There was a famous training centre in Delhi that produced leading gymnasts for India. Coach Wise had run this training centre for decades and had a reputation of producing talent for the Olympics. 

A journalist from Mumbai called Ms. Exploratory from the popular publication, Chimes of Bindiya decided to visit Coach Wise to investigate and write about why his camp was so successful.

On a cool Friday morning, Ms. Exploratory arrived at the training centre. Coach Wise took all morning to walk her through the physical training facilities, the six-day disciplined regiment (Sundays were off), the selection process and several sophisticated computer programmes that tracked the progress of his students. 

When Ms. Exploratory and Coach Wise were having lunch, a young student called Girl A walked to them and asked, “Coach Wise, I need to attend a family wedding on Saturday. May I please train at our centre on Sunday instead?”

Coach Wise was polite but firm and short. “No Girl A! I am sorry, but the centre is closed on Sundays.”

Girl A walked away a little disappointed.

Ms. Exploratory wanted to ask about this interaction but bit her tongue.

Over tea in the evening, another young student called Girl B walked to them and asked, “Coach Wise, I have a family puja at my home on Saturday. May I please train at our centre on Sunday instead?”

Coach Wise was polite, warm and generous. He replied, “Of course Girl B. I will keep the centre open on Sunday and personally come by with Ms. Hema and Ms. Rohini to help you through your 3-hour routine!”

Now Ms. Exploratory was aghast. “How could this famous coach be so discriminatory?” she wondered. She wanted to blurt a remark and ask about this contrasting interaction but bit her tongue. She was after all an investigative journalist and decided to do a little finding-out first.

That night, when everybody was asleep, Ms. Exploratory used her hair pin to break the lock into the room with the computers and all the student records. With her vast experience in investigative journalism, she was quickly able to hack into the performance of all students. She quickly pulled up records for Girl A and Girl B on the screen. She discovered that both were top performers – regular in their practice Frequency, no Recent gaps or holidays and disciplined in their Values. In other words, both had great RFV scores on the student tracking system. 

This discovery irked her even more. In rage, Ms. Exploratory spent the balance night writing a stinging article about the discrimination she had seen at the centre by Coach Wise.

Over breakfast the next morning Coach Wise noticed Ms. Exploratory was unusually quiet and asked, “Is everything okay?”

“No! Nothing’s okay!” snapped Ms. Exploratory. “I saw how you discriminated against Girl A when she asked for a Sunday favour for a wedding but went out of your way for Girl B just because it was for a puja.”

Coach Wise was silent for a while. Then reflecting upon her comments, he asked, “Are you a frequent flyer with the airlines you took to get here to Delhi from Mumbai?”

“Yes! Platinum on Jindigo Airways. Why?” asked Ms. Exploratory.

“Did you get to board before the other passengers then? And get a free meal in the lounge? Would you agree that the airline discriminated against other passengers when giving you that special treatment?”

“No!” snapped Ms. Exploratory. “They did it because I have high RFV scores – I fly Frequently, I have given Jindigo Airlines a lot of monetary Value and I’ve done this all pretty Recently. Anybody knows higher RFV scores warrant better treatment.”

Coach Wise started laughing, “So why complain when I treat one of my students better than the other? Surely you appreciate not all customers, or students are alike.” 

“You don’t fool me Coach,” shouted Ms. Exploratory.  “I’ve check their RFV scores on your CRM system. They are the same!” Ms. Exploratory went a little red – she realized she had just admitted to hacking into Coach Wise’s computer. He would now be angry. So, she continued, “I think you made the exception for Girl B because she wanted to take off for a puja and did not for Girl A because it was a wedding. I think you’re moral policing!”

Coach Wise nodded understandingly. Then replied, “Come with me.”

He led Ms. Exploratory to his computer lab. He saw from the records that Ms. Exploratory had already gone through the folders of CRM. He explained, “Sorry you had to hack into my computer. You could have just asked me, and I would have shown you.” He then brought up a folder which she had not seen. It was called Future Potential.

In this folder among other things, she learned two startling facts. 

Girl A had recently applied to Cornell University in America for a sports scholarship. Coach Wise had also given her a recommendation for this application. Girl A was likely to depart for the USA in another six months and would possibly never represent India

Girl B on the other hand was deeply in debt, and had borrowed against her home for fees for the camp. Girl B’s family had taken this risky debt with the hope and commitment that Girl B would make it to the nationals and hopefully represent India at the next Olympics. Losing was not an option for her. 

Coach Wise spoke slowly and in a grave tone, “Ms. Exploratory, my job here is to produce winners for India. My job is NOT to fall in love with my own services nor my processes. Being nice to all my students is NOT an option for me. While Jindigo Airlines rewards past performance, I look at past performance and future potential to fulfil my mission! And in that, I serve my country.”

“In producing winners, I cannot accommodate all – I actually cannot be fair in the sense you understand it,” continued Coach Wise. “I need to be loyal to my mission. And in that, I need to be loyal the highest potential.” Ms. Exploratory stood by and listened speechless. Her mind was having this raging battle between morality and effectiveness.

The Sunday morning edition of Chimes of Bindiya carried an article explaining the secret of Coach Wise’s success. The article was titled, “It takes Courage to Discriminate

* * * * *

Key Takeaways of the Story

  1. Many organizations have products and services just like Coach Wise had his training camp. However, many forget why their products, services and processes exist in the first place. Just like Coach Wise had a mission of producing “Olympic competitors for India,” organizations have goals that they need to be honest to. In meeting those goals, one emotionally challenging realization is that an “average customer” doesn’t exist. Customer valuation and future potential across multiple segments must be computed and understood. Only then can a business decide if it can afford to extend special treatment or accommodate exclusive requests from members across various customer segments. 
  2. Any organization will find it impossible to give outstanding experiences to all customers always. Coach Wise would never allow for rest for himself or his colleagues if he was willing to be open every Sunday. But if his highest potential athlete needed accommodation, he was willing to be flexible. Customer-centric organizations identify customer segments with high potential and disproportionately focus their energies on these segments. This potential can be in terms of either their own future cash-flows to the business or value of their potential referrals.
  3. Many organizations launch loyalty programmes to be able to track and score customers based on behaviour. RFV is a common scoring framework. These CRM systems are a useful front-line tool. For customer centricity however, one needs to go beyond CRM with forward-looking optimization of customer interactions across all touch-points. This helps safeguard and possibly enhance value of high-potential segments. Coach Wise was not only willing to be open on Sunday for his star student but also called in two other instructors to ensure her experience was outstanding.
  4. Optimization of touch-points requires synthesis of insights from customer analytics, market research and knowledge of the competitive offerings. Coach Wise knew of his star-student’s routine, her potential and her personal challenges. He had combined all these to take an informed bet on her and his training centre in the interest of the country.

While this is a simple story, may I request your observations on two questions about your organization and journeys in customer-centricity:

1.      Do your platinum customers experience platinum treatment across all touch-points?

2.      Does your synthesis of research, analytics and market conditions empower you to recognize your platinum customers before they achieve platinum tier?