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Should you tell your best customers they’re your best customers?

I was recently meeting with a Senior Vice President of Sales at a Fortune 1000 company.  We’re going to work together to re-vamp their strategic accounts program based on some new information we have about these customers from their customer listening program.  This means some current customers will likely shift in and out of the group of accounts that get special treatment and resources.  Most companies make these kinds of decisions or shifts – whether annually or on some other regular cycle.
That means many of us deal with questions like:

Do our customers know when they’re our best customers?  Should they? How do we explain changes in their ‘status’ when we make them?

I can think of two examples where I know I am among the best customers of a particular company.  One of them is my preferred airline (www.united.com) – it is quite clear to me that I get special treatment from this airline due to how much I fly with them.  They show me their appreciation in a number of ways – including the occasional personal handwritten thank you note from the captain of a flight I’m on.  Nice touch.

The other is my preferred grocery (www.vons.com).    They informed me a few months ago that I’m one of their best customers, so they were taking care of my re-enrollment in a promotion they offer (where, coincidentally, I earn United miles for my grocery purchases) even though they were asking most other customers to re-enroll themselves.  I appreciate them taking care of this little administrative task for me, but I have seen absolutely no other evidence that I get any other special treatment from them.  And, the thing is, now I kind of expect it. 

So, what are some of the pros and cons of letting your most strategic customers know who they are?

Pros:

-It builds customer loyalty and the sense of partnership with these critically important customers.

-You’re able to take credit for special treatment, such as additional resources.

Cons:

-Customers may try to leverage their value to you in deal negotiations.

-You may have to explain to non-strategic customers why they are less important to you.

I’m sure there are many others.  Chime in here and add some if you like.  We all ought to think through these when we build or re-vamp our strategic accounts programs.
 
Sonya McAllister
Senior Vice President, Strategic Account Management
 

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