Think Celebrities in Rehab with the Rest of Us

The NYT coverage of Facebook offered another example of a common source of customer tension -- not all of your customers want to hang out with each other: 

“People usually spend a lot of time trying to be separate — parents and children are a good example,” says Danah Boyd, a social scientist who has studied social networks and now works in the research department of Microsoft, which has invested in Facebook. “You are already seeing young people sitting there thinking, ‘Why am I hanging out with my mother who is reminiscing with her high school mates?’ You are seeing some reticence with young people that wasn’t there two years ago.”

This is a particular risk for brands that compete on youth and glamour. In the market to feel young and vigorous again, Grandpa shows up at the nightclub and ruins it for everyone.  But the tension between age groups can work both ways, as Build-a-Bear workshops -- a highly successful toy service -- discovered when the 12-year-old customers stopped playing nicely with the 6-year-olds.  The younger crowd was thrilled to be able to mingle with the older kids, but the older kids were horrified. 

Tiffany's learned a similar lesson when it tried to serve both mass market and high-end customers. The high-end segment did not necessarily want to spend time with the masses, since it ruined all of the elite fantasies wrapped up in the little, blue box.  

If there is a separate physical location for each segment, this problem is easily solved.  But if a single location attracts multiple segments, then the challenge becomes reducing the antagonism between segments, which typically runs in only one direction (think celebrities in rehab with the rest of us), or tailoring the service away from one segment. The act of actively dissuading customers, often profitable ones, is anathema to most senior management teams. The trouble is, in certain contexts it is essential to maintaining service excellence. Facebook may be one of them. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009