are relevant to your customers. Beyond having the right products, prices and location, you need to resonate with you customers through a differentiated experience to achieve emotional loyalty.

Relevance represents the most powerful opportunity for building long-term, profitable relationships. It occurs when a company understands its best customers’ core interests, assigns value to them, and connects with its customers in a way that says, “I know who you are, and understand your needs.”

Achieving relevance is a daunting task. As channels of communication proliferate and compete, the only messages that rise above the noise are those that offer solutions to customer needs.

This takes knowing where the consumer is at a point in time, since location and immediate needs affect how marketing messages resonate. It also means understanding life stages—did he just move into a new house? And it requires knowing the customer’s personal interests and culture. You wouldn’t send the same message to a vegetarian theater buff as you would to a retired exec who just booked an African safari.

3. Use data responsibly. Having ground-level knowledge of your best customers requires advanced data processes, and great responsibility. When they share personal information, they enter into a value exchange; and they rightly expect something of worth in return.

We’ve all heard the complaints of orange juice drinkers who get offers for tomato juice, or cat owners who get coupons for dog food. You might as well tell your customers that you don’t want their business. If you expect the customer to share information and business with you, you need to give her something she values in return.

Also, be clear with your customers about what information you are collecting, why you are collecting it, and how you plan to use it. For consumers to trust you, you need to be honest with them. Use the data you collect only as directed, retain it only as long as needed, and be clear about how you might be sharing the information. Safeguard your customer data.

Make the Loyalty Leap

By mastering these principles, you can make the Loyalty Leap. This requires the buy-in of everyone—from the corner office to the front lines. The Leap occurs when a company redirects its focus from the product to the customer. It entails the release and sharing of customer data beyond marketing, to influence everything from product development to store locations—it’s Enterprise Loyalty.

You can adjust operations to place the customer at the center of your purpose—by taking the leap to customer commitment, and by viewing the brand experience through the eyes of consumers. It takes skillful collection, analysis and segmentation of customer data, in the context of the consumers’ lifestyles, and then incorporating these insights company-wide. With such comprehensive understanding of the consumer, you can develop the best services or products, and the most effective ways to communicate and present them.

Achieving customer intimacy is really just a matter of shifting your perspective from building your business from the products out to building your business from the customer. If you foster customer intimacy and emotional loyalty, your best customers will help you build empires. Just ask anyone at Tar-Jay.

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