Why is It So Hard to Be a “Preferred Customer?”

We all want to think we’re special–not just to our friends and families, but to the people and organizations we work with on a daily basis.

This is especially true for organizations we patronize on a regular basis as customers. We want to be acknowledged for our continuing business and our loyalty.

So when office supply store Staples contacted me and told me they were making me a member of their Gold Preferred program, it sounded good to me. First, a disclaimer–I own a small business and though we buy a steady stream of office products, I’m not likely to be a large customer for Staples or any of their competitors any time soon. So it was nice to see that they wanted to acknowledge my business at the level I’m currently purchasing.

What does it mean to be a Staples Preferred Customer? There are a number of promotions and discounts you get on a regular basis and you accrue points in their loyalty program at a higher level than other customers. However, the biggest “feature” appears to be a semi-dedicated account manager who contacts you on a regular basis to check on you.

Now it’s very nice that Staples has decided to have someone looking after me, but as I’ve told them several times, I really don’t need much looking after–particularly by phone. When I need something, I place an order (usually online), and presto, the supplies appear at my door a few days later. If the order’s big enough, I don’t even pay for shipping. I can’t remember the last time I actually needed to talk to a sales rep to place an office supply order (even for a desktop computer!).

However, it appears that one of the requirements of being in this program is that the account manager needs to make contact with the customer *by phone* on a regular basis–whether I need or want to talk to them or not. You can guess where this is going–I’ve figured out the number they call from and when that number appears on my phone, I send it right to voicemail.

I’ve told the very friendly Staples account rep several times to please contact me via email, not by phone. I told her this again last week when I actually picked up her call. Here’s the kicker. She told me that Staples requires customer reps to make contact with preferred customers by phone–whether I wanted to be contacted that way or not.

The lesson here is to treat customers the way *they* want to be treated, not the way we think they should be treated. As a preferred customer, I’d like to be able to choose how you contact me. Some people would prefer only phone contact, others would opt for email. The bottom line is it’s up to you as a business to help your customers in the way they’d like to be helped.

Not sure what customers prefer? Here’s a novel approach. Ask them. But the important part is to then listen to their feedback then act upon it. Otherwise your preferred customers may decide they prefer to work with someone else.

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