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Customer Relationships, Channels and Segments

Customer Relationships

A company should clarify the type of relationship it wants to establish with each Customer Segment. Relationships can range from personal to automated. Customer relationships may be driven by the following motivations:

  • Customer acquisition
  • Customer retention
  • Boosting sales (upselling)

In the early days, for example, mobile network operator Customer Relationships were driven by aggressive acquisition strategies involving free mobile phones. When the market became saturated, operators switched to focusing on customer retention and increasing average revenue per customer. The Customer Relationships called for by a company’s business model deeply influence the overall customer experience.

What type of relationship does each of our Customer Segments expect us to establish and maintain with them? Which ones have we established? How costly are they? How are they integrated with the rest of our business model?

We can distinguish several categories of Customer Relationships, which may co-exist in a company’s relationship with a particular Customer Segment:

Personal assistance

This relationship is based on human interaction. The customer can communicate with a real customer representative to get help during the sales process or after the purchase is complete. This may happen onsite at the pint of sale, through call center, by e-mail, or through other means.

Dedicated personal assistance

This relationship involves dedicating a customer representative specifically to an individual client. It represents the deepest and most intimate type of relationship and normally develops over a long period of time. In private banking service, for example, dedicated bankers serve high net worth individual. Similar relationships can be found in other businesses in the form of key account managers who maintain personal relationships with important customer.


In this type of relationship, a company maintains no direct relationship with customers. It provides all the necessary means for customers to help themselves.

Automated services

This type of relationship mixes a more sophisticated form of customer self-service with automated processes. For example, personal online profiles give customers access to customized services. Automated services can recognize individual customers and their characteristics, and offer information related to orders or transactions. At their best, automate services can simulate a personal relationship (e.g. offering book or movie recommendations).


Increasingly, companies are utilizing user communities to become more involved with customers/prospects and to facilitate connections between community members. Many companies maintain online communities that allow users to exchange knowledge and solve each other’s problems. Communities can also help companies better understand their customers. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline launched a private online community when it introduced alli, a new prescription-free weight-loss product.

GlaxoSmithKline wanted to increase its understanding of the challenges faced by overweight adults, and thereby learn to better manage customer expectations.


More companies are going beyond the traditional customer-vendor relationship to co-create value with customers. invites customer to write reviews and thus create value for other book lovers. Some companies engage customers to assist with the design of new and innovative products. Others, such as, solicit customers to create content for public consumption.

Customer Segments

Customers comprise the heart of any business model. Without (profitable) customers, no company can survive for long. In order to better satisfy customers, a company may group them into distinct segments with common needs, common behaviors, or other attributes. A business model may define one or several large or small Customer Segments. An organization must make a conscious decision about which segments to serve and which segments to ignore. Once this decision is made, a business model can be carefully designed around a strong understanding of specific customer needs.

Customer groups represent separate segments if:

  • Their needs require and justify a distinct offer
  • They are reached through different Distribution Channels
  • They require different types of relationships
  • They have substantially different profit abilities
  • They are willing to pay for different aspects of the offer

For whom are we crating value? Who are our most important customers?

There are different types of Customer Segments. Here are some examples:

Mass market

Business models focused on mass markets don’t distinguish between different Customer Segments. The Value Propositions, Distribution Channels, and Customer Relationships all focus on one large group of customers with broadly similar needs and problems. This type of business model is often found in the consumer electronics sector.

Niche market

Business models targeting niche markets cater to specific, specialized Customer Segments. The Value Propositions, Distribution Channels, and Customer Relationships are all tailored to the specific requirements of a niche market. Such business models are often found in supplier-buyer relationships. For example, many car part manufacturers depend heavily on purchases from major automobile manufacturers.


Some business models distinguish between market segments with slightly different needs and problems. The retail arm of a bank like Credit Suisse, for example, may distinguish between a large group of customers, each possessing assets of up to U.S. $100,000, and a smaller group of affluent clients, each of whose ne worth exceeds U.S. $500,000. Both segments have similar but varying needs and problems. This has implications for the other building blocks of Credit Suisse’s business model, such as the Value Proposition, Distribution Channels, Customer Relationships, and Revenue streams. Consider Micro Precision Systems, which specializes in providing outsourced micromechanical design and manufacturing solutions. It serves three different Customer Segments-the watch industry, the medical industry, and the industrial automations sector-and offers each slightly different Value Propositions.


An organization with a diversified customer business model serves two unrelated Customer Segments with very different needs and problems. For example, in 2006 decided to diversify its retail business by selling “cloud computing” services: online storage space and on-demand server usage. Thus it started catering to a totally different Customer Segment-Web companies-with a totally different Value Proposition. The strategic rationale behind this diversification can be found in’s powerful IT infrastructure, which can be shared by its retail sales operational and the new cloud computing service unit.

Multi-sided platforms (or multi-sided markets)

Some organizations serve two or more interdependent Customer Segments. A credit card company, for example, needs a large base of credit card holders and a large base of merchants who accept those credit cards. Similarly, an enterprise offering a free newspaper needs a large reader abase to attract advertisers. On the other hand, it also needs advertisers to finance production and distribution. Both segments are required to make the business model work.


Communication, distribution, and sales Channels comprise a company’s interface with customers. Channels are customer touch points that play an important role in the customer experience. Channels serve several functions, including:

  • Raising awareness among customers about a company’s products and services
  • Helping customers evaluate a company’s Value Proposition
  • Allowing customers to purchase specific products and services
  • Delivering a Value Proposition to customers
  • Providing post-purchase customer support

Through which Channels do our Customer Segments want to be reached? How are we reaching them now? How are our Channels integrated? Which ones work best? Which ones are most cost-efficient? How are we integrating them with customer routines?

Channels have five distinct phases. Each channel can cover some or all of these phases. We can distinguish between direct Channels and indirect ones, as well as between owned Channels and partner Channels.

Finding the right mix of Channels to satisfy how customers want to be reached is crucial in bringing a Value Proposition to market. An organization can choose between reaching its customers through its own Channels, through partner Channels, or through a mix of both. Owned Channels can be direct, such as an in-house sales force or a Web site, or they can be indirect, such as retail stores owned or operated by the organization. Partner Channels are indirect and span a whole range of options, such as wholesale distribution, retail, or partner-owned Web sites.

Partner Channels lead to lower margins, but they allow an organization to expand its reach and benefit from partner strengths. Owned Channels and particularly direct ones have higher margins, but can be costly to put in place and to operate. The trick is to find the right balance between the different types of Channels, to integrate them in a way to create a great customer experience, and to maximize revenues.

Channel Types

 Own – Direct Sales force Web Sales

Partner – Indirect Own Stores Partner stores Wholesaler

Channel Phases

  1. Awareness – How do we raise awareness about our company’s products and services?
  2. Evaluation – How do we help customers evaluate our organizations Value proposition?
  3. Purchase – How do we allow customers to purchase specific products and services?
  4. Delivery – How do we deliver a Value Proposition to customers?
  5. After sales – How we provide post-purchase customer support?