How About Feedback From Passive Customers? Huh?

I have been working on some research this week, trying to improve my three-layer model for feedback management which relies on point-of-delivery, customer-satisfaction, and planning feedback events.  See, for the most part I have been using it with clients to help them deploy feedback management strategies, mostly for support scenarios (it can be adapted to many situations, more on that another day).  We have been assuming all this time that if we survey the people who interacted with us, we actually have a very good representation of the issues and feelings from our customers.

Now, this has worked very well in the past for lots of clients I helped.  Their improvements in retention, delivery effectiveness, and (gulp) loyalty have been impressive (I did not recommend the loyalty measurement – sorta snack in).  However, I could not stop from thinking in the back of my mind I was missing something.  Well, today as I was reading several articles, blogs, and journals about satisfaction, loyalty, feedback management, etc. when I had THE epiphany — I have been ignoring passive customers.

What are passive customers? Glad you asked In all customer populations there is a small group (between 5-10 percent usually) that you almost don’t know you have.  These are the companies (B2B scenarios), or customers (B2C) that bought your product or service, use it all the time, and never require service (or self-support themselves through your self-service initiative).  These are the non-squeaky wheels – the ones no one pays attention to.  In words of loyalty and satisfaction, these are satisfied, loyal, long-term customers that we have no risk of losing unless we totally screw up — and even then, they are likely to call and get their problem fixed, since they never called before.  These are your safe customers.

Since you know me, you also know I am going to say something different.  Something like “these are not safe customers”, or “you cannot take them for granted just because they don’t interact directly”.  Alas, I wont’ say anything like that.  What I will do is ask you a question: what is the value of these passive customers to you?  What?!?!?? You don’t know?  Tsk-tsk-tsk… shame on you.

See, these passive customers for the most part don’t matter much to your organization.  They tend to be content with the product or service, they will upgrade or make incremental purchase decisions mostly on their own, and they just want to have a peaceful existence with what you offer.  In other words, they do tend to be safe,  Hard to lose them – unless you are trying.  However, their value to you is what you really need to know.  One by one, you need to know whether they are a top-tier customer or not, and what would their departure mean to you.  Then, you need to get their feedback – find out what makes them stay, what would make them go, and what you need to do to keep them where they are.  It is easier than you think, all you have to do is ask — we will cover in my next entry how to ask.

Are you taking care of your passive customers? Huh?