Originally publishes on Inc Magazine’s Process Playbook column by Chris Ronzio
We all want to cater to VIPs. But, if you’re bending over backwards to make them happy, your process might be broken
VIP customers are the worst.
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, right? You dream of having big shot clients that you can talk about. Big name logos to list on your website. Celebrity case studies. Or, maybe you just want to take extra special care of your inner circle of contacts, and give them some sort of VIP treatment.
Well, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
I’ve worked with the celebrity types. I’ve done business with close friends. I’ve gone out of my way to create VIP experiences and hand-hold the gurus, and every time I’ve fallen deep into a hole of over-promising and wondered how I got there.
So I’ve come to this conclusion: either everyone is a VIP, or no one is a VIP.
Everyone should come in the front door
Let’s pretend that you own a restaurant. I’ve always wanted to own one (a breakfast spin on the frozen yogurt places, with different batters and toppings… please, someone do this).
But, imagine you own more of a standard family restaurant, like something from your hometown. In your restaurant, there are two types of customers: front door customers, and back door customers.
One type of customer comes in the front door. They’re greeted by a host, handed a menu, and walked over to the next table in the rotation. The waiter tells them the specials, they order from the menu, they pay, they tip and they leave. If your food is good and your service is good, they’ll be back. And hopefully, they’ll be a longtime, profitable customer.
The next type of customer comes in the back door. They text you (the owner) a few minutes before they arrive, and you scramble to clear their favorite table. They startle the line cooks in the back when they arrive with an entourage, and the rest of your customers stare at them coming out of the kitchen, wondering what they might be missing. They never order from the menu, because they like something better that you made for them two years ago. They hang around for hours, and since you gave them free drinks or dessert last time, that has become the expectation. Maybe they don’t even pay, because your relationship has become a game of trading services and perks.
Which customer do you want?
Your process shouldn’t have exceptions
Consider this. If your business process is optimized to be as efficient as possible with the best customer experience possible, why shouldn’t a VIP get the exact same treatment as a regular customer?
Chances are, if getting a VIP customer causes you to scramble and supplement their experience to ensure they are happy, your regular customers aren’t getting the best experience either. If a VIP has been referred to you, they are being referred for the way you already do things. Don’t deviate. Or, if you make an exception for one person, consider how you should make that exception the norm.
If you’re just getting started, leverage friends and family to give brutally honest feedback about your product or service. If you feel like you have to explain something verbally, why? What needs to change about your product or packaging to give that extra guidance? If you feel like you want to supplement their experience, why? Where do you think the value of your service could be improved?
How you SHOULD cater to VIPs
Assuming a VIP customer goes through your regular, proven process (the front door), there are ways that you can cater to them to build good will. As long as you aren’t modifying your product or service, the publicity from a VIP can go a long way toward getting referrals, press, or other VIP customers.
First, give them extra attention. That doesn’t mean changing your regular way of doing things. That doesn’t mean you are stepping in to do a job that one of your employees normally does. But it does mean stopping by their table, figuratively speaking. Check in on them personally to make sure the experience is up to par.
Then, give them a bonus. There is a fine line between discounts and bonuses, so I want to be clear. In a restaurant, this doesn’t mean removing something from the bill.
It means adding something to the table. A free appetizer, a free bottle of wine, an unexpected dessert. All of these things are delivered after the customer has bypassed the opportunity to order them.
Similarly in your company, think about how you can give the VIP customer something that they didn’t order. Something that is still on your menu, in case they like it enough to purchase next time. An unexpected bonus goes a long way.
The No-VIP approach is a time saver
When I started Trainual, I wanted to personally hold everyone’s hand through the process.
A friendly introduction would turn into a two-hour Zoom call. Those early experiences helped shape our product and build our process. But they also took a ton of time, and as we’ve grown, we had to merge the experiences of our VIPs and the customers that click on our ads.
Now, when I get an email introduction, I reply with our website URL. Our front door.
You can do the same, if you perfect your process, test your experience, and deliver a consistently great product or service to everyone.