Scoble & Customer Service (again!)

I’ve talked about Robert Scoble’s views on customer service before. A few weeks ago, he made another post that talked about customer, particularly profiling customers.

Robert went to a country club in Silicon Valley and was not allowed to eat inside because he had jeans on. This is pretty common of country clubs – they simply don’t like jeans. Country clubs are notoriously policy orientated when it comes to things like that. You can’t wear shoes with dark soles on the tennis courts, you can’t wear shorts, etc. Obviously, the policies vary from club to club, but they all seem fairly similar.

What I wonder, though, is why this particular club? I’m from the Northeastern part of the United States. I live on the East Coast. People wear suits everywhere in the Northeast, especially in business related functions. The San Francisco area, and the West Coast in general is very laid back. As Robert pointed out, people regularly give pitches to venture capitalists in jeans and collared shirts (if they are feeling formal), so why doesn’t the club cater to its clientele or better yet, its potential clientele?

My guess would be the following:

  • Exclusivity. Though many of the entrepreneurs (what Robert calls the geeks, as opposed to the suits) can afford a membership, the club probably prefers to have members who can “fit in” – like wearing the proper attire to the club.
  • Arrogance. Country clubs can be very arrogant. I know it relates to the exclusivity factor, but I’m not exactly sure why they are. Robert points out that after the bubble bursted there were fewer suits. I would imagine country club membership declined as well. Success often produces arrogance. I imagine if there is another crash, the club may become a little less exclusive.
  • Tradition. Seeing a trend here? Countryclubs in the Northeast don’t allow jeans so why should a club in San Francisco? To the country club, that is a tough question. As an outsider who specializes in customer service, I’d ask the country club “Does your target market (i. e. people who make more than $100,000 per year, etc.) wear suits or jeans most of the time?”

Rules are rules (despite how pointless they might be). On the other hand, the country club acted correctly in asking Robert to sit outside. Many would just ask him to leave, but at least they provided him with a somewhat suitable alternative. They were respecting their policies. If they allowed Robert to eat inside, it is possible some of the other members would get angry.

However, the most interesting part of story was where Robert talked about how he worked at a camera store. A guy, dressed in ratty jeans and a T-shirt walked in and was given the same attention by Robert as he gave to people wearing suits. The man appreciated that and bought quite a bit of stuff over the years and became a very loyal customer. Turns out, the man was worth several hundred million dollars.

Profiling potential customers is not a good idea. I read a story in a book about customer service about a car salesman. The salesman was tremendously successful and he attributed a large part of his success towards to never profiling customers. How do you know the teenager in jeans that walks in the morning isn’t going to come back three hours later with his dad in a suit? You don’t. Profiling customers is not a good idea. Not everyone gets dressed up to go shopping and the fact that people do shows how much sales people do profile customers.

Try this one day. Go to the mall and walk through a high end store in jeans and a t-shirt. Count how many people help you, acknowledge you, etc. Go back a week later (same day, around the same time – some days are busier than others) and get kind of dressed up. Chances are you will notice a difference.

Do you profile your potential customers? Do you let your company culture or the “industry standard” contribute to that?

One Response to “Scoble & Customer Service (again!)”

  1. Glenn Ross said:

    Oct 16, 06 at 1:59 pm

    If, by “profiling” you mean judging people by their appearance alone, then you are correct that it is very dangerous to do so. However, let’s make sure your readers don’t confuse that with “segmenting” customers. Segmenting uses much more data and can be effective in focusing a business’s resources where it will result in the most profits.

    Back in the 70’s I was refused entrance to a country club because I wasn’t wearing a jacket. I know how Robert feels.