Sanjeev Kotnala: ‘One less decision to make….towards designed Customer Intimacy

15 Feb,2017

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Oh, I know. I caught you there with the headline. As a brand/ product/ service, you and the customer are not married. On top of that there is no hint of an affair. Intimacy is a desire and dream but then that is where you stand.

If I hear you right, you are committed to enhance the level of customer service and satisfaction. You have been readying to provide the wholesome experience and delight.

Your boardroom silent monologues have their own sprinkling of fancy bars and pie charts, survey reports and awards that line the ego wall. You fabulously hide behind them. I never said it was wrong. However, if you are still busy doing that, maybe you are out-dated.

Unfortunately, most of the brand are unsure of their customer relationship. Not clear if the experience ever went beyond the hygiene of building of trust.

This sets me off on a different direction.

You must have been minutely mining your understanding of customer expectations. Yeah, you always wanted to go beyond satisfaction and redefine it. You have been searching for an experience beyond delight and all the Aha’s. You wanted to go that extra mile.

I will credit the brands to have invested in the experience, however, will it  help you differentiate in the era of customer infidelity? Really knowing the consumer up-close, creating the customer intimacy may be the solution.

Having an affair and marriage is old-fashioned and complex enough, but customer intimacy is fought with same perils.


Customer Intimacy, requires commitment of time, money and efforts.

It requires every vertical, department, system and process to be aligned and synchronised to the need of making the intimacy a reality. You are anyway as strong as the weakest link.

To be a customer-intimate organisation is very simple. All you need to do is to provide the customer, product and services that meet and exceed expectation.

You have to be obsessed customer centric organisation, willing to invest in understanding the overt and covert needs and desires of the customer. Use your market intelligence and consumer insight into remaining a step ahead of the curve.

Customer intimacy is not necessarily about product leadership, sustainable growth and profits or market share. They are the by-product not the foundation of it.


Customer intimacy is not a master key.

If the organisation is not performing at the basic level of service and is not taking care of all the hygiene issues, trying to be intimate will not only be a failure, it will lead to deeper frustration.

It is like going too fast in a date.

However, you may still want to consider it in certain situations. Once you know that the incremental gains from focusing on operational or product leadership have dwindled, and it is no longer enough, it may be time to shift your focus in becoming a customer intimate organisation.


Customer Intimacy is not about higher customer satisfaction, though it is the foundation for it.

Empowered teams with resources to give the customer what they want and when they want is the basic premises of customer intimacy. They must be charged enough to be passionate to deliver an exponentially superior experience. Maybe here hiring people who share the vision and the reason  is more important than hiring talent with skill set. Skill set can easily be enhanced.


Decentralised empowered team having authority to act is an essential part of customer intimate organisation.

Learn about your customers. Don’t get trapped in the width and the depth jargon. Sieve and filter your data. Talk with as many as you can. Visit them. Observe then as they buy or consume. Listen on social media about the effect and impact. Track their behaviour not only with the product and service, but go ahead and understand their lives and the role the brand / service plays in it. Regularly interpret, create the hypothesis, check to connect the dots. Create the capability of quickly sensing and understanding these shifting patterns. It is always work-in-progress.

Do not get trapped in what the customer voices in the focus groups and in-depth interviews. Do not take for granted what you observe and note while deleting, distorting and generalising the experience. You should move and embrace the implicit research methods that will help you understand things that the customer may not be voicing or even be unaware of.

Re-look at your segmentation. Understand the prosumers and the influencers. Determine the subsets that are happy with being satisfied and who are pushing you to a higher level of performance. Once, you are clear, focus on these segments. You will be better rewarded in skewing your budgets towards understanding them.


Once you build an understanding, you need the organisation to be absolutely agile in its response to the shifting customer needs and desires.

The new customer has no time to waste or invest. It is all about voicing and needing instant attention and gratification.

It is not essential for you to develop solutions in-house. Put the customer interest and ease in the front. You then must analyse it and if need to outsource and link-up with other organisations that can help you deliver.

While chasing the external customers, forgetting the internal customers can be suicidal. Co-working and co-creation are something you will have to learn and use.

Knowing that the consumers have shifted their interaction on to a digital world, use it to your advantage. It is again not about having feedback surveys or having an all-encompassing app. You have eased their lives. Make their task easier.


Customer Intimacy needs to be a philosophy and guiding force, then only it will be realised.

You will know that you have arrived, when choosing your brand and service has a positive easing impact in the customer’s life. And, there is ‘one less decision for them to make’. This should drive the organisation across verticals, from product- service design- to manufacturing, from sales to service and marketing.

Customer Intimacy is tough discipline to follow. Hence, the brand / service needs to choose the customer segment they would want to get intimate with. It could be prosumers, influencers, adapters or just plain simple one with the maximum life time revenue.

Customer Intimacy leads to a long-term stable and strong customer loyalty. After all, you have stopped them from raising that one vital question, where your brand/ service was just one of the options.


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