Is it better to reward existing customers for loyalty — or spend your marketing dollars on attracting new ones? Many companies face that management dilemma, and expert opinions on the subject conflict.
The authors argue that the answer to that question depends on how fluid customer preferences are in a market and to what degree some of a company’s customers are much more valuable than others. In markets where consumer preferences are highly fluid and where the highest-value customers are much more valuable than others, companies should focus on rewarding their best existing customers. Examples of industries in which this is the case include airlines and car rentals. However, if either or both of those two characteristics — customer shopping flexibility and concentrations in customer value — is not in place, then companies should focus on offering their best prices to new customers.
When identifying high-value customers, it’s important to remember that revenues and profits may not necessarily be correlated. The authors note that it is not only possible that high-volume customers are not as valuable as they seem, but, in some settings, they may be downright unprofitable. For example, at one bank with which one of the authors worked, about 50% of customers contributed negatively to profits. The authors suggest several approaches to addressing the problem of unprofitable customers, including customer education and selectively increasing prices to those customers.