Customer Intimacy Doesn’t Scale

After twenty five plus years of CRM, is there any other possible conclusion to be reached?  And for that matter, as Esteban Kolsky challenged me last week when I tweeted this statement, does customer intimacy even exist?  Or should it?

Now don’t get me wrong, we see all around us countless examples of great customer experience (and no, I’m not talking about this).  My friend Stan Phelps is on a wonderful mission to find random acts of marketing and customer service lagniappe.  And he’s found plenty.

But none of that has anything to do with intimacy.  Nowhere in the definition is the mention of the word “customer”.  And my point is further exemplified when you compare these descriptions of intimacy with the watered-down, tepid description of customer intimacy here.

Asking Esteban’s indulgence for a moment here, lets assume it actually does exist.  It exists at my corner antique book store.  It does not exist on Amazon (sorry Amazon.  I dig you.  But its true).  It exists at my local hardware and feed supply store (yes, I live in a place where feed supplies are still in demand).  It does not exist at Lowes.  And it exists at my favorite bakery where the owner knows the personal details of every occasion for which I’ve ordered one of their totally decadent chocolate three layer cakes.  At the bakery counter of Wegmans?  Not so much.

Think about it.  I chose to call out these big companies intentionally.  They happen to be some of my favorite companies with which to do business.  And, all of them deliver a pretty darn good customer experience.

But, are we intimate?  It’s just not possible.  Intimacy doesn’t scale.


  1. Thanks for a thought-provoking post and I agree intimacy doesn't scale.

    But I'm not sure I want it to. Even if large companies could achieve and sustain intimacy with me, I don't think I could reciprocate (and presumably intimacy only works in the context of a relationship into which both parties invest).

    So, I want intimacy from my favourite restaurant, but I think I just want any given McDonalds to meet my reasonable expectations.

    Does that mean my expectation is lower for large companies? Not really: my reasonable expectations may not require intimacy, but they do require consistency, friendliness, competence, speed, communication, responsiveness and so on. Now those things can scale, but few achieve it – and I agree with you that Amazon is one of them.

  2. Well said Guy (and not just because I agree with you). It is absolutley a two-way street. I'll take the concept a step further actually. I not only what to be intimate with companies with whom I do business. I don't want a relationships. Thanks for the comment and value-added insight.

  3. Interesting. I like it, though I believe customer service can scale. It just requires hard work, actually lots of hard work, which is perhaps why customer intimacy doesn't scale!

    That said I'm a firm believer just because you get bigger doesn't mean it can't be done. We shouldn't just toss it into the too hard basket. Take Zappos for example – their success (among other things) is down to their intimacy, their amazing customer service. Their culture is built in such principles and it works.

    It seems as companies get bigger much of this intimacy is lost, perhaps because it all gets too hard to manage, to hard to keep abreast of relationships and to hard to develop customer service cultures they maybe once used to have.

    Do we as customers really want to be intimate with the corporate giants? I suppose the reality is we're all different and some customers will and some won't. At the very least these companies should try – their service might just improve for the better and that's a good thing for all of us – better customer service.

  4. At OutDoor-FX we have a passion for doing things the right way – with great designs and then allowing our experienced team to turn it into a reality. So far it’s working pretty well!

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