Is customer service differentiation ok?

Posted on

customer serviceThere has been a lot of talk lately around here about the way banks treat their customers differently depending on the amount of business they give them. Many feel that customers without great financial means are treated poorly, given a lesser service and are not valued as much – which is seen as unfair, undemocratic and unethical.

One bank even had the audacity to be quite frank about it, and openly stated exactly how much service they intended to give to customers of various business brackets. If you didn’t like it, you could choose to either do more business with them and get better/more service or find yourself another bank. Here, in Denmark – one of the world’s most egalitarian countries, that was regarded by many as a really big deal and very controversial.

Many took serious offense. Personally I was a bit surprised at the strong response, I thought it was kind of nice to hear something that sounded almost like honesty from a bank…

The heated response this situation caused, might also have been fuel by the fact, that the decision was directed towards private customers, I doubt we would have seen the same reaction had the bank just wanted to get rid of their unprofitable B2B customers.

But is it ok for businesses to say to customers that they don’t want them, or give them a lesser service, because they don’t make enough money off of them?

This is a question you had better be prepared for a hefty discussion about if you dare ask. At least if you happen to be in Denmark…

It is difficult to defend treating people differently when the only thing that sets them apart is money, nonetheless I have, in business, without a shadow of doubt done it myself plenty times.

Have I rescheduled small deliveries, and thereby inconvenienced another customer, in order to accommodate a big one? Yup. Have I held the store open after hours for somebody with a fat wallet? Oh yes. Would I do that for all customers? Hell no.

Of course all customers are important, and all should be treated with a high degree of service, I would never advocate poor service, but fact is that some customers are just more important than others. And what makes a customer more important – well the amount of money they spend. That’s how the cookie crumbles – it’s not personal, just business.

I didn’t always see it this way. Back in the good ol’ days, before reality hit me, when my naive (but beautiful) Scandinavian belief in fairness and equality for all still prevailed, I would have been pretty horrified by even entertaining the idea that it could be defended to treat people differently, based exclusively on how much money they were spending.

But that was before I became responsible for the financial success (or failure) of a business.