Punishing Loyalty: Rewarding First-Time Customers

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Let’s face it: Nothing says “We value our longtime customers” like making a discount available only to first-time customers. .

Let’s call it the First-Time Flyer approach: instead of encouraging loyalty among customers by rewarding them for it, the First-Time Flyer approach seeks to reward new customers for abandoning one of their competitors.

The mindset which focuses on gaining new customers by imposing costs on long-established ones is widespread.

You call an internet service provider to arrange web access in your new home or apartment. It’s explained to you that as a first-time customer you are eligible for a special discounted rate, one not available to those chumps who have been customers for as long as there’s been an Internet.

The next time you visit your local grocery store, consider the “15 items or less” sign above the check-out. Set aside that it should read “15 items or fewer“: the mindset encapsulated in such signs is crystal clear: “We aim to reward those the most who are profiting us the least”.

Imagine shopping at a grocery store where such signs are replaced with ones which read “Customers Shopping With Us For Three Years Or More”. I’d wager that such a sign would encourage first-time customers to become longtime customers. (I’d also wager that the novelty of such a rewards program would prompt some customers to take pictures of such signs and share them on social media.

Then you’re really in business.

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Adding Value

VALUEYou go to a comedy club to see some comedians you’ve never heard of and who ends up doing a set but Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld benefits only little from the set – maybe he’s not getting paid and the short time he spends onstage helps only little to hone his set – but the value he ads to the show and your experience is incalculable.

In the same way, things have tremendous to your clients and others that cost you virtually nothing. A $5 bill left on the nightstand has a lot more value to the woman who cleans your hotel room than what it costs you.

How many ways can you add similar value to your product or service on behalf of your clients?

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The Bureaucratic Mindset

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It’s a long boring story but the upshot is my itinerary had me flying, in one day, from Bismarck, North Dakota to Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles and back to Denver. That’s right: four flights between Bismarck and Denver with a layover in… Denver.

None of this was anybody’s fault but simply a result of separate reservations made to accommodate a changing schedule.

Checking-in at Bismarck Municipal airport, I explained to the United representative that since Denver was my “final destination” that I would only be taking the first flight, thank you very much, and that she should therefore only check my bag to Denver and not to LAX, which would have required me to collect my bag and re-check them to Denver (owing to separate reservations).

“You’ll lose your return flight” she explained. She said it in such a way that suggested less full-disclosure than “I’m not sure I can do that”.

My instinct was confirmed when, after gamely poking at a couple of computer keys for a couple seconds, she summarily informed me that it couldn’t be done. Before I could explain to her (in a way that would keep her dignity intact) that it could, in fact, be done, another United representative who overheard our exchange took up my cause. “Just go to bag management”, she said, pointing to a key on her computer.

Not surprisingly, the first representative’s can’t-do attitude remained unfazed. She implied that it could, in fact, be done, but that it would be “illegal” for her to do so. (For this I gave a small prayer of thanks that anything so hilarious could be uttered in Bismarck, North Dakota).

It become immediately clear that I was dealing with one of those bureaucratic souls whose can’t-do attitude blinded her to what should have been obvious.

Happily, uncharacteristically, competence reigned as the other representative took over while the Fearful One looked on with the resentment those who can’t have toward those who do. She was advertising her own refusal to learn anything from this experience – and the self-loathing that accompanies such refusal.

Within two minutes I was headed toward security with ticket in hand.

Whenever I encounter someone with the bureaucratic mindset I am reminded of a line – I think it’s Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann – that “He was less concerned with what pushing the button meant than with pushing it well”.

I arrived safely in Denver and my bag did the same only a few minutes later and the sun has since continued to set in the west and rise in the east.

Do you have experiences with the bureaucratic mindset and a can’t-do attitude? Share them in the comment section below.

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“May I Help The Next Customer?”

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I begin most transactions with people in the customer service industry with “Hi, how are you?” It’s a pleasantry that takes only a moment. Sometimes the service rep gets this look on her face like a deer caught in headlights. It becomes immediately obvious that nothing in her experience taught her to be prepared for it.

And why should she be prepared for it, given the signal she sends by initiating our interaction with “May I help the next customer?” Oh what a joy it is to be referred to as “The next customer”. That’s how I think of myself: the next customer. Sure, it’s four more syllables than “May I help you?” but it’s worth it, given that it sends the unmistakable message that our transaction will lack the tiniest trace of authenticity or humanity.

Frankly the DMV’s greeting of “Customer 372” is more personal. After all, everybody is at one time or another “The next customer”. But only I am customer 372.

Do you have customer service grievances? Share them in the comment section below.

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