When it comes to employees, or prospective employees, you shouldn’t discriminate. It’s against the law and not good business. But when it comes to your customers, you should absolutely, positively, frequently discriminate. Although we all want to feel that every customer is equal and loved, the fact is that all customers are not equal or loved.
When I fly, I almost always use American (formerly US Airways). I’m not saying it's the best airline or offers the best fares (it doesn’t), but American is the dominant airline at my local airport and frankly, it's a pretty good company. And, like so many other good companies, they discriminate.
I’m a frequent flier. So I get priority boarding and occasionally get upgraded to first class, which are both great perks to make the agony of flying a little less agonizing. But the biggest perk I get is service. If a flight is canceled I get immediately rebooked on another flight -- no questions asked or calls made. I know if there are any problems en route I’ll be given priority attention.
If I fly another airline where I don’t have the same status I’ll receive a lower level of service. No airline will admit that. But I know this is true. I’ve lived it.
American, and its competitors, discriminate. Good for them. I wish other companies would be smart enough to do the same. Good customers should receive priority. Good companies should discriminate. Want to know how?
Have good data.
When I call American, its phone system recognizes my mobile number, identifies me by name and then routes me to a priority customer service agent. Believe it or not, you can be doing this too -- it’s not as tough as you think. Get good customer relationship management (CRM) software such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Zoho CRM (my company sells these three) or any one of the many dozens of other great CRMs that would serve as a database for your customers and prospects.
Make sure the data is updated with sales and activities (they all can do this out of the box with common accounting systems or can be programmed to do so). Integrate it with your phone system (they all do through third-party developers). Discriminate by categorizing customers as "gold," "silver," or "bronze" based on sales or other criteria that defines a good customer. That way when anyone contacts your company, whoever picks up the phone knows how valuable that customer is to your company and what others in your company has been doing with them.
Have multiple service options and charge for them.
Want extra special, extended service on that computer you bought from Best Buy? Then buy its service plan. Want to step up to the next frequent flier level on American? You’ve got the option to purchase those miles.
Customers who want the extra service should have the option to pay for them. And customers who deserve the extra service because of their sales or whatever else you say determines their value should have the ability to earn it.
My firm is a Microsoft partner, which means we buy products from Microsoft and resell them to our clients. If we want "gold" status (which grants us more support options and better discounts) we need to buy more from Microsoft, plain and simple. If you’ve got a "bronze" service plan then you’ll suffer discrimination in the face of a "gold" plan customer.
Finally, tell the world that you discriminate.
Don’t hide it. Airlines don’t hide that they have frequent flier plans. Hotels and car rental agencies tell the world about their priority plans for their better customers. Credit card companies let their best customers earn points. Even my supermarket gives me extra discounts under its rewards program.
Tell the world that you discriminate because you value your best customers and treat them better than the competition. Make it irresistible for customers like me to become part of your program so I too can be treated like a king.
The world is a very unequal place. And the best way to maximize your profits is to treat your customers unequally.