Customer intimacy

It’s likely you’ve read the HBR article from 1993, Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines. If you haven’t, you must.

It does a great job outlining the three main tenets of building a great company; Operational Excellence, Customer Intimacy and Product Leadership. In contrasting the three and the focus of each, one of the key takeaways for any organization is determining how they will prioritize them.

You can’t do all three at once and do them exceptionally well – although some companies would argue that this is possible. There will be trade-offs, maybe so subtle that it seems like all three are being done evenly. For example, customer intimacy speaks to a highly tailored customer experience that is likely more expensive upfront but it’s ultimate aim is to build lasting customer loyalty.

Customer intimacy doesn’t mean that you neglect gross margin or maintain a random product development approach that changes on every whim of the customer. It means that you take a long view of the customer relationship and how you shape the narrative, the objectives and the outcomes that ultimately tell the story of success. It’s not a transaction mindset. Such a mindset might be appropriate when selling a product in high volume, thus focusing on operational excellence where price, convenience and minimal friction makes sense.


The prioritization of these three value disciplines will help shape views that drive behavior and practices.

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