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The Risks of Customer Intimacy

Technology is making it easier for even very large companies to listen effectively to their customers and to target and tailor their offerings to ever smaller segments. The author, however, identifies six ways that a company's overly zealous pursuit of one-on-one customer relationships can disappoint both the company and the customer: creating engagement without clear benefit; seeking relationships where the balance of power tilts toward the company; fostering interaction that leads to unreasonable customer demands; spending too much time and money to engage low-involvement customers; failing to anticipate how customers can exploit the conversation in unexpected ways; and failing to realize that competitors may be listening.

The author suggests that companies can mitigate these effects by engaging in "polylogues," multifaceted conversations that avoid the pitfalls of one-on-one customer communication. He draws on the examples of, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Safelite Auto Glass and CapitalOne to illustrate how companies can use polylogues to engage their partners in providing more complete solutions to customer problems, judge the level of real-time customer involvement and ensure they are not wasting their money on low-involvement customers, and bring neutral participants into the conversation to act as "honest brokers."
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