As a business owner, you want to treat all of your customers fairly, but should you treat them equally? Personality-wise, there will always be some people who are more compatible with certain individuals. But business-wise, should you treat boarders or students differently?
In business, the answer is a resounding, “YES!”
But business “perks” are not the same as personal friendships or “liking” someone more. And business perks can—and should—be given only to those clients who are best for your business.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t discriminate against people, and it is illegal to do so in many cases, anyway. What we are talking about is using “rewards” to encourage your clients to become more like your “ideal” client or best customer.
Let’s talk about a few examples of how to pick out some of your best business boarders or students, why you should recognize those persons as special, and how to give them perks that should result in more of your customers rising to this top ranking.
Who Are Your Best Customers?
There are many ways to look at this category, but most often your best customers have several traits in common:
• They pay on time.
• They use a good portion of the services you offer.
• They properly care for their horses and equipment.
• They take care of your horses, facilities and equipment.
• They speak well of you to other boarders and potential boarders.
• They are honest and speak to you about things that they like and don’t like about your facility.
• They are prompt for lessons or other times when you are providing services (such as hauling to a show).
This list could go on depending on your type of facility or the services you offer. For example, you might consider best customers to be those who take lessons weekly or twice a week. Or those who hire you not only to house and train them and their horses, but to coach them at multiple shows each year, with good results that reflect well on your facility. Or you might consider your best customers those for whom you don’t have to do anything except deposit their checks.
The key here is to determine what makes a “best customer” in your equine business and strive to keep that person happy, communicating with you and reaching out to others who would also be best customers for you.
Recognizing who your best customers are can help you recruit those types of people in the future, or perhaps help you “upgrade” current clients who don’t make your “best” list.
Who Are Your Worst Customers?
In this instance, you can’t always put personalities aside. A “worst customer” might have the opposites of the characteristics listed above, or have all of those going for her in spades, but she is just miserable to be around. Someone who makes you, your staff or your other boarders unhappy or angry is not good for business. In fact, a toxic personality can drive away your best customers. And it is up to you to provide the proper environment at your barn or facility for your best customers.
To give you a list as a starting point for determining your worst customers, they are the people who:
• never pay on time, or their payments bounce;
• neglect daily care of their horses or equipment;
• are negligent in caring for your horses, facilities or equipment;
• do not treat you or others in your employ with courtesy and as professionals;
• speak badly of you or your employees to current or potential customers;
• talk behind your back rather than speaking directly to you if there is a problem or concern.
Again, this is just a brief list, and you should determine what makes your “worst” list in your situation.
Rewarding the Best
Once you have your criteria, you should let your best clients (and everyone else) know why you consider them your top boarders. Then offer them specific perks.
Maybe they could have first choice of lesson times (or choice of school horse). If you have a sign-up sheet for your arenas or courses, they could get first pick on days and times. Or maybe they could have a special trail ride with you, or you could give a free clinic each quarter just for those clients. Or they could get a discount on your quarterly clinic or schooling show.
If you run a lesson program, perhaps students who pay on time and/or make lessons on time could get their choice of school horse for one lesson a month. Or maybe they could have first pick of the lesson horses they want to ride in your quarterly schooling show.
This is where your list comes in, because other boarders will want to know how to get the perks. You have to be tactful, but having something solid (your list) that is public, posted in the barn or available on your website, can help motivate your second-tier clients to want to move up.
If Susie comes and asks why she isn’t able to take the quarterly clinic for free or get a discount, you can remind her that she was late paying twice that quarter. That might motivate her to take paying on time more seriously and it will let her know that paying on time is important.
Keep in mind that you and your clients must know what they get for what they are paying. If individual arena time is part of your boarding package, then you might not be able to use the “choice arena time” for perks. This is where having written rules and contracts will make your life much easier, and spell out exactly what your clients get for their money.
This is more the “carrot” rather than the “stick” approach to improving or modifying the behavior of your clients. Again, each farm or stable is different, and you must determine what is important in your situation. You also must be transparent with all rules, regulations and perks, and treat each client fairly in order for any perks program to work.