Understanding the 10 Customer Types, and Creating Allies

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The nature of the customer significantly influences the type of service provided – how customers are treated by staff and their potential impact on other customers. Thus, operations managers and their staff need to develop an understanding of the nature of individual customers and their resultant behavior.

Based on behavior and attitude, customers can be categorized as follows:

1. Allies: These valued customers usually arrive in a positive frame of mind, willing to help and give positive feedback to facilitate the service. The most helpful ally is the customer whose opinion is respected by others. If the ally is happy, then other customers will infer that the service must be good.

2. Hostages: These customers require service, but may be ‘locked in’ to a particular service provider contractually. An example is customers who must have their car serviced by the dealer appointed by the manufacturer. The service may cost rather more, but if an approved dealer is not used, their warranty will be invalid. These customers may not be in the most positive moods and will become very difficult whenever service performance deteriorates.

3. Anarchists: These customers dislike rules and systems. Indeed, notices suggesting what should and should not be done present a challenge. It is tempting to let the customer ‘get away’ with not following the system, but this may set up problems with other customers who feel that they have not been treated fairly.

4. Patients: These customers are very similar to the hostage in that they are locked into the service, such as a hospital patient or a student at a school or university. These customers may be positively or unequivocally oriented towards the organization and are willing to submit themselves to rules and regulations. However, unnecessary restrictions may turn them into a hostage or an anarchist.

5. Tolerants: These customers may be passive, always waiting patiently for service providers to acknowledge their presence and deliver service. In fact, they may be so patient that they become invisible to service staff and get ignored as a result. It may be dangerous to trade on their apparent goodwill.

6. Intolerants: These customers are seldom passive or patient, often causing stress and problems within the service for themselves, the service providers and other customers. Although initially they may be positively disposed to the organization, without careful handling these people can easily turn into terrorists.

7. Victims: When something goes wrong in service organizations, some customers appear to attract bad luck. Some jobs seem to be dogged by ill fortune. Victims may react in a number of ways, perhaps blowing incidents up out of proportion or alternatively becoming resigned to their inevitable fate.

8. Terrorists: The terrorist is the customer who mounts a damaging attack when you least expect it. An example might be a customer who declares their dissatisfaction loudly in the middle of a crowded restaurant, having said earlier how good the food was.

9. Incompetents: Frontline staff should pay particular attention to these customers. It is possible that new customers may be confused by the organization’s procedures and, if not ‘trained’ by staff, may find the experience threatening, with the result that they do not return. It is possible, of course, that some customers are incapable of being trained.

10. Champions: What all organizations want – valued customers who are not only supportive of their staff and its service delivery and helpfully participate in the process, but who also make a point of providing positive word-or-mouth about the organization, its services and staff.

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Creating Allies

Converting customers from quadrant 1 of figure A into allies is the easiest of the tasks. Allies are already positively disposed to the organization but require engaging in service delivery. Providing information, good communication and explanations and involving them in process development through soliciting feedback may easily convert these  customers.

The negatively disposed victims in quadrant 2 may require counseling and support to turn them into allies. The risk here is that even after considerable effort victims can easily turn into hostages or anarchists.

Anarchists and terrorists are the most difficult, yet most important, group of customers for the operation to deal with. Deselection (removal from organization) may be the best way out. However, if these activists can be employed to the good of the organization by harnessing their negative energy through personal involvement in the organization and its processes, they can make powerful allies or even champions for the organization and its cause.

2 Responses to Understanding the 10 Customer Types, and Creating Allies

  1. Kene says:

    Why not be aiming at converting to Champions. The article only explains how to convert customers to Allies. Is it that it’s not realizable to target converting to Champion?

    • Paradigm Learning says:

      Kene, converting to Champions is realizable. We did not focus on it because it is easier to make them allies first and then target making them champions. Ideally, creating champions is the overall aim.

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