There IS such a thing as a bad customer

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt, CEO of Truly, has over 20 years experience in market research and strategy on both client and agency side. She wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business, was named one of 2013's Entrepreneurial Women to Watch by Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in Fast Company. She has built an engaged and enthusiastic business audience online of over 345,000 followers, including a significant number of thought leaders. Tara combines a data-centric with a human-centric approach to building an audience, leaning heavily on insights into consumer patterns and behaviors while keeping an eye on online trends and changing expectations.

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There is some debate over who originally coined the phrase “The customer is always right.” Some claim it was Harry Selfridge, the founder of the eponymous London department store. Others believe it was hotelier Cesar Ritz, or perhaps Chicago retailer Marshall Field. It really doesn’t matter anyhow, because it’s horsepucky. Rubbish. Hooey. You get the point.

While there are lots of examples of plain old bad customers — some funny, some sad, and some downright awful —  the fact of the matter is, some customers are not right for you. The key here is to recognize that getting more customers does not always equal more profit and/or more success. Being able to recognize your best customer, focus on that niche, and spend your time, energy, and dollars fostering a great relationship with them will build your business in the long-run.

A dog with a (discounted) bone

For pet lovers, Holiday Season 2019 saw a massive influx of “Anti-Stress Pet Beds” advertising, aimed at soft-hearted doggie devotees who just love to spoil their furry companions. Ad after ad showed up in newsfeeds, each one offering 40, 50, even 60% off TODAY ONLY! Somehow, that TODAY seemed to last for weeks. Does this tactic sound familiar?

While this new, hot item may have sold unit upon unit during the Christmas rush, this is not a sustainable, long term strategy. Relying on discounting and gimmicky advertising may get you some quick sales, but the hot air leaks out of that balloon pretty quickly. It’s short-sighted marketing to grab a bunch of customers, ship out a product at the lowest price, and leave it at that. Bad dog.

Every brand will attract a unique set of customers. Some customers are like chocolate ice cream: they serve a purpose in the short term (for example, making a quick sale), but leave you with little more than a one-time sale and a possible stomach ache afterward. Others are like a nice, healthy smoothie: it can take a little more effort to prepare, but once you have it, it’s delicious, good for you in the long term, and also won’t leave you with indigestion.

One of the biggest warning signs of your Ice Cream Customer is the first interaction, where they contact you with something along the lines of “Hello, do you happen to have any discount codes right now?” Not to say that price comparison or ‘shopping around’ is a bad thing, but you can bet your bottom dollar that these folks have likely copied and pasted the same request to several competitors. Chances are, if your price on the same (or similar) product or service isn’t the lowest, that Ice Cream is headed for another tummy! And if yours is the lowest… congrats, you’ve probably made a sale. But, be forewarned that this is NOT the customer you want to spend your time and energy on. Once they have purchased, they may offer you another taste, but not because of any brand loyalty —  it will be based on price and price alone. If your deal or pricing ever changes, that customer goes bye-bye. Spending your resources on this customer will not pay off in the long run. However, I’m not saying that you should ignore this customer. Provide them with good customer service and move on. Your best customer doesn’t just want the best price, they want you. Your Smoothie Customer is likely to consist of several ingredients.

This customer has a need or desire for your product and sees value in it. They are willing and able to pay for it and will tell others (similar to themselves) about it. Is yours the least expensive option? Maybe not, but this customer will be more focused on how your brand interacts with them and makes them feel. What added value can you offer? The right kind of engagement is key.

Lush life

Lush Cosmetics is a great example of a brand knowing and engaging with their best customers. This UK-based cosmetics company has differentiated itself from the thousands of other run-of-the-mill makeup brands as an eco-friendly, high quality, vegan, and cruelty-free alternative. Is it the least expensive out there? Not by a long shot. But Lush has recognized who their best customer is, focused on them, and continually engages with them in a value-added way. 

Lush isn’t targeting all women. They aren’t targeting women in broad “demographics” between the ages of 18 and 50. They aren’t targeting the discount-brand makeup and skincare shopper. Their efforts are focused on people looking to support a brand with an ethos — a brand that takes a stand for what it believes in and against what it doesn’t. Their customers are proud to align themselves with this brand and its causes. If you check out their Instagram Feed, you’ll find a heavy presence of posts referencing social justice issues. It certainly won’t appeal to every customer, and might even turn some away, but it will attract and retain the right customer for them.

A “Lushie” is willing to pay higher prices for their products not only because of the quality, but because the company takes a certain stance they agree with. Customers are proud to be part of their culture because it says something about what values they hold personally. Lush isn’t afraid to alienate customers who disagree with their beliefs; they focus on engaging their loyal following who is likely to share the heck out of their posts. These customers are loyal to their brand and will proudly endorse them at any given chance. We once worked with a client who came to us because of customer retention issues. The problem? You guessed it. They were throwing discounts at customers left, right, and center.

What if your brand is getting lost in the sea of a bazillion other options?  How can you break free of the race upstream to get noticed? 

Just do it

One of the most popular shoe brands on the market today is Converse. Created in 1908, the quintessential sneaker was once the shoe on the court, with Basketball legend Chuck Taylor lending his name to these All-Stars. Converse owned the market for sports shoes. But, that didn’t last. With newer international brands like Nike and Adidas scoring 3-pointers, “Chucks” fell out of favor and the company filed for bankruptcy in the early 2000s.

Although some die-hard fans were disappointed, Nike came to the rescue in 2003, breathing new life into the brand. Leveraging the counterculture status symbol, “Cons” had become in the 1990s (think Kurt Cobain and his black, beat up sneaks), the parent company focused on dominating the cool-kid crowd. With limited editions, special tributes, and the ability to design your own shoes, those who love to celebrate their individuality flock to Converse.  Rather than chasing a saturated market they were no longer holding court over (see what I did there? 😉), Converse looked deeper and found their “right” customer was there, waiting to be plucked from the corner and asked to dance.  The result?  Well… let’s just ask this… How many people do YOU know who own or have owned a pair of Chucks?  And don’t forget about those highly devoted sneakerheads who wait on pins and needles for the next new release.

As a brand, your most important job is to discover your best customer and keep them engaged. In that group, finding your own “Lushies” or sneakerheads will be like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These ultra dedicated, brand-loyal enthusiasts will not only be repeat customers (jackpot!), but they will engage with each other and recruit more to their cause. 

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