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Customer equity

In his book, Customer Centricity: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters, Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, defines customer centricity as “a strategy to fundamentally align a company’s products and services with the wants and needs of its most valuable customers.”

While reading the book, I was reminded of the Aristotle quote: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

This is a slippery slope in customer service because, when taken to extremes, it appears to be prejudicial service, where one customer is prematurely judged as less valuable or important than another customer. (Think about the scene in Pretty Woman when Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, was snubbed by saleswomen based on her immodest appearance while shopping at an upscale boutique along Rodeo Drive.) And, of course, this is wrong.

That said, there are many who will say that all customers should be treated equally. I’d like to make a distinction here between the terms equally and equity:

  • Equally means having the same value as another.
  • Equity means the state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.

Equally means 50:50. Equity might mean 60:40 or some other unequal ratio—based on what each party needs and deserves.

I have four children. The three oldest receive allowance but their allowance is not equal. The financial needs of my 5th Grader differ from those of his 1st Grade sister and their individual allowances reflect that difference. Their allowance is not equal but it is equitable.

In the same way, customers who have flown 100,000 miles with an airline and achieved elite status in its frequent flyer program deserve to board the airplane ahead of those passengers who fly less often. And retail customers with a history of significant spending deserve to be notified of sales before the general public in order to preview the best selection of sale merchandise. These perks may not be spread equally among the customer base but they are distributed equitably.

I agree with Fader’s assertion that “the customer” (a generic term used to represent every customer in a company’s customer base) does not exist because every customer is different. According to Fader, “You must not only accept but celebrate the idea of customer heterogeneity (or uniqueness). By putting forth the effort to better understand the habits, tendencies, and value of each and every one of your customers, you can build better, stronger, and more profitable companies.”

So gather as much intelligence as you can about your company’s very best customers and then look for opportunities to recognize and delight them.

Doing so will reinforce their personal importance (not their importance as people—that’s equality—but their importance as customers) while recognizing the value they bring to the business through personal spending, loyalty and referrals.

I welcome all questions, comments, bouquets and brickbats.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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