Put intimacy at the heart of customer engagement

18th Feb 2021

Since the start of the pandemic, empathy has become much more of a focus for the customer service market. Being able to understand and relate to customer frustrations at delayed orders, or not being able to visit physical stores so having to make online purchases when customers aren’t used to online shopping, is crucial to providing a good experience. It has been a difficult time for many as the work-life balance gets blurred and customer experience teams are no exception to this. They have become the face of many organisations, delivering human interaction and carrying the experience expectation on their shoulders.

But empathy isn’t the only feeling that brands need to convey right now. Going hand in hand with empathy, is a sense of intimacy. We don’t mean intimacy in the traditional sense of course. In a business sense, customer intimacy is a business strategy delivering high attention to customers needs and how closely a company is tracking and prioritising those needs. This seems to have been disappearing from customer services long before the pandemic arrived.

Intimacy is a crucial part of the trust equation where trustworthiness is made up of credibility, reliability and intimacy. Without intimacy, businesses can struggle to gain the trust, and by extension loyalty, of their customers. Unsurprisingly, Amazon was voted the most intimate brand in the US, followed by Disney and Apple. As businesses grow, it is important to keep that sense of personalisation that so many of us crave. Amazon, Disney, Apple and Netflix all made it into the top 10 in part to their online personalisation platforms – easy to do when you own your own streaming service and viewer personalisation is key to your subscriber base.

So, where are business going wrong, and crucially, how can they win it back?

The perception gap

For many businesses, it could be a simple case of not thinking they are missing anything with their customers. But that’s not the case. In research carried out before the pandemic, 80 per cent of senior decision makers surveyed in the UK believe their customer service departments to be excellent, while only nine per cent of UK consumers have no frustrations when dealing with customer service agents.  With such a gulf between business perception and end-user reality, it’s no wonder an element of intimacy has been lost. But how can businesses help to close that gap?

The data key

As businesses become increasingly digitised, so do customer interactions. These interactions help to produce huge banks of individual data, some freely given, some required. Businesses are often sitting on huge data banks about their customers, with no way of analysing them in time to deliver more accurate customer insights. By making data-driven decisions, businesses can capture and analyse customer support data much easier, helping to create a 360-degree view of their end-user and their customer journey. Having this complete view of the customer will be key to developing customer intimacy.

Leveraging customer support data helps to craft more personalised experiences that are vital to creating a sense of intimacy between organisation and end-user. For instance, research showed that 64 per cent of consumers would always choose to interact with a human rather than a chatbot or virtual assistant. If you know the customer reaching out is one of those, then maybe routing them directly to a human agent would be a better approach to helping them than sending them to a chatbot first.

Make it personal

End-user expectations are such that every interaction with a business should be personal to that case. Personalisation is critical to customers meaning it should be critical to a business. With the growth in technology platforms for customer service teams, this is a great way to use the services on hand to support in delivering a truly personal experience that meets customer expectation, but technology isn’t the silver bullet. For instance, the 2019 research showed that almost a third (29per cent) of European consumers get frustrated with chatbots because of their pre-programmed, impersonal answers. Being able to deliver that human connection is just as important in customer service interactions. Software like chatbots and CRM are a great way of collecting customer information as well as showing previous interactions, past queries or complaints helping customer agents to make informed decisions and provide context to their discussions. 

Being able to support customers through email, phone, and chat services in a single, streamlined solution can help businesses deliver a better overall experience. The last thing customers want to do is repeat themselves when they switch between a chatbot interaction, text, email, or phone exchange. Offering a seamless, omnichannel experience means a customer’s query is logged once and shared across all communication channels, reducing the likelihood of them becoming dissatisfied with the service they are receiving. The more integrated the customer support platforms, through a streamlined omnichannel platform, the better the user experience will be.

Whatever systems you deploy, it’s important to be mindful of how your customers want to interact with you, not the other way around. As customers look to support the businesses that are looking after them the most, offering a consistent experience across your channels is key to securing loyal customers and repeat business.

For end-users, it’s about having a meaningful connection with a business. For the business, it’s about accelerating the use of data driven tools and analytics that can help shape the profile of a customer, while being able to innovate and adapt to change to suit their customers’ needs at the time. When a business can do that, it can create the levels of intimacy, empathy and ultimately trust that ensure customers remain customers for life.

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