Wednesday, June 11

Defining Relationships: Three Degrees Of Clients

Seth Godin once pointed to Stew Leonard’s unwritten rule 3, which states “if the customer is wrong, then they’re not your customer any more.” In other words, if it's not worth making the customer right, fire them. And, he has a good point.

While we have some pretty simple guidelines, it’s not always black and white. We listen carefully to the client and then deliver some degree of what they need or what they want. Usually, we know which degree of customer they want to be long before they become our customer.

The Three Degrees Of Clients

• We work with the client to deliver what internal and external research suggests they need in the marketplace.

• We work with the client to deliver what they want, sometimes suggesting what they might need in the marketplace.

• We deliver exactly what the client wants, until they don’t like it and as long as they don’t blame us for the results.

Of course, we usually don’t have to ask which degree of service they prefer. The answer tends to come up in other ways.

“We want a brochure like this.”

“We need two fax numbers on our business card.”

“We showed a bunch of people and they had opinions.”

If there is any uncertainty, we might ask them why they need a brochure, why they need two fax numbers, or who were the people they asked. For some, light bulbs go on. Others, the second degree, has explanations.

“Our competitor has a brochure like this.”

“It would make it more convenient for me.”

“I really trust their opinions and we always listen to them.”

Sometimes I’ll ask if they think it’s smart to be the same as the competitor (thereby surrendering any competitive advantage), whether they’ve considered the inconvenience to the customer (never knowing which number to fax to), or if any of the collected opinions come from someone in marketing, with tangible market research, or a prospect (not an existing customer) at the very least. For some, light bulbs go on. Others, the third degree, has explanations.

“Yes, because they seem successful.”

“Yes, they can always call me to find out.”

“I’m not going to tell you, but I really think they are right.”

When we hear these answers, the next question we ask is to ourselves. Can we afford to give them what they want or are their wants better served elsewhere so we can focus on those clients who have entrusted us to find out what they need? I usually make the decision based on whether the client will be happy with what they want or if they require us to be happy with what they want. The latter cannot be our client.

After all, as Alexander Kjerulf said last year — “some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better off without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.”

I tend to agree. Our customers are always right. Or, they aren’t our customers.



Rich on 6/17/08, 1:53 PM said...

More words:

Microsoft ran an article that mirrors some of the same conclusions, pinpointing three types of customers that most companies are better to be without.


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