For most of my career, I have valued and delivered operational excellence. I loved to measure everything that could be measured and put processes in place that help a business run the right way. It’s a classic approach to running a business and I’m convinced that’s a big reason I got my current job as CEO of OutboundEngine.
But over the past year, I’ve realized something. What I thought I was doing right the whole time was actually me looking at the system in a quantitative light. I can see now that operational excellence built on quantitative data is not enough.
To stand out in today’s crowded business landscape, we need to go beyond operational excellence and work toward customer intimacy. Customer intimacy, as I define it, is factoring human and relational considerations in equal proportion to quantitative.
Operationally focused businesses do a lot of things well. They provide customers with reliable products and services at competitive prices, delivered with minimal inconvenience. That combination of quality, price, and ease boosts the best of them to the top of their market. Think McDonald’s, Walmart and IKEA.
On the other hand, businesses that are focused on customer intimacy don’t deliver what the market wants. They focus on what each specific customer wants. They continually customize their products and services to fit your needs. As a result, they create broad and deep levels of value. Amazon, Nordstrom and Home Depot are customer intimacy focused, and as a result, they enjoy tremendous loyalty.
Switching my focus from operational excellence to customer intimacy actually came quite naturally. I began by asking our customer success team members how they defined success. It wasn’t in the transactional, data-driven customer support metrics like call time, cases closed or the number of transactions. The team defined success through the number of conversations they had with customers, the opportunities they had to break through a customer’s problem and provide value.
It threw my operational self for a loop—those things are virtually impossible to define quantitatively. At the same time, I analyzed my own personal interactions with family and friends. It seemed absurd to think that I would define success with the people close to me in transactional terms. Can you imagine telling your children that we need to spend Saturday afternoon checking boxes and completing a set of transactions?
So if that approach worked for our customer success team members and my own personal relationships, I wondered, would it work for the rest of the company? I asked employees at all levels in all departments about how they would feel if we shifted to a more qualitative, human and relational measure of success.
Their positive response took me completely by surprise. It’s as if the answer to building long-term relationships and unlocking the operational byproduct of retaining customers was right under our noses the entire time, just waiting to emerge.
Over the coming months, I’ll update you on the results of our new focus on customer intimacy and the complete rewiring of our entire customer service and success infrastructure. A total transformation that started on November 1.