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How does preferential treatment impact justice perceptions and customer satisfaction levels

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Is an increase in satisfaction for the customers you are giving preferential treatment worth more than the reduced levels of customers satisfaction felt among those who bear witness of it? One reader recounted an experience of being in a queue at a restaurant when another customer known by the sales clerk came in after him and was served before him. According to the reader, he left the restaurant and he has not returned since.

Last week we started the discussion on whether preferential treatment of some customers is worth the dissatisfaction of others. We referenced an article by Professor Magnus Söderlund, Centre for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. Today, we look closer at what would happen if preferential treatment were given to some customers in a setting where other customers could see what was happening and how would this impact on their justice perceptions and customer satisfaction levels.

Professor Magnus Söderlund referenced a recent study dealing with preferential treatment of customers on a flight. In this case, a stewardess onboard an aircraft gave special acknowledgement to an individual and offered the person a free bottle of champagne. The study aimed at comparing the reactions of those customers receiving the preferential treatment with those bearing witness of it.

“The results of the study showed that preferential treatment was perceived by customers as relatively unjust – both by those who received it and by those who did not. However, customer satisfaction was boosted for those customers receiving the preferential treatment, signaling that perceived justice and satisfaction levels are affected in different ways. Furthermore, it revealed that it was less satisfying to be the sole receiver of preferential treatment in front of others, probably because the expose situation led to feelings of embarrassment.”

Recently, I heard a manager cautioning his employees to be discreet when administering preferential treatment. He acknowledged that while some customers expect preferential treatment because of the business they bring to his company; consideration must be given to those not receiving the same treatment.

Before you start implementing preferential treatment for some customers, think carefully about the negative effect this can have on satisfaction levels among those who don’t receive it, but bear witness to it. You might be better off by not giving it at all.

Next week conclude with the long-term implications of preferential treatment initiatives.

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