Just in the last week or so, I have had two stories told me which touch on the importance of marketing and taking care of customers close to you.
1. My barber has his shop in a strip center off a relatively busy street. Recently a new chinese takeout restaurant has moved into the center. He said since the restaurant is but a few doors down he and the other barbers might drift down there for a quick bite. Twice they have mischarged him and other barbers - or tried to charge for a dinner meal rather than a lunch (and he had some other stories about the cost of soda, etc).
2. My collegue had his glasses broken by his child over the weekend. When he called his optometrist about a replacement set, he was told they would not just refill the current prescription since he is due for a checkup, and by the way, they cannot take any appointments until July 16th (it being July 6th).
There is a lot wrong with both of these stories, but I want to focus on the importance of taking care of those customers close to you.
In the case of the chinese takeout, let's think about their market. Being new, they want to increase the number of customers. And two doors down from them is a hair salon, with 6 people cutting hair. Now wouldn't it first be a good idea to keep the barbers happy about your business? Not only do they spend their days talking to people (and the new restaurant might well come up in conversation), but also they are probably busiest around lunch and dinner time - times when someone might think "hmm, maybe I will pick up chinese for tonight." Instead, the restaurant seems to be making a habit of annoying the workers at the hair salon.
In the case of the optometrist, I understand he wants his customers to keep their glasses up to date with regular checkups. And maybe my collegue is due - but he needs glasses (today). He can drive down to Oklahoma City and get some glasses in an hour at a mall store. So his cost is 3 hours (one hour down, one hour glasses and one hour back), and the cost of basic frames and glasses. Instead of helping out a customer in need, the optometrist has decided to drive away his customer to another location or business - precisely when he could have bound his loyalty even higher!
In both cases, the customer close to the business (whether physically or as an existing customer) is being treated worse than if they were a stranger, and they are precisely the customers who would most be willing to recommend (or not) the place of business.
Seth Godin makes an analogous point, when he describes how to handle special requests, "the problem with treating all customers the same is that customers aren't the same."
Take the time and opportunity to strengthen your customers who are already closest to you - don't drive them away from you.