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Instructions in Customer Centricity from Jet Airways Recognize That There is No Such Thing as "My Typical Customer", averages can be deceptive

By Ashish Merchant

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When Jet Airways announced a suspension of operations a few months ago, many Jet Privilege members were sad. Not inconvenienced, not upset, but sad. And this sadness was palpable by the language of anguish expressed on social media.

Were all 9 million Jet Privilege members sad? Certainly not - But some genuinely were. And not because of the risk the shutdown posed to the value of their miles or tiers. Sad because they genuinely felt hurt about the financial difficulty their beloved brand was battling.

The direction of human emotions to an assembly of plastic, metal, engineering, and employees sounds strange. But this association of human emotions to organizations has in fact been the underpinnings of the science of brand loyalty and customer-centricity.

In more traditional times, large stores, diverse merchandise assortments, and superior furniture and lighting drew in large footfalls and sales. In contemporary times, coherence between personal values and the values of a brand seem to drive salience, resulting in sales, advocacy, and affection.

So as entrepreneurs, how do we foster these human emotions that resonate with our customers? Would our customers mourn over our problems as they do for Jet Airways?

Some answers lie in the principles of customer-centricity. In order to be customer-centric:

  1. Recognize That There is No Such Thing as "My Typical Customer". Averages can be deceptive. Customer centricity recognizes that different customers are different. And just like traditional businesses had different product lines to suit different tastes, customer-centric entrepreneurs take the time and effort to learn about preferences of different types of customers beyond their product preferences. The customers who felt sad for Jet Airways were probably the ones who were also the most valuable to Jet Airways. And as a result, had been part of deep engagement and shared values with the brand.

  2. Dispel the Myth That "Customer is King". Instead, start believing that "Some customers deserve to be treated like Kings." That does not mean you mistreat or ignore any customers. All it means is that customers whom you anticipate can give you great value, should be given disproportionate attention, time, resources and engagement. Being nice to all will drive you bankrupt! (Not being nice to anyone… will certainly drive you to bankruptcy as well). Jet Privilege Gold and Platinum members were still being given special treatment by partner Etihad Airways, even after Jet Airways shut down. The others were certainly not ignored (they, in fact, got nice emails with offers to redeem their Jet Miles). But the Gold and Platinum members continued to be treated as royalty given their potential to create future value.

  3. Shun Gutfeel, Instincts Are Not Reliable – Data is. In small businesses, the owners may have an instinct about which customers are most likely to deliver disproportionate value in the future. With scale, however, it is important to use CRM software and predictive analytics to make these judgments. Don't feel tempted to maintain a list of "high value" customers. Historical (high) values have some use. But good software will predict which customers have the highest probability of continuing to deliver value in the future. This will allow you to focus your resources on customers who matter most. Jet Platinum members (or even Silver and Gold with high potential) were extended exclusive check-in counters, access to lounges, free upgrades, fee waivers for services, and even simple but powerful gestures like personalised welcomes to the cabin by the crew. This was not always on the basis past performance, as much as on the basis of demonstrated initial patterns of other past high-value members.

So! Next time you're thinking of lowering the price to match your competitor, think again. Perhaps investing meaningfully in relationships instead, with your high potential customers may be a sound and profitable alternate strategy. You may also experience some love in the process!

Ashish Merchant

Managing Partner, Strategic Caravan

Ashish Merchant is managing partner at Strategic Caravan – a marketing consultancy with specializations in direct and interactive marketing and CRM and loyalty programmes.  He has worked on a range of brands including Western Union Money Transfer, Godrej, Raymond, Kodak, Metro Shoes, Ranbaxy, Nerolac Paints and Deutsche Bank.  Ashish has also incubated an on-demand phone-commerce venture called Takato Dry Cleaners. 

Most of Ashish’s time is invested in building civil society: Ashish has served as the vice-chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation’s India team for the last 3 years prior to which he was a director on the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in India for 3 years – both of which have won numerous awards from Government and Industry bodies for service to the people of India in education, livelihoods and improvement in quality of life.

Ashish has an MBA with specializations in marketing and computer information systems from the University of Rochester in New York and a post-graduate diploma in Advanced Business Analytics from the IIT-Mumbai.  

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