Build a customer intimacy strategy: 12 methods for startups + examples

Build a customer intimacy strategy: 12 methods for startups + examples

This is a basic fact of business—whoever knows their customers best will win their business (and deserve it).

While the idea of having customer intimacy or being ‘customer-centric’ isn’t new, I’ve seen too many businesses continue to use this as a buzzword rather than a real strategy.

But let’s be clear: having customer intimacy isn’t something you can slap on a whiteboard in your office or check off a list. It has to be a fundamental part of your strategy and business.

Let’s talk about:

  • What is customer intimacy? (and why is it important?)
  • 12 ways to build a customer intimacy strategy
  • Customer intimacy examples: what this looks like in action

What is customer intimacy?

Customer intimacy is the type of close relationship you want to develop with your customers. Rather than just being ‘customer-centric’, this term refers to having an intimate understanding of who your customers are, as well as their needs, fears, motivations, and habits.

This customer intimacy definition shows how this term involves your whole business, not just the founders or certain customer-facing team members. Real customer intimacy penetrates every aspect of your business, making your product and service the best for your customers.

Why is customer intimacy important?

Because businesses that understand their customers win.

In fact, research from Motisa shows that customers with an emotional relationship with a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value.

When you have a clear vision of your customer, you’ll be able to generate better insights on what to build, how to innovate, how to market, and ultimately, how to serve your customers better than anyone else.

Invest in the relationship with your customers, and they’ll reward you with loyalty.

12 ways to build a customer intimacy strategy + examples

Whether you’re at the early stages of building your startup or are well into the business world, you can still build a customer intimacy strategy. But the earlier you start, the better it’ll be for your startup.

Here are some real ways I’ve seen businesses bake customer intimacy into their everyday activity, plus actions my own team has used to develop a clearer understanding of our customers.

1. As a startup leader, actually care

If you don’t actually care about your customers, you’ll never develop true customer intimacy. It’ll just fall into the wastebasket of other meaningless buzzwords.

Caring starts with the founding team of a startup. When leadership gives a damn, that will spread to every person within the company. But if leadership doesn’t give a damn and the founders don’t give a damn about the customer, then it doesn’t matter what you tell people to do—you’ll simply never get there.

Caring about people has to be part of your nature in order for it to be baked into your company culture.

2. Set your customer as the north star

Trends, tech, and buzzwords change daily (or sometimes hourly). So how do you make sure you’re always focused on what’s best for your customers?

When it comes to customer intimacy examples, no one can beat Amazon. In fact, they’ve been consistently rated #1 in a yearly ranking of top brands for customer loyalty. How did they get there?

Jeff Bezos realized that Amazon couldn’t serve its customers well if they were constantly chasing tech and innovation. Chasing fads is distracting.

So, he decided to set the customer as the north star for the company. Instead of asking, “What’s changing in the world?”, he said, “What’s never going to change for our customers?”

The answer was two simple facts: Amazon’s customers would never want to pay more money or wait longer for the same product.

Amazon used these two facts as guiding principles for the decisions they would make. Instead of getting distracted by up-and-coming trends, they focused only on what would match those two main needs of their customers.

Use this key customer intimacy strategy by asking yourself: What will never change for our customers?

Base major business decisions on that, and you’ll always put your customer at the center of what you’re doing.

3. Hire people who focus on the customer

Customer intimacy isn’t just a business strategy: once again, it has to be played out by the people.

As you start to scale your startup and add new people to the team, ensure that you’re hiring people who can buy into the idea of customer intimacy and then live it out in their day-to-day work.

This is what we’ve done at Close. For example, we don’t outsource support or look at it as a low-tier work. We hire amazing people for support, people who are passionate about solving problems.

Build a team that wants to help your customers.

4. Get your whole team on the customer’s eye level

In the very early days of Close, our engineering team was sitting right next to sales reps. They were able to watch how reps were selling, and how they used the software every day. In fact, I believe we’re the only CRM that’s had its engineering team build a product from the sales floor.

Our engineering team had a much higher empathy level when we started Close, mainly because they cared about the sales team, they were friends, and they could see firsthand how difficult it was to be in sales.

The founders also took these steps—from day one, we were answering support tickets ourselves. We got immediate feedback on the frustrations of our customers, what things they didn’t get in our product, and the language they were using.

Get your team on the same page as your customers, and they’ll have real customer intimacy.

5. Support your customers’ journey with your product

What you offer to your customers is a product. But how do you make sure they’re really successful?

That peer-to-peer relationship with your customers should include giving them the resources they need to be more successful.

For example, why not offer:

  • Webinars that help explain specific use cases of your product
  • Paid professional services to give them the support they need to succeed
  • Blog posts, eBooks, or other marketing resources to maximize their strategy within  your product

These are things that require resources from the whole team, but your customers will be more successful because of it. And a successful customer is a loyal customer.

6. Call free trial signups

This is an example of customer intimacy for early-stage startups, and something we did at the beginning of Close that we knew wouldn’t scale but would help us develop better relationships with our customers.

Every time a new trial signed up, I would personally call them to say hello. I’d start by welcoming them to Close, and then I’d ask how they found out about us, what their problems were, and what they were trying to accomplish.

This information was vital to understanding our first customers and where we truly fit in the market. And many times, these people later told me that our initial chat was the thing that made them become a paying customer.

7. Celebrate making your customers happy

To make the whole company feel attached to your customers, everyone should be able to celebrate the wins that make your customers smile.

Here’s how we do this at Close: a specific Slack channel called #nice-things-people-say. Here, the whole team is encouraged to talk about moments when customers were happy, and all of us celebrate this together.

8. Visit your customers in-person

In-person visits to your customers (when possible) give you insights that you could never get from emails or phone calls. This is something we’ve always loved doing, and something we encourage all startups to do as well.

Getting into the office of your customers means you can see their problems first-hand, get a feel for their culture, and understand how they use your software within the greater context of their organization.

You can also see the little details, like:

  • What’s their workspace like?
  • What other apps are open on their screen?
  • What makes them smile?

Best of all, you put faces to the numbers and make your customers come alive for yourself and your team.

9. Use customer intimacy to build real product-market fit

Customer intimacy is extremely important if you want product-market fit for your startup. After all, if you don’t understand your customer, you’ll never know if you’re building something that truly solves their needs.

Having paying customers isn’t enough—part of this process is understanding whether or not your customers are successful. To do this, you need to know two things:

  • Are they getting more value from your product or service than they’re paying you (hopefully by a big amount)?
  • Do they understand and appreciate the value they’re getting?

Customer intimacy allows you to understand what success is for that customer. And that’s how you define product-market fit.

10. Make your customers feel valued

A real customer intimacy strategy isn’t one-sided. Your customers need to feel that genuine interest and care from your business.

At Close, we’ve spent countless hours mingling with our customers, talking to them, sending them gifts, reading their blog posts, following them on social media, and genuinely caring about their world. We make sure they feel that we like them and want them to succeed.

Here’s one example: we recently released the Sales Consultants Directory with over 100 profiles of sales consultants.

We’re not a consulting company, so what does this list do for us?

Better question: what does it do for our customers?

First, it supports the sales consultants that are a great part of our customer base. We did interviews with these customers, talking to them about how they use Close and also what they do for their clients. With this resource, we’re promoting their services to the rest of our customers.

Second, it supports the customers who need help with sales. They now have a clear resource of Close-approved consultants that can help them improve their process within our product and ultimately succeed.

Here are some other ways you can make your customers feel valued:

  • Send them swag as they hit milestones (in business, in your product, or just in life)
  • Give them opportunities to beta test new features that are especially appealing to them
  • Join them for co-marketing opportunities
  • Support them with resources

When you do this, you build more than a customer base: you build a fan base.

11. Use your CRM to truly build and maintain relationships

You know that true customer intimacy is more about emotions and actions than data. However, the interactions you have with your customers today should be fuel for the interactions you’ll have with them tomorrow.

Your CRM is the tool that ties together today’s actions with tomorrow’s strategy.

In Close, for example, you can keep track of all the interactions you have with customers, whether it’s via email, phone, SMS, or even Zoom calls. Custom Activities also allow you to track other interactions, such as sending a piece of swag or getting feedback on a beta test.

When you use your CRM as the base of your relationships with customers, you’ll have smooth interactions across the whole team.

12. Measure the data and success of your customer intimacy strategy

Of course, measuring a customer intimacy strategy isn’t the same as measuring an email campaign. But there are some specific metrics that should improve over time as you develop deeper customer intimacy:

  • Net promoter score (NPS): As you measure your NPS, you should see an uptick in happy customers.
  • Referral sales: Happy and successful customers will refer their network. Watch the monthly MRR changes from referrals.
  • Churn rates: This is always a good metric to track for SaaS companies, but churn can also help you see whether there’s an issue with your customer intimacy strategy.

Keep measuring and tracking the success of your customers, and you’ll see your customer intimacy program come into effect.

Keep investing in customer intimacy over time

A good customer relationship is like a marriage: if you want it to last, you need to keep working on it every day. You can’t just check ‘dating’ or ‘romance’ off the list and get on with your life. In the same way, you can’t just check ‘customer intimacy’ off the list and expect to maintain great customer relationships.

Here at Close, we’ve been married to some of our customers for over a decade. And no, it’s not always easy. But the moment you stop investing in customer intimacy, your customers will start to surpass you in customer insight, motivation, and product.

If you want to have customers forever, you need to keep working on that relationship forever.

Want to improve more in learning from your customers? Get my book: Talk to Your Customers.