Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Which Customers Do You Want to Keep?

There is an old joke in the dental world that a patient asked his dentist, “Which teeth should I floss?” The dentist answered, “Only the ones you want to keep.” Customer Service is the same.

All customers are good customers. Okay, maybe not all. Every business has customers – or should I call them former customers – that companies choose not to do business with. But, for the purpose of this article, let’s assume you’re willing to do business with everyone who wants to do business with you.

So, as I was saying, all customers are good customers. Yet, some customers are better than others. What makes them better? They do business with us more often. They buy more. They spend more when they buy. They are easier to work with. There are many reasons.

Yet when trying to gauge a good customer by numbers, we usually look at the dollars they spend. What is your average customer worth? Now, this is important, because to determine your average customer, you need to combine all of your customers. The ones that spend a lot of money and the ones that spend a small amount of money.

Using teeth and dental care as a metaphor, which teeth would you rather keep, the front ones that help you bite, or the back ones that help you chew. Tough choice? The simple answer is, you want to keep them all. Again, same with customers.

Loyal customers tend to be more connected emotionally. Maybe they have a relationship with someone at the company. Maybe it’s the comfort of a predictable and consistent experience that they always have had and know they will get. Many things connect customers to a company beyond product and price.

At the other end, you have your customers who may not see you very often or spend much money with you. But, they still come back every so often. They are good customers, too.

I once bought a dress shirt that was on sale from a salesman at a men’s clothing store. Realizing my purchase was small, I commented, “Maybe next time I’ll see a sport coat or suit I like.” The salesperson smiled and said, “If I had 500 customers just like you, I’d be the happiest salesperson in the store.” He went on to tell me that he likes good customers who walk out of the store happy, regardless of how much they spend, because they come back. He was right. I came back, and I bought a suit. And, I’ve been buying clothes from him ever since.

He figured it out. It wasn’t how much money I spent that first time. It was that I represented one of his customers, regardless of how much or little I bought. So, the point is to take care of all of your customers. The small ones and the big ones. Everyone, regardless of how much they spend, should feel happy, respected and appreciated.

And, by the way, be sure to floss your teeth. All your teeth!

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVII, Shep Hyken)

  1. Hi Shep! I enjoyed this article because I agree that each customer — no matter how often they visit or how much they spend — is equally important to any type of business. Building a business takes customers, so growing a core of loyalty first – then going from there is the better way to handle customer or Guest service. If your business or company has this loyalty, they like doing business with you and will spread the word – helping to grow your business.
    Of course, the more one grows, the more you need look to your customers and /or Guests for new ideas and trends which they would like to see in your company. Remember, suggestions and ideas come from without – as well from within – a company, so listen to your customers!

    • Hi Lisa – Thanks for your comment. Yes, we have to keep our eyes and ears open for opportunities to improve, from everyone, both inside and outside the organization – and from big spending customers as well as those who don’t spend much, if anything at all.

  2. Every time I think about this topic, it reminds me of the scene from Pretty Woman- the sales people wouldn’t help Julia Roberts’ character because they “knew” she couldn’t afford their clothes. The next day she returns and says “I was in here yesterday. You wouldn’t wait on me. You work on commission right? Big mistake. Big. Huge! I have to go shopping now.” and then proceeds to go and spend a ton of money on clothes, elsewhere. Not a fan of the movie as a whole, but I absolutely love that scene. Books and covers.

    • Spot on, Dwayne. I’m actually going to use that example in an upcoming article about not judging a customer by their looks – or a book by its cover. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Cassie McInnes says:

    I agree Shep! This reminds me of ‘Pretty Woman’ – when Julia Roberts returns to the store she was originally shunned at, full of shopping bags and in fancy new clothes. She proceeded to tell the lady from the day prior that she made a mistake a BIG mistake.

    • I’ve already got the Pretty Woman example set up for a different lesson. That will tie into the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” So, look for that one in the next few weeks.

  4. Hey Shep, Thanks so much for this article. I have a question…do you see a place for the fact that great service means different things to each customer?

    For example, I downsized to a kia a few years ago. As a Kia owner, I’m thrilled with my dealership when then schedule me, have a clean waiting room and restrooms and bottled water. If I owned a Mercedes E-Class however, that would not be good service. I guess my point is that great service to each customer doesn’t mean equal service to each customer. Curious to know your thoughts.

    • You are correct! Customers have different expectations from different service providers. Your example is perfect. You are thrilled with Kia. However, you’d expect more from Mercedes.

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