Retaining vs Defecting Customers
Illustration by Eric Jackson

You are a bad customer. We are all bad customers… now. Or we at least have greater potential to be bad customers. Many years ago, we were able to avoid being a bad customer, but those days are gone. And being a bad customer has become worse than being a defecting customer. A more social world has changed our likelihood to share our “likely to recommend” not as often as our “likely NOT to recommend.”

How Retaining Customers Turns for the Worse

I suspect a primary contributing factor is poorly constructed contact center Voice of the Customer programs that have grown into big data behemoths of unable-to-do-anything-with-it-but-keep-collecting-it-anyway government-type budget fiascos. We are not getting the right information. Here is an example of what I mean. I found this in a forum for customer experience professionals. Can you uncover the ridiculousness in a request like this?

Hi, I am working on CX with an online high fashion retailer. They have never done customer surveys before. I wanted to get your opinion about the survey template in SurveyMonkey$%#^&*@#$%^%

Do you have suggestions to the questions? Who should receive the survey (e.g., only customers that have made purchase in the last 3 months or all customers)? What is the expected response rate and are there ways to increase it?


This question was posted by a consultant! Really?! To me this violates a moral code of conduct: Do no harm. This person obviously has no skill in Voice of the Customer programs, yet is ignorantly moving forward. This kind of malpractice contributes to unable-to-do-anything-with-it-but-keep-collecting-it-anyway low ROI VoC programs. Monkey see, monkey do.

Executives Are Unsuspecting (and Willing) Victims

I recently spoke to a group of customer experience and contact center executives, and I asked for their thoughts on this forum request. What I got in response was only, “Measure what?” That is not the response I was hoping for. They were unable to recognize the high-risk business and career-destroying potential this situation can present. More folks everyday have Voice of the Customer performance as part of their rating and review process. It is part of their livelihood and future! So where are you in this? I do not want to place my well-being in the hands of those who are unskilled. Are you sure you want the cheap (on the surface) option? Do you think this is going to create an engine for retaining customers?

Customers Are Unsuspecting (and Unwilling) Victims

More and more customers are participating in VoC programs that are being designed by the unskilled and unaware. They are innocent victims trapped in the unable-to-do-anything-with-it-but-keep-collecting-it-anyway customer experience benchmarking fiascos. You and I are caged in this zoo-like setting that seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Collect more, do less. It seems like the social ill of local storage units. Buy more stuff, put it in storage, buy more stuff. People are doing the same thing with Voice of the Customer programs. Collect more stuff, do nothing with it, collect more. Customers do not want your cheap option. We want to be engines for retaining customers.

No Freaking Way!

It becomes unfortunate when you do not have many choices or when companies excel at attracting and then loyalty-trapping you. Those discounts for multiyear agreements, points, special offers, electronic payments and difficult-to-leave scenarios make it torturous to leave and their bad service makes it torturous to stay. Retaining customers in this manner creates side effects. I think these are two large contributors in “will not recommend” becoming more powerful and persuasive than “likely to recommend.” It translates to: Do not come here. In fact, run the heck away. FAST! I find myself saying, “I do not recommend” more than ever. While many of the organizations I do business with survey, I have not experienced a lot of positive change. The problems I experience prevail with no end in sight.

SHOCKING! 100% Unanimous!

The same executives I presented to all said the same thing. They were 100% unanimous! When I have asked a group of folks in previous speaking engagements about their major concerns, I have never experienced 100% agreement. This was unprecedented. They all said:

  • I have so much data, I don’t know what to do with it.
  • I am uncertain we are measuring the right things.
  • I am uncertain about what to measure.

They all agreed to these three statements yet are unable to see an issue with the consultant’s forum request. Their problem is self-awareness. They don’t know that they don’t know. We all need help. We would all be better served if we spent our time finding experts to help us instead of making our full plates even more full by adding such tasks. That is even more insane then repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

I Have the Same Issue

Last week, I think I became a little saner by hiring a professional organizer. My wife and I have three young kids, and our garage is a mess. Toys, bikes, tools, tubes, chairs, scooters and more just waiting to find a place or new home. However, my wife and I do not have the same perceptions and interpretations of the world. When we have tried to undertake big jobs like this in the past, the mental anguish was bigger than the physical task. We needed help to prevent us from:

  • I have too much junk, I don’t know what to do with it.
  • I am uncertain this junk needs to go.
  • I am uncertain about what junk to keep.

Repeating our past mistakes would have been foolish. Working smarter made cleaning the garage immensely less hard. Dare I say, it was kind of fun.

No More Monkey See, Monkey Do

I don’t know if it’s my age or the realization that I have two full plates and there is no way possible to take care of one. I am tired of acting like a monkey. Those executives have a messy garage—and it’s not going to get cleaned up with their knowledge about how to fix their problem. They will be better served investing effort in finding the right partner instead of seeking solutions in benchmarking with others. Remember, they all have the problem. One thing I am sure they are not measuring is, “Are you likely NOT to recommend.”