How do we do ‘customer intimacy?’
Question: Last month, we attended a seminar in Singapore. It was a one-day seminar on “customer-centricity.” There were several models covered, but the most time was spent on the “customer intimacy model” because the speaker said it’s “the ultimate customer-centric model.”
We make and sell soy sauce. There were three of us who attended. We liked the customer intimacy model and I wanted to ask how to do it for our soy sauce business. My two colleagues told me not to ask because both believed “that’s not for us.”
When we got back and reported to our boss, she said: “Give me a draft of a customer intimacy campaign for our soy sauce.” We e-mailed our Singapore speaker about my question. His answer was: “Read Treacy and Wiersema. It’s all there.”
We read the book, but we still do not know how to come out with the campaign plan.
We should have attended your seminar on the topic, but we know you’ve stopped giving your marketing seminar series and have concentrated on consulting. So, can you please share with us your consulting experience in helping your clients do a customer intimacy program?
Answer: If you read Treacy and Wiersema, you’ll realize that your Singapore speaker was basically correct. You’ll find in the Treacy and Wiersema 1993 Harvard Business Review article the framework and examples by which to answer your question. The article had three good case examples: Dell Computer, Home Depot and Nike.
I guess you’re like most of my students and clients. When the examples are quite different from your product, which is soy sauce, you’re uncertain about how to adapt the model to your soy sauce product and customers.
So let’s start with what’s different with soy sauce versus a personal computer, a retailer of DIY home construction and repair materials, and a sports shoe.
For our topic, the most significant difference is about customer sense of product involvement. Customers felt high involvement with Dell, Home Depot and Nike. Ask yourself: “Do your customers have high involvement with your soy sauce?” Even in the absence of a valid customer research, it’s very likely that there’s low involvement.
When there’s low involvement, customers buy your product because it happens to be around or because it’s lower-priced. That’s why when it’s out of stock, they’re quick to buy another competing brand. And even if it’s available, if another brand is on sale, customers are just as quick to switch. Because customer intimacy is about customer relationship, which is absent in low-involvement products, your two colleagues are right. Customer intimacy is not for your soy sauce. Not yet, at least not in the short term.
Intimacy with a product is different from intimacy with a brand. If your soy sauce was made by, say, NutriAsia, you can effectively apply to your business the tool of customer intimacy. That’s the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. It may still take some time, but you can look forward to customer intimacy for your soy sauce in the name of the NutriAsia brand.
Also, if you are a service more than a consumer good, it’s relatively less difficult to adopt this “value discipline” of customer intimacy. This is why I cover the topic in my service marketing seminars, but not as a separate seminar. Also, my seminars are now all in-house and so tailor-fit to a commissioning client’s needs. I’ve chosen my consulting and research experience in customer intimacy to be all in service marketing. Consulting and research life become more enjoyable and knowledge-rich when customer intimacy assistance to low-involvement products like soy sauce are excluded.
The framework for my service marketing seminar is the “theater model” of service in the services marketing book of Raymond Fisk and Stephen Grove. If you’re marketing a service, the theater model says you’re marketing a customer experience. It is the service staff, the service venue (now, more popularly known as “servicescapes”), and the service processing that define the customer experience. A service is “satisfactory” to the extent that you are happy with its staff, venue and processing.
As you can see, a service is set up for customer intimacy and customer relationship. I can almost hear you say: “But soy sauce is not a service.” Services marketing will not agree, but let me set aside that idea and instead go back to what we said regarding “intimacy with a product is different from intimacy with a brand.”
If you have a brand that is like, or can be made to come near, the NutriAsia brand equity, then you have half of the task done. The other half is to extend your brand to include service, but one that’s still related to the food line like a fast-food, casual or a fine-dining restaurant.
If you want to travel along the fast lane for this option, take the M&A or merger and acquisition strategy. Marketing Rx had a previous column dealing with M&A for a smaller company successfully owning a bigger and market leader business. Of course, you may say that this is a matter for your boss to consider. That may be true as far as the final say is concerned. But the idea can come from you when you do what she’s asking for, namely, a customer intimacy campaign plan.
Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at [email protected].