If you asked the average businessperson “who are your best customers?” the initial response is likely to be “those who spend the most money with my company” or maybe “those who are the most profitable to us”.

These aren’t bad answers, but they miss two key aspects: 1) the future potential of the customer relationship, and 2) the qualitative quality of the relationship.

Regarding the first point, the customers who spend the most or who are the most profitable today might not be those that spend the most or are most profitable a year from now. A better way to think about it is that there might be customers who a year from now will be spending more, or driving more profits for you, than the “top” customers today.

This is important because so many businesses either claim to, or want to, treat their best customers better. But if you think about it, this is flawed thinking. If you only treat today’s best customers better, then the rest of the customers might never become tomorrow’s best customers. The best businesses make all customers think they’re getting premium treatment.

Here’s where the second point comes in. In businesses where people are providing the service (like the business I’m in), the level of service is going to vary across customers. It’s often dictated by how good the qualitative quality of the relationship is — that is, how tight the personal connection is, and (I know this is squishy) how much mutual respect there is between you (or your firm) and the client.

Let me give you an example of a low quality relationship:

About six months ago, I turned in a deliverable (a white paper) to a client, who dismissed it (without any substantive comments) as “unacceptable”. After pressing the client for more specific feedback, the paper was reworked and resubmitted about a week later. Months and months then passed with periodic emails from my firm to the client asking for feedback and/or resolution.

After six months, the client calls and says it’s time to revisit the paper. Great, finally getting a discussion. The client admits to not having read the paper since Christmas. We agree that the client will review the paper and submit feedback. A day later, two emails from the client arrive. The first says “this paper is completely unacceptable”. Before we had a chance to respond, a second email comes with the message “ok, here are some suggested changes, if you can make these changes, we should be good.”

A day later, another email comes in asking “are you guys done with the edits/changes yet?”

So, what do you think? Is this one of my firm’s best customers?

A friend of mine at Mission FCU in San Diego reminds me often that there is no such thing as a coincidence, but it sure seems like a coincidence that I came across two tweets today that I thought really captures the essence of this.

@WriteTheCompany tweeted that “Customers are often taken for granted. Then again, many customers try to take advantage of companies, too.” And @JennaSnacks tweeted: “There is nothing better in this world than working with clients you respect and doing work you love.”

There are two things that I take away from all this: 1) Your best customers will never be measured by money alone, and 2) To be treated like a best customer, be a good customer.

Last point: This stuff actually bugs me, and here’s why. As much as I want to believe in, and profess the benefits of, a quantitative approach to customer measurement and segmentation, the example above just goes to show that it’s not that easy or clean.

Image via flickr

Original Post: http://snarketing2dot0.com/2010/04/22/your-best-customers/

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