Unprofitable Customers: Naughty or Nice ?


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Customer value helps identify the top tier customers we need to focus retention activity on, but what of the other 80% of customers who generate nominal or even negative contribution? Are they naughty or are they nice to have in your portfolio?

This question has been troubling strategists and marketers since customer profitability measurement first became viable in the early 1990s. And with good reason: depending on what you are measuring and what your goals are customer value can suggest very different actions. It is imperative to measure customer values using a model appropriate to the decisions you want to make. More often than not you will discover that a variety of measurement models are needed to support different kinds of decisions. (See CMA article How should we measure customer profitability). Even if you’ve got the models you need, however, it is inevitable that 60% of your clients are going to be somewhere in the middle and 20% at each of the top and tail of your list.

Let’s consider the bottom 20%. Are they “bad” customers that we should de-market? Are they “abusers” of our services? Customers in the bottom quintile of value rarely have an “average” customer profile. In this tier you will find customers with a wide variety of business relationships with your bank, most of them fairly substantial in terms of balances and activity. If you dig deep enough into the numbers, you are likely to find pricing at the root of their negative value. Some will have their value depressed by shrewd negotiation of rates and fees, others by strategic discounting and others still by irrational market pricing conditions.

Negotiated discounts in fees and rates certainly need to be taken into account when assessing customer value. But pricing anomalies driven by market conditions or strategic discounting have little to do with the customer, and should not be included in customer value. The extreme case of this is when the market prices entire business lines at negative spreads, which happens from time to time in periods of crisis. Whole segments of customer values can turn from gold to brass in a matter of months when this happens.

Obviously one cannot switch customer relationship strategies with these shifting winds of chance. You need to look past the numbers to manage customer strategy effectively. Clearly we need to reprice relationships where excessive discounting is negotiated. It is equally clear we should not penalize customers for aberrations in market or strategic conditions. There is no substitute for wisdom and understanding when working with customer value !

Best holiday wishes to all.

David McNab

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David McNab, CPA, CA
A senior level strategist, innovator and change agent, Dave has deep experience in customer intelligence and business intelligence strategy, with over 25 years of Financial Services management and Consulting experience in North America, South America, Middle East, Japan and UK. He has worked as a Consulting SME with IBM, Teradata and PwC (Coopers) and has run an independent practice for over 15 years.


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