One Size Doesn’t Fit All

By Adriana Puckett

When you think of your customers do you take a cookie-cutter approach, figuring that what makes one customer happy will make them all happy? If so, you could be making big mistake say Robert Blattberg, Gary Getz and Jacquelyn Thomas, authors of Customer Equity: Building and Managing Relationships as Valuable Assets (Harvard Business School Press, 2001).

Just as you would never treat your boss the same as your co-worker, you should not treat your new customers the same as your established ones. “Prospects, new buyers, and long-time customers do not have the same needs, and as their relationships with a company change, so do their expectations and behavior,” Blattberg, Getz and Thomas say.

But, you ask yourself, “Don’t all customers deserve the same treatment across the board – prompt service and satisfaction with your product?” The short answer is yes, but customers go through stages on their way to becoming the core of your business. Taking those stages into consideration when dealing with each of your customers will go a long way toward understanding their needs. Keep these in mind:

1. A bicycle built for two
The prospect stage is the wooing stage, making potential customers aware of your product or service and then persuading them to buy. You should focus on selling “basic products the customer can buy that eventually lead to trade-ups and add-on selling,” say Blattberg, Getz and Thomas.

2. Would you like to try one?
Have you ever caught yourself having a little too much fun at the sample-food carts at the grocery store? This is what your first-time customer is doing – trying you out, but not committed to you yet. At this stage good customer service is crucial. “Pricing, although important, is less critical…as long as the product offered provides good value to the customer,” say the authors.

3. Keep ’em coming
Although these early repeat customers have bought your product or service a few times, they are not core customers. Why not? Perhaps they have doubts about the customer service, product performance or have been intrigued by a competitor’s product. Pricing and promotions do not play an important role here, but customer service does. “Product offerings should consist of add-on products that complement…the firm’s core products,” say Blattberg, Getz and Thomas.

4. Your bread and butter
Your goal is to make every prospect into a core customer that sustains and grows your business. These customers know and like your company, which is why they should be treated with excellent customer service and quickly assuaged should any problems occur. By this point in your relationship, you should be familiar with the customer’s buying history and offer relevant products.