Customer service or special treatment?

Misleading Customer Service Kills Your BusinessOttawa PR and social media professional Joe Thornley wrote a post today that’s got me thinking. You can check the post out over on his blog but, in a nutshell, he’s praising Fairmont Hotels for going the extra mile for him (he’s a regular customer).

He makes a lot of good points and I’m not taking issue with what he’s written. It would be great if more companies did nice things for their customers, especially ones who bring them repeat business. Chris Brogan has written about similar things (the one that jumps out in my head is this post about his comic book supplier). Companies showing they value your patronage by going the extra mile isn’t rocket science and it certainly predates social media and all that.

So maybe this post is just inspired by subconscious sour grapes ’cause I don’t have stories of my own to share. Take that gain of salt as you read on.

But could it be that these companies are treating Chris and Joe well because they have a big following? Because they know, even without asking for it, that they’re likely to get a nice plug on a well-read blog? These guys have big twitter followings. Would I get similar treatment from these companies if I was a regular? Would you?

The takeaway from both of these posts seems to be that more companies should take the personal approach to customer service. But is that realistic? Does that scale?

Can Fairmont afford to upgrade all of their regular customers the way they did for Joe? Or does the fact that he’s blogged about them before and that they sponsor an event series that he organizes play into their decision to upgrade him for his troubles? Can Mick Galuski reasonably expect to have time to send a DM to every one of his customers when their comic shipment arrives each week?

Look, this isn’t intended to be a shot at Joe Thornley or Chris Brogan. So please don’t read it as such. I just wonder if maybe they don’t realize the impact of their reach. They are more than regular customers, they are regular customers with large networks of people who trust their recommendations. It makes sense for these companies to go the extra mile for them. But I’m not convinced it’s practical as a long-term model of customer service.

But feel free to argue. I’d like to be proven wrong.

photo credit: libraryman

12 thoughts on “Customer service or special treatment?

  1. Joe,

    Can companies do something special for all their customers like Fairmont did something special for me? Absolutely they can.

    Over time, Fairmont has done this type of thing for me about once a year. I don’t expect it regularly and I am sure that they do it for all their best customers over time. If they spread the goodness around, then yes, delighting and surprising customers does scale.
    .-= Hey, you should check out Joseph Thornley´s last blog ..Fairmont Hotels takes a smart approach to customer relations =-.

  2. Thanks for the reply, Joe. Good points and like I said, I was asking the question quite sincerely. I appreciate the sincere reply.

    Done strategically, I guess there’s room to expand this kind of thing. How big would you say their cadre of “best customers” would be? A dozen? 50? Does the fact that Fairmont is a premium brand come into play?

  3. Joe,

    Fairmont has a customer loyalty program. So they can easily recognize their best customers when they walk in. And as a premium brand, they don’t compete on cost. I would believe that leaves them room for special gestures.

    Would this be different for companies that compete primarily on cost? I think I’ll look around for examples of that sort.
    .-= Hey, you should check out Joseph Thornley´s last blog ..Fairmont Hotels takes a smart approach to customer relations =-.

  4. hey joe (boughner) – agree that it is great to see organizations go the extra mile for their more valued and valuable customers. i’m not sure if its right to draw the connection between joe (thornley)’s special treatment at their locations and fairmont hotels’s sponsorship of a community event he helps to organise. i’m sure it’s more to do with joe (thornley)’s regular and loyal use of its facilities rather than a nefarious quid pro quo arrangement.

    my bigger concern is that for every amazing experience which joe (thornley) and chris brogan have and amplify to their fans, there are literally hundreds of people who will be sorely disappointed when their experience doesn’t live up to those of their influencers. if you have a great experience, you tell 3 people; have a bad experience and you tell 10.

    as a general rule, in my opinion, great customer service shouldn’t mean special treatment for the loudest voices but about raising the bar across the board. that’s why i’m not so bullish on social-media-as-a-customer-service-vehicle. why encourage your consumers to complain about you, just so you can publicly fix it?

    on a sidenote, please can two people with the same first name never debate anything online ever again? it is too confusing.

    ed
    .-= Hey, you should check out ed lee´s last blog ..Rory Sutherland Videos – Life and Lessons from an Ad Man and Sweat the Small Stuff =-.

  5. Thanks Ed, especially for the note about Fairmont and Third Tuesday. I wasn’t intending to suggest there was anything nefarious going on but upon a second read I can see how it might ring that way.

    The notion of squeaky wheelism vis-a-vis social media customer service is interesting. It could be argued that the people were complaining in these channels before the companies arrived on the scene but as it becomes more and more commonplace I can see how one might conclude the companies were almost encouraging these complaints just so they can be see to be doing the right thing. Chicken and eggish, really.

  6. Ed,

    You make a good point about the risk that Fairmont or any brand will disappoint customers if they deliver great experiences only to a visible few. This is a challenge. But I think that it’s worthwhile for a company to figure out how to do this and then to deliver it.

    In fact, I did consider changing to Starwood earlier this year. They have more properties in more cities than Fairmont. However, after I considered how I was being treated at Fairmont and then searched the FlyerTalk board for comments about both companies, I decided that Fairmont really does deliver a superior customer exprience. So I stayed with them.

    That’s also why companies cannot ignore social media as a customer service channel. if they fail to respond, other customers like me will see this. And I sure won’t give my business to a mute and nonresponsive company.
    .-= Hey, you should check out Joseph Thornley´s last blog ..Fairmont Hotels takes a smart approach to customer relations =-.

  7. I don’t think Mick could make enough on me alone to cater his business to me. In fact, at around $20 average a week, I’m a low-end buyer to him, as the people buying Warhammer 40K stuff pay TONS more than me every week or so.

    Do OTHER businesses cater to me? Probably.

    Could they/should they do the same to their best prospects? Absolutely.

    Fair is a lie. No one wants to be treated fairly. They want to be treated well. I think in doing what they’re doing, they’re providing excellent examples that they themselves can copy to improve their offerings.

    I’m down with it. Great question, but I think it’s the red herring part. Should they be giving ME love? Not necessarily, except it gives them market exposure. Should they test on me and then give other people love? Absolutely. : )
    .-= Hey, you should check out Chris Brogan…´s last blog ..Stay on Target =-.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Chris. I guess the outstanding question is how many other people can they reasonably be expected to give that love too? I agree, everyone wants special treatment (though that might open up another question, if everyone’s getting special treatment, does that make it less special?). But where’s the tipping point?

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