Does a customer have a right to be served? Is there a law that requires every customer to be catered to? Does that law make sense?
It's true that there have been occasions in history where people were not served [see picture on the left] because of some kind of visible difference. It also happens today, case in point being this eight (yes, 8) year old girl, Evelyn Towry, who was arrested and handcuffed by the Boise police department at the request of her school principal because of her autistic behavior and I suppose they (full grown adults) felt physically threatened by her (yes, 8).
But I don't think the law makes sense. The existence of anti-discrimination laws doesn't always create the right outcome. In both cases not only were the perpetrators evil and wrong, but law enforcement was as well! Exactly what protection did the victims get? When we have too many rules, it becomes too difficult to enforce any of them, and the level of specificity creates too many loopholes, allowing fundamental wrong-doing to be forgiven.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not agreeing with the jerks that denied service to black people, or abused a poor eight-year-old child. Both parties should have been/be severely punished. In my opinion, people (white and black) should have boycotted the former's restaurant, and the latter all need to be terminated - the teachers, staff, principal and police officers should all be out on the street (and ideally not allowed to ever procreate again, but I suppose some might consider that harsh).
When does it make sense to exclude a customer? Seth Godin wrote about a failure heirarchy (I like this idea a lot) - it argues that you have to live up to your intentions and expectations, and that failure is critical to success. Part of this license to fail comes from choosing the right customers.
Roger Kay claims that Apple is firing its customers and that that's wrong. His view is that Apple should be much less exclusive in its dealings and be open to all types of customers. I don't agree.
When you build a product (say an item of clothing, you "optimize" it for a certain gender, a particular body-type, and sometimes even for certain skin colors - and that's acceptable. If you've ever eaten at the Carnivore in Nairobi, you know that they don't care about or cater to anyone other than meat-eaters. Aston Martin does not cater to poor people. etc. So why does Apple have to serve corporate clients?
Not only do I think they should avoid corporate customers, I also think catering to this clientele will cost Apple it's margins (profitability), as well as its reputation. As a commercial vendor, Apple will have to build products with specific features (security, manageability, interoperability); it will have to test products with greater rigor to ensure compatibility with applications built by 3rd parties; it will have to build a more extensive sales, service and support engine; and it will absorb a much greater change management burden to ensure that commercial clients are "whole" when then do upgrades, etc.
Even in the consumer space, Apple is going through some struggles with product quality. Now imagine if they'd sold the iPhone4 as a commercial product, and their antenna issues caused companies to lose business - there would be lawsuits galore ('cause let's face it, they're flush with cash, have a huge market cap, and are in some categories, dominating their markets) claiming lost income due to Apple's product flaws.
I think Apple was brilliant to deliberately step back from the commercial business (and think they should move away even more concertedly); it enabled them to dramatically streamline their business and operating model. As a consumer goods company, their only obligation is to the consumer. This allows them to:
- Confine their sales channels (their stores, other resellers, the web).
- Implement the most basic upgrade/switching support - easy to move from one Mac/iPod/iPhone to another, but not much else.
- Focus their engineering efforts on specific and Apple-chosen consumer capabilities (aesthetics, music, photography, etc.) versus responding to features their corporate customers demand.
Corporations don't like as rapid a product update cycle as Apple is used to (it's too expensive and difficult for them to upgrade that often); they want a lot more "personal" care and feeding than Apple would want to fund; and they're a lot more particular about standards, compliance, interoperability, and a host of other things.
Further to #2 above, today the barriers to change are much lower in the home than the office (it's waaaay riskier and more expensive for corporations to upgrade or switch). Apple's success is predicated on a rapid innovation rate and the only market segment able to absorb that kind of re-purchase cycle is consumers. Why go after a market that can't keep up with your business?
By treating everyone in the same way - as mere consumers with disposable income and a sufficient degree of panache to be able to pull off owning an Apple device(!), Apple is able to go after the market that is most able to buy and buy often. Their customers' expectations are set and set clearly. If a corporation does wish to buy their products, they essentially have to do it as consumers.
By setting expectations correctly, Apple is not only able to remain focused while lowering their cost of doing business, they are also able to maintain their premium pricing, while creating an ever-more loyal fan/customer base who readily forgive Apple's mistakes and eagerly await their next Apple purchase. That's why a business should have the right to choose its customers - it allows it to set, live up to, and succeed based on clear expectations.