Debunking the “Everyone Is Equal” Myth

November 4, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

David Spinks caught me on Twitter Friday morning and asked a question that was hard to answer on less than four hours of sleep and within the confines of 140 characters. Thanks to Twitter Search, you can watch me awkwardly try. However, the question he asked was an important one. And my inability to appropriately answer it haunted me all weekend (GET IT?).

David asked for my thoughts on treating all customers equally – basically ARE all customers equal or are some customers “more important” or “more vital” than others? He was piggybacking off a conversation he started earlier.. I thought maybe we could continue it.

What I told him is this: Your customers AREN’T equal and believing they are takes money out of your pocket. More attention should be focused on those that “matter” and less should be focused on those people who simply matter “less”.

Before you kick me, let’s back up.

A few weeks ago we talked about ComCast. I mentioned that one of my biggest issues with ComCast was how differently they treat customers in terms of service. If you mention them on Twitter, they jump into action to help. If you try to speak with someone over the phone, they jerk you around and you get no resolution. It’s not cool. Customer service should be universal. You’re responsible for the product you make and the service you provide. You shouldn’t get a different experience based on how you choose to make contact. End of story.

Outside of that, things change.

Social media ruined the Web. It turned us into whiny babies.

  • We don’t want Twitter lists because we don’t want people to (God forbid) feel excluded.
  • We don’t want to down vote bad content because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by giving them the heads up that they’re not clever.
  • We offer mediocre services for free instead of charging for something better because paying for things offends us. People won’t even pay for porn anymore.
  • We don’t want to even suggest that one customer is worth more to us than someone else, because that’s not right. Communities are equal. And made of rainbows.

And it’s this “no man left behind” approach to business that breeds mediocrity and attempts to make the status quo acceptable. It’s screwed up our schools by handing out participation trophies to the weak and it’s had even larger consequences on businesses. If you’re treating your customers equally, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re doing a disservice to your “better” customers, you’re wasting time and money trying to appease the “lesser” ones, and you’re spending time looking in the wrong direction. I realize that it’s not politically correct to publicly lump people into “good”, “better”, “best” buckets, but you’re already doing it in your head. Why not at least get it on paper where the information is actionable?

Respect your customers by segmenting them. You know which customer type is more important to you. Create complete customer personas that reflect each type. Then, bucket them.

  • Vocal brand evangelists go into one bucket.
  • Long time/major customers go into another bucket.
  • Average customers go into a bigger bucket.
  • Whiners get thrown out.

The people in the top bucket get more attention. Their voices should be heard the loudest. They are the ones who should be consulted with for decisions about your company or product. They get to leave the input you read most. They’re who you care about and whose experience you aim to better. That is the bucket driving your business.

participation trophy

Trying to lead a company by committee and pleasing “everyone” doesn’t work. That’s how you wind up spending ten early morning meetings and a Saturday debating the size font you’re going to use on the home page. By giving more weight to the people who actually bring value, you build a leaner organization. One that naturally filters out people who don’t fit inside your brand and who would walk over your dead body if it meant collecting $20. You, over time, cut out the people inclined to be a time suck.

Let’s be honest: Your average customer would leave you if your competitor waved a free Medium French fry and chocolate shake in front of their face. Let that person walk.

In David’s post, he argues that businesses should treat all communities the same, regardless of their influence. He wonders if it’s really worth alienating your average customer to do right by the average one.

In my opinion? YES, YES, IT IS.

Twitter created a network of average by refusing to charge. And as a result, their service is weaker. I don’t care how successful Twitter is today, if they were to switch over to a pay model, tomorrow it would be a better platform. Would people drop off? OMG, in DROVES. But the brand evangelists, the people who understand the mission, the value and the use of the site, would fight to pay for it. If paying for Twitter meant I could get new features and a promise that it wouldn’t CRASH every other day, I’d pay in a heartbeat. The people who wouldn’t don’t believe in you. They’re not worth your time.

Some people are worth more to your organization than others. They’re simply more important.  Treat all your customers equal in terms of service, but know who best defines your brand in terms of operation and cater to that group.  Their voices are what define you, not the one of your “average” customer.

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