Customer Intimacy is not the same as Customer Service



One of the fundamentals of business strategy is that in order to survive and grow, organizations must create and execute sustainable competitive advantage through a unique value proposition to customers.  In Advantexe's business simulation workshops, participants learn-by-doing by choosing a value proposition and executing their strategy in their respective competitive market.

Customer Intimacy is one of three value propositions that organizations deploy in order to create differentiation.  Product Leadership and Operational Excellence are the other two value propositions to choose from.  Executing Customer Intimacy is a value proposition that offers customers partnership, engagement, and focus; in other words a company executing Customer Intimacy must know and understand the customer organization as well as if not better than the customer organization understands itself.

But Customer Intimacy requires a complete re-alignment of the organization to execute.

There are many points of research that suggest if you are delivering a Customer Intimacy strategy and you have deep relationships with your customers, you can charge a 20% premium in pricing which will drive profit and shareholder value.  One source of this data is the groundbreaking Harvard Business Review article called Manage Your Sigma by John Fleming, Curt Coffman, ad Jim Harter.

Many times in our simulation workshops, organizations make the mistake that customer focus is equal to customer intimacy; that providing good service and competitive quality products supported by listening to the Voice of Customer (VOC) data.  This is simply wrong and could be a recipe for failure.  Customer service, just like product quality and efficient operations, is just the entry ticket to doing business, investing a little more than the competition is not a strategy!

The graphic below illustrates the decisions businesses make and the difference between Traditional Customer Focus and the value proposition of Customer Intimacy:

Business Decisions

Traditional Customer Focus

Customer Intimacy


We have good customer service

We understand your needs and our organization is aligned to deliver a unique solution


Cost plus customer service

Value pricing for a complete and customized solution


Customer focused sales people supported by customer service

The entire organization sells and supports the customer

Customer Service

Transactional and reactive; we are best at responding to fires

Proactive, good customer service a given; we focus on end-to-end experience


Build strong relationship

Build deep multi-level relationships that drive insight and knowledge


Use research and VOC to build products and services

Use insights to build processes and solutions that create a total experience

Customer Knowledge

Understand needs

Create a complex system of gathering information and an easy system of providing data to all functions of the customer experience


Invest in service and calculate ROI

Invest in the system and build shareholder value through locked-in relationships and cash flow

Overall Goal

Make customer happy

Become part of the customer’s value chain that they can’t live without

How do organizations execute Customer Intimacy and achieve this goal?

Like any of the three strategies, execution requires trade-offs, business leadership, and organizational alignment.  At the end of the day, Leadership is equal to the execution of business strategy.


Organizations need to select the customer segments it wants to focus on and serve.  An organization can't be all things to all customers.  Customer intimacy requires high levels of investment to understand the Voice of the Customer in order to create the insights and innovations needed to execute.  For example, Customer Intimacy is a value proposition that plays well to customer segments that have a need for total solutions and sophisticated solutions.There are other supporting trade-offs in product versions, marketing messages, sales approaches, and distribution channels as well.

Business Leadership

Business leaders need to make the best business decisions that support Customer Intimacy.  That requires working with teams to gather the right information, approaching the customers, creating the solutions, developing the right message, and getting the products/services to the customer in a customer-focused method.


The entire organization must be aligned to design, develop, and deliver a complete customer-centric experience that creates long-term sustainable relationships.  It's not just about providing good customer service.  Organizations need to be designed in a way that:

  • Decision makers are empowered to make decisions that put the customer intimacy process first
  • Data and information is constantly being gathered and shared
  • Solutions, services, processes, and the overall customer experience are tested, fine-tuned, and executed quickly
  • Employees are highly trained, engaged, and evaluated on metrics that support Customer Intimacy

In summary, leaders must focus on getting the basics right; good customer service is not Customer Intimacy and is not a strategy.  The best Customer Intimate organizations in the world have very good products, have created efficient operations, and focus rigorously on knowing the customer as well as the customer knows itself, and in the end, delivering a complete experience that helps the customer achieve their business goals and objectives.


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.