Courtesy navigation

VIP customers

If you want to be known for your top-notch service, then you need to treat all customers like royalty. Rachel Miller explains how

Every business has its best customers. They could be the biggest spenders or the long-standing clients that have stayed loyal over the years. They could be the friendliest people to deal with or they could be the people that recommend you to all their friends.

These are the customers you want to keep. So how do you reward them? And should you give everyone the same VIP treatment?

"Businesses like John Lewis and Waitrose, that are known for their high levels of service, treat everyone the same, whether they spend £1 or £1,000, and that is one of their strengths," says Edwina Hughes, customer care guru and director of Eddy and Co. "For business-to-business firms, everyone should be a VIP too but at the coalface of business, there are always some customers that keep your business going. You often get a lot of turnover from one or two clients and they definitely need to be treated like VIPs."

The personal touch

So how do you reward these important clients? You've got to give them the personal touch, says Hughes. Any reward you give them has to be thoughtful.  One way to do this is to give them an experience, something you know they'll never forget and which they will always associate with you. "It could be a day at the races or a voucher for a spa day," advises Hughes. "If it is specifically aimed at them, it shows you are thinking about them."

But the question remains, is it OK to differentiate between one client and another? The answer is yes if you want to reward a particularly important customer but not if it means offering two standards of service. "You should never differentiate overtly," says Hughes. "Covertly you can offer special services to top customers. But you should never show different levels of respect and courtesy. You must treat everyone as special."

So what is good service? Hughes provides the example of a cab firm that she used for years and recommended to all her friends. The firm did so well it was eventually sold based on its extensive clientele.

What did this cab firm do that was so special? "It was like being picked up by a friend," says Hughes. "There were a core team of excellent drivers who my neighbours and colleagues got to know quickly. The first time they picked me up to go to the airport, Peter ran around the garden to help me capture the cat. And Kenny used to pick me up from the station and we'd go to M&S on the way home."

Building partnerships

Hughes also points to the special service she enjoys at one of her favourite local boutiques, where she's often offered a glass of bubbly or a coffee. It's one of those special small businesses that regularly goes above and beyond what customers expect which means they come back time and time again. "They once sourced a top for me to go with an outfit I had bought from them," she says.

The boutique also has a collaboration with the dry cleaners over the road and they will alter things quickly at no cost to the customer. Partnerships like this are a great way to save customers time and money and they can be a win-win for all parties.

Treating customers like VIPs is not rocket science. You need to start with a "do as I would be done by" approach and build up from there. To be really successful, you need to build relationships. Think about how you can go the extra mile for your customers. Then aim for both surprise and delight by exceeding their expectations.

For more advice on how to deliver excellent customer service, see the resources box on the right.