Good relationships have been a cornerstone of good business and a driving force for commerce for millennia. When, in the mid-90s, the nascent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) industry became supercharged by players like Siebel and, a little later, the now dominant market leader Salesforce, business leaders were promised an automated return to this customer intimacy, even at scale.

However, in the thirty-odd years since these supposed groundbreaking solutions were introduced with much fanfare, most people have yet to have a conversation with their bank or insurer in which they come away feeling as if they’ve just spoken to somebody who truly understands their circumstances.

While CRM systems do a fine job of recording the transactions and key interactions with a client, they do very little in terms of understanding customer behaviour and preference. So where does that leave customer intimacy and is it even possible at scale?

Customer Intimacy and the Power of Personalisation

It seems obvious today, with the power of hindsight, that it is simply not possible to create a profile of a customer based solely on their transactions and direct interactions with a business. The relationships that formed the foundation of the traditional merchants’ success were based on a more thorough understanding of their customers – including insights into the many other aspects of a customer’s life that seemingly had no direct bearing on the business.

Easy access to big data and social data has made clear what the traders of old instinctively knew about their customers: that the information that is not directly related to any commercial transactions–all the human interactions, the social behaviour, and even the gossip–provides invaluable information to a business. In understanding the customer as a whole, not just a set of transactions, offers and negotiations can be personalised, greatly increasing the chance of closing the deal.

High ticket salespeople and business developers will instantly recognise this to be true because the nature of their businesses allows them to establish these “intimate” relationships with their customers. At scale, in e-commerce or FMCG, for example, it simply isn’t feasible for a human to establish or maintain so many such close relationships. Automation and data analytics are required to approximate intimacy and harness the power of personalisation.

Next Steps in Better Customer Relationships

Alongside the transactional data recorded by CRMs, Contact Data Platforms (CDP) can record every interaction of a customer with your digital assets–prior, during, and after purchase–and enrich this data with publicly available third-party data, like social media profiles. The data recorded by the CDP can then be used to customise the Customer Experience by, for example, offering a personalised homepage to each website visitor or by triggering a different email campaign or automated chat pathway, based on the visitor’s behaviour.

Social Listening Platforms allow a business to go even further in understanding their customers and potential future customers. These tools scroll the internet and social media platforms, through both historic and real-time data, for mentions related to the business or product and use visualisation techniques to identify trends and simmering crises, empowering the business to get ahead of the curve, seemingly knowing what people think or want before they know it themselves.

Lastly, Business Intelligence Platforms can blend all of the data gathered by both internal and external data sources to visualise the patterns and connections between it all and identify causality and correlations that supercharge the ability of leaders to make data-driven decisions.

Staying in an echo chamber of internal insights only and failing to look outwards at customers’ behaviour beyond your own universe creates the risk of getting left behind. There are plenty of examples of highly successful businesses collapsing simply because they failed to act on new developments. Conversely, looking out with open ears and eyes and an open mindset to whatever you may find, may well protect your business and future-proof your success.

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Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
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