In Love And Indifference, Part 1 we learned that there are actually three groups of customers that do business with you, and they can be sorted by their personal experience with your company.

You’ll find those whom you’ve thrilled with your customer service are recommending you to their friends. Call them Customer Evangelists. Those at the other end of the emotional scale, whom you can expect to say negative things about you, we’re calling Vigilante Customers.

And the group in the middle? Those who’s basic expectations have been met? Nothing more, nothing less? Call them Passive Customers.

Passive Customers probably make up the majority of the folks who do business with you. They find you convenient, or someone else inconvenient, or maybe they buy from you because the cost of changing from you to a competitor is too high (in dollars, in inconvenience, or any other measure of value).

Make no mistake, these are not loyal customers. They’re here for now, because it’s less trouble than not being here. And yet, as the largest single group, these are the customers that most businesses count on for future growth. See the danger?

Passive Customers are neither going to bring you any referred business, nor cost you any. And the bad word-of-mouth of the Vigilante Customers is easily going to cancel out the positive recommendations of an equal number of Customer Evangelists.

This means you absolutley must have more Customer Evangelists than Vigilante Customers. Many more.

How many do you have? And how many more do you need? Those are numbers worth tracking, aren’t they? But how? How do you track the net positive effect of those Customer Evangelists who haven’t been cancelled by Vigilante Customers?

You’re going to do it by asking if they are willing to put their personal reputation and credibility on the line by recommending you. You’re going to ask customers to answer a simple, one-question survey of satisfaction. Give it to them at the conclusion of each transaction with your company.

The question?

On a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends?”

That’s it. One simple question.

Your results will be more accurate if your customers are allowed to remain anonymous. Make sure that they know zero means “absolutely no chance it will happen,” and ten means “Count on me telling everyone I know.”

When you’ve tabulated a significant number of customer transactions, you’ll score the survey. Customer scores from zero through six you’ll put in the Vigilante Customer column. Scores of seven or eight get tabulated as Passive Customers. Those who’ve rated their experience with your company high enough to recommend you to their friends, the nines and tens, will be counted as Customer Evangelists.

Now add the columns. Put the total of Passive Customers aside. Subtract the Vigilante Customers from the Customer Evangelists. Express the result as a percentage of the total number of survey respondents.

This is the Magic Number that foretells your company’s future.

The median score for most businesses is a mere 16%, but high-growth companies will score 75% – 80%. If your score is below zero, start printing your resume, find a buyer, and get out, quick.

This single-question customer satisfaction survey is too simple not to use, and too important to ignore. Knowing your Magic Number is the surest way to manage the future financial health of your company.

When you mail invoices, enclose a post card that your customers can fill out anonymously and mail back. Hand that post card to customers who’ve just made a purchase. Ask them to circle the appropriate number and to anonymously drop the card into a padlocked box. As you finish dealing with customers over the phone, ask them to answer a one-question survey, switch the calls to an answering machine with the question, and record the answer. Place a pop-up questionnaire on your web site – one question, no personal information. If you’re gutsy, you can even go to your competitors businesses and conduct quick exit polls of their customers to see how satisfied his customers are, and compare.

Implement the survey. Get the information. Use it. Resist the temptation to add more questions. You’ll kill the response rate. This is not market research, it’s a management tool.

Keep a running total and share the current numbers with your employees. Tell ’em the number of Vigilante Customers, the number of Passive Customers, and the number of Customer Evangelists, as well as the Magic Number for last week, or last month, or yesterday… whatever adds up to enough responses for an accurate sampling.

Ask your staff for great customer service stories. Share them with the other employees. Reward exceptional customer service.

Disappointed in your score? Time to re-focus on how to delight your customers and exceed their expectations. Make them eager to spread the word about their experience with you.

Some companies make this Magic Number the crucial measure of employee competence. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, for instance, refuses to promote branch managers who’s branch scores are below the company average.

As happened in Love And Indifference, Part 2, serendipity again stepped in with another example. About an hour ago, the lovely Mrs. McKay got an e-mail from Blockbuster Online:

Hello Allyson, you may have noticed a delay in the shipment of your DVDs early last week. And, by now, we hope you’re enjoying the extra discs we sent you as a token of our appreciation of your patience. Once we identified and fixed the problem that caused your delay, we immediately sent you TWICE the number of titles you were to have received. We realize the extra DVDs may temporarily find you with more movies out than typically allowed by your rental plan. Simply enjoy the extra movies and return them at your convenience.”

Delight? Absolutely. Exceeding expectations? No Doubt.

Pity they didn’t ask her how likely she is to recommend them to her friends.

Then again, perhaps they will.

Click here for Love And Indifference, Part 2

Click here for Love And Indifference, Part 1

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