Premier Support Programs: All Customers Aren’t Equal


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Almost every marketing text since Theodore (Ted) Levitt and Philip Kotler came onto the scene have emphasized that customer segmentation is key to attract the best customers and extract the most from them. As a result, telemarketing and telesales operations have a finely tuned engine that scores prospects, offers special deals and even decides which prospects are not worth the effort. More recently, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers have coined the term, “one-to-one marketing,” providing numerous tools to refine further customer segmented marketing and sales, and customer acquisition. Among the more alluring tools today are “potential value” scoring and “lifecycle marketing.”

However, over the same time period, almost all customer care and support operations have treated all customers the same; worse yet, many don’t even accumulate purchases in the same household or across different product groups, treating the customers not only the same but also in a narrowed-down fashion.

The challenge that I often make to my clients managing customer care/support is this: “Your customers pretty much know everything about your companies, but do you know everything about them?” All too often the answer is, “No,” or, “In my area, sure but not across the enterprise.”

Nor do they usually treat their customers differently in support; rather, all of sudden “all customers are treated equally” on the support end. If marketing knew that their hard-won efforts turned paying customers into widgets, they’d flip out!

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A few companies have figured this out, ranging from the airlines (frequent flyer programs) to certain online retailers (one that I know quite well) and banks (with “personal bankers” and such), producing what I call “premier support programs.” A recent example of premier support is under way at Dell, whose high-end consumer XPS product line for desktops and notebook computers includes a unique toll-free number to call for care or technical support, is staffed by even more highly trained agents and strives for “first-point resolution” for busy customers. So how are these programs different from the rank-and-file, “all customers are equal” programs, and how can customer care/support begin to implement them? I’d suggest following these four steps for differentiated service to suit the differences across the customer base:

  1. Link. Extend the marketing and sales customer databases to the customer care and support end of the enterprise (including third-party outsourcers). In this way, care and support can know which customers are more important than others. These “premier customers” may be those with highest recency, frequency and spend (RFS) or, perhaps, the rated the highest in the advanced “potential profitability” analysis). It is also important to link marketing and sales to care and support, perhaps getting verbatim email and chat logs or recorded calls that cover hot topics.

  2. Split. Identify the premier customers whenever they touch customer care and support, at the phone network or via email address or chat login. Here we want to route these premier customers to the most attentive or experienced agents and techs. Note: Premier customers might talk longer than “non-premier” customers, but they contact companies less frequently (relative to sales or orders or transactions in general).
  3. Listen and learn. Premier customers usually are the smartest or savviest customers you have, so it’s especially important to pay attention to what they’re saying or requesting, including any complaints or suggestions. Here, I would recommend using the WOCAS (“what our customers are saying”) upwelling and feedback tool that my colleague in Germany has produced to get the premier customer “voice” quickly to “owners” across the enterprise. You can learn more about this exciting new “voice of customer” tool at
  4. Be generous. Offering more concessions when premier customers do complain—and extending special offers to them in customer care and support when they don’t expect them—are excellent ways to bond with them and grow the business more quickly and, as Fred Reichheld admonishes us to remember, is one of the best ways for them to recommend your company to their many (other potential premier customer) friends and family!

If you follow these steps and increase connections (dare I reiterate “relationships”?), you’ll find they lead to more business from these same, premier, customers.

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


  1. Your point is really good. All customers are equal means that one should not ignore any one. But as the Newton’s third law states “Every action will have an equal and opposite reaction” – customers who are premier will have greater force in their reactions and will require equal, and therefore different reaction or treatment.


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