Yesterday I overheard Anne having a conversation with a potential client about how they treat their loyal customers — you know, the customers who keep coming back and buying your products or services regularly — compared to how they treat their new customers.
I was intrigued when Anne started to tell a story I hadn't heard before. She signaled that she was starting a story, "Hmmm, that reminds me of the time I was working in Winnipeg, in the winter; it was extremely cold and the icy roads were treacherous.
"I was staying at an Air BnB some ways from our offices, and I didn't have a car.
"The first morning, I got up super early so I would have time to spare as I expected there could be a long wait for a taxi.
"I was dressed when I called but had not yet had my morning coffee. Immediately upon dialing the number, I got an automated greeting; it had identified my address based on the landline I was calling from and told me that the wait time could be up to 45 minutes due to inclement weather. Just what I expected.
"So, I measured the coffee into the filter and filled the carafe ready to enjoy a fresh brewed cup while I checked my email. No sooner had I poured the water into the coffee maker than I heard a car honking outside!
"Yikes! I poked my head out the door and sure enough, there was a taxi in the driveway. I waived to let him know I would be right out, and then I quickly turned off the coffee maker, grabbed my laptop, put on my boots, my heavy down coat, gloves, briefcase, and rushed out the door.
"Climbing into the backseat, I said to the driver, "Wow! That was fast! I barely had time to hang up the phone and here you are!"
"Putting the car in reverse and backing out of the driveway, the driver remarked, "You must be a new customer."
"Thinking that was an odd comment, I asked him, "What makes you think I am a new customer?
"He winked at me in the rearview mirror and said,
"We have a new phone system. When a new customer calls, they get bumped to the top of the line. Our regular customers can wait."
"I thought to myself, Wow! The new customers go to the head of the line and the regular customers (i.e., loyal customers) can wait?
"I asked the driver, "Does that mean that when I call tomorrow, I will have to wait?"
"Yes", he said, "I guess it does."
"I was flabbergasted. That's no way for any company to treat your loyal customers. And, think about this, by exceeding the new customer's expectations, you have set the bar pretty high (among your new customers who don't even know they are receiving special treatment). When new customers become loyal customers, on their second call, their expectations will not be met and they will be disappointed at the wait time.
"Let's imagine that I called again the second morning, and I didn't know about the 'new' phone system. Based on my first experience, I would adjust my behavior. I would not call until after my coffee and email check.
"I would call expecting the taxi to come right away (despite the greeting that warned of a possible 45-minute wait). Then I would put on my outerwear so I would be ready to dash out the door when the taxi arrived.
"I would wait, and wait, and wait some more. I would call the taxi company again and figure out how to get past the automated system to speak to a person. That person would likely tell me that I was in the queue (line) and that someone would be along soon to pick me up. And, they would likely remind me that when I booked, I had been told it could take up to 45 minutes.
"I would get hot and take off my coat. I would call my office, and tell them I was going to be late - still waiting to be picked up. I would get out my laptop, and do some work. And, I would be annoyed.
"Having been wowed on the first morning, the bond with the company was broken on the second experience by the pain of waiting. At this point, the taxi company didn't "look" any different than the other taxi companies, except that they had not yet disappointed me.
"I might give them another chance but if they kept me waiting on the third morning, I would take my business elsewhere!"
"Do you see how what you are suggesting could lead to a similar outcome?"
The potential client thanked Anne saying they had not thought of it that way. They were going to rethink their customer acquisition and retention programs.
How are you treating your loyal customers? Are you rewarding their loyalty? Or are you taking advantage of their loyalty while you chase after new customers? Are you creating expectations that are not sustainable?
Next week, I will ask Anne to tell us more about the topic of caring for customers.