There’s a story about the owner of a fancy private art gallery in London, who was once asked why he went to the trouble of treating even the scruffiest student who walked through his doors with the same courtesy as a rich and well-known buyer. “You never know who they’re going to marry,” he replied. “Or who they’re going to be.”
There are plenty of consultants out there who will give you exactly the opposite advice about customer service today. 20% of your customers account for 80% of your revenue, they will say. Treat that 20% like gold: offer them special deals, ask their opinions, remember their birthdays and pamper them with golf days. The other 80%? Do as little as you can get away with and hope they go away.
This is not really an exaggeration. Here’s a professor of management at Rice University in the US, approvingly describing what happens at a large bank: “Though customer satisfaction is important, the goal is to increase customer and corporate profitability… First Union estimates that its ‘Einstein’ system will add at least $100 million to its annual revenue. About half of that will come from extra fees and other revenue from unprofitable customers, while the rest will flow from pampering preferred customers who might otherwise leave the bank.” The rich pay less, and the rest pay more, in other words.
I suspect most people reading this article have experienced being on the wrong end of this calculation. Whether it’s a bank, a cellphone company or a restaurant, we’ve all been overlooked in favour of someone with a bigger (apparent) bank balance. “We’re only interested in your money,” these businesses are telling us. “The more money you have to give us, the more attention we will pay you.”
This is not a classy way to treat people. Even worse, it’s not good business. Customer X may not be worth much today, but you have no idea who her friends and family are. She could be the one who refers your biggest client of the year. And then again, where might Customer X herself be in five year’s time? And when she finally makes that big deal, who is she going to take her business to – the people who saw her potential from the start, or the ones who only started paying attention when she had cash?
At First Union Bank, customer profiles are flagged red, yellow or green so service representatives know how well to treat them. At Netcash, we’ve made sure our service staff have no way of telling how big a client is – we want every client to be the most important one we have.
I’m with the gallery owner. If you care even the slightest bit about serving your customers well, you will treat every one with exactly the same care and respect. It shouldn’t matter how much money they’re worth to you today.