Why I’m against customer labeling

The unfortunate beach debacle

As the masseuse whispered that the massage was over, I didn’t feel a typical sense of disappointment that I would normally feel when relaxing bliss ends. Instead, I remembered that I booked this massage as a means of checking out the hotel it’s in.

Not for just myself, but for my kids and husband, too.

Why I'm against customer labeling

You see, my family and I set out on a vacation in the majestic area of Hudson Valley, New York this past week. With the tree-studded hills, natural streams and fresh water beaches, we knew it would offer a little something for everyone — even our two small boys.

We decided to extend our trip by a couple more unplanned days, and we needed a new place to stay. We keyed in on a popular lodge and thought a spa treatment for me while my boys and husband played on the beach was a great way to peek inside it and see if it offered everything we were looking for to end our vacation on a high note.

When I booked my spa appointment, I confirmed that my husband and kids could play on the beach. I even made sure they were beach-bound and okay to enter the sandy grounds when I chatted with the guard at the gate upon our arrival.

Yep, kids! We’re set!

My children bounced into the lobby with smiles and excitement wearing bathing suits and lugging little wagons with beach toys in them.

But when the concierge saw my family and our belongings, he expressed concern that the beach was only available to overnight guests. I kindly asked to talk to a manager. There must be some confusion, I thought. After all, I confirmed this information with two of the hotel employees before arriving.

As the manager exited her office, I could already predict her words by her disdained look. I knew to her I wasn’t an exhausted mother of two boys who were melting down. I wasn’t the caregiver of disappointed toddlers who were so excited mere seconds ago about something they were suddenly told they couldn’t enjoy.

I wasn’t even an upgrade opportunity. I just was another person not paying enough.

As entrepreneurs, we feel so much better about ourselves and the world around us when we can compartmentalize people into categories or labels through assessments and inventories. It helps us make sense of things that are difficult to understand, like personality traits and spending behaviors.

But the truth is, humankind is complicated. We’re full of complex emotions and there’s a lot going into making us tick.

Labeling customers is a common practice in business. It puts groups of people into spending “categories”. While that may help analyze trends, it’s a slippery slope as evidenced by me, my family, and the manager of this hotel.

When the manager of the hotel told me the resort’s policy on beach access, I cringed with hope that no one has ever used these words with our guests at Little Nest Portraits. I knew that canceling the spa appointment would disappoint the masseuse assigned to it and the tip she was surely looking forward to receiving.

But once it was over, my family and I departed, never wanting to come back again.

See, if you treat people like family, no matter what they spend, the money will come! We would have happily booked our stay if my kids enjoyed the beach that day. Being generous with experience and service, and empathizing with what the customers desire pays off.

Here’s the thing.

The problem with the hotel wasn’t that I expected everything for free. It was that policies weren’t communicated to me and everyone that worked there wasn’t clear on the rules, either.

It’s okay to have parameters, so long as they’re clear to your customers and you’ve made sure all team members are on the same page.

Own up when they are not.

Most of all, customers are human and they can’t be categorized when you’re engaging with them.

I’ve watched many guests walk in to our studios signing up to purchase very little, and leave having sold themselves on spending more than they were expecting. Not because we enforced some kind of rigorous sales strategies, but because we treated them like our own family – and that is not just great business, but great for the relationship we have with our community.

Question: What experiences have you had with labeling customers and has it ever backfired? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Maria Sheehan

    Laura, this is a great article. I really don’t believe in labeling customers at all, this just resonates with how I feel about the topic. I have been proved right so many times, when others doubted me. I hate when other people tell me how to run my business, when they tell me not to go above and beyond when I feel in my heart it’s the right thing to do. I have had clients with not very much money come to me and I always work with them and their budget and always go above and beyond, I treat them like my family always. They have come back again and again and sent so many other customers my way… I have other clients with plenty of money, but I see everyone exactly the same, MY WONDERFUL CLIENTS, who deserve the absolute best service, care, loyalty, respect. Every time I offer a free shoot to a client, it seems to come back to me ten-fold, from referrals by them. You are so right in everything you pointed out in this article, it’s super great advice to any business or any kind! thanks so much for sharing. Maria

    • Laura Novak

      wonderful points Maria – you are doing things right! your clients are lucky to have your love and attention dedicated to their most important moments.

  • Laura E Esmond

    My husbands family is very much entrenched in the service industry between high-end restaurants, a reservation service and even a decade owning a bed and breakfast. I never paid much attention to service until I met him. Then suddenly I was surrounded by people who made an art out of serving and welcoming people. Everyone is treated like family in their home, there is always room at the table. But “service principles” in the home are obvious. You want people to feel welcome, you don’t bombard them with rules or structure. You simply want your friends to sit back, drink of choice in hand, and enjoy good conversation (or, as in our home, come into the kitchen and together cook up a delicious feast!) I would never in those moments tell my guests “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”. I want them to come back! Shouldn’t businesses operate under that same principle, particularly businesses of service? Sure, rules are a bit more important for patrons to understand and should be communicated clearly. Outside of that, the principle is the same: sit back, enjoy. Then come back with friends. Great article Laura and such a great reminder you got first hand that Little Nest is on the right track. Proud to be a part of it.

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