Thoughts on Customer Loyalty

7 Feb

My older brother John once work on a mega-project while he was with the consulting/training wing of Digital Equipment Corp up in Merrimack, NH.  The customer, who shall remain nameless, was, in a word, difficult.  At one point, in an internal meeting at DEC, the exasperated Project Manager said,”Can we fire the customer?”

In our own business, our customer base runs the gamut.   We have companies that have not upgraded our software for years, and are quite happy, thank you very much, to be running their Oracle 8 implementation well past the Oracle ‘end-of-support’ date.  Others want to know, in detail, what are our plans for Oracle 12g, Windows8 and IE9.

In our history, we have become widely known as a company that provides exemplary service, even when the customer is many releases back.  Certainly, we can’t do everything for the laggers, any more than we can jump to the latest and greatest at a moments notice for the bleeding edge crowd.

At some point in time, pushing an old product forward into newer technology becomes a losing battle.  At some point in time, every vendor needs to get on to the next big thing.   What do you do about your exisitng customer base, the folks that ‘got you there’?  I believe every vendor has faced this dilemma.  We have, and are comfortable with our support of existing product and growth into new technologies.  However….

Here’s a hypothetical situation:

You have an installed customer base that has used your product for many years.  You have continued to enhance that product, but are moving to a new technology base and a new offering.

They have reaped the rewards of your software many times over (if they weren’t seeing value, they would have dumped you long ago).   Their ROI may have been achieved in 18 months, they have used your product for 5-10 years.  Like an old car, you don’t “owe them” anything…

At this point in time, what value do THEY provide YOU compared to YOUR annual investment in THEM?  Is their instance of your software so old that you find yourself handling an inordinate number of support calls?  Do you have to keep relatively obsolete hardware and software inventory to support them?

Should you fire those customers?

I welcome your comments….

- RTR

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