Is it right to treat customers the same?

One of our directors used to work in banking, but we try not to hold it against him.

What’s interesting about the banking sector – in fact, all firms that were regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) – is that they had to adhere to a set of principles called “Treating Customers Fairly”, or TCF for short.

The TCF principles caused quite a bit of confusion, largely because folk – both customers and bank staff alike – were a bit unsure what it meant in practice.  Fortunately the FSA were quite clear and said that firms “must pay due regard to the interests of its customers and treat them fairly”.  Thanks for that.  What was more helpful was to remember that treating customers fairly was not about treating customers the same.  But did the FSA really need to bring in a handbook on this?  Isn’t it obvious that it’s more important to treat two random customers fairly than to treat them the same?

The TCF principles led to plenty of debate and one question that always sparked discussion was whether it’s ever desirable to treat customers the same.  Common sense says that we’re all different in terms of our needs, wants and ability to pay, so we should be treated accordingly.

If only it were that simple.  There’s more to it and it’s not even clear cut when we’re talking about just one customer.

We’re complex creatures and on any given day it’s difficult to predict how we’ll feel about any given product or service and the likelihood of making the purchase.  On one day we could be fully engaged and only too keen to buy.  The next day, the same product and we’re pretty indifferent to it.  What chance do sellers have?

This is central to a piece of work we’ve been doing with a local, leading academic.  We’ve been exploring the psychology of consumer behaviour.  We’re not doing this from the marketing perspective – the CIM already do this rather brilliantly and there’s a wealth of material out there around very clever typology models.  We’re looking at this purely from a sales perspective and at this point we’re focusing on the B2C sector.

It’s fair to say that we’re excited by this work and looking forward to the first of the taster sessions ahead of the roll-out of the full programme.  And will everyone that joins us for the sessions be treated the same?  I can’t guarantee that, but everyone will be treated fairly.

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