Photo: Elizabeth Williams

Never Turn Your Back on Your Passive Customers

Why Marketers should pay particular attention to NPS Passives

Go find your cat. I’ll wait. …

No cat? Borrow one; people leave them everywhere.

Now look the cat in the eye and ask, “how likely are you to recommend me to a friend or colleague?” I’m going to bet that if you have this conversation with ten cats, one of them will climb into your lap and purr contentedly, three will murder your houseplants and barf them up on your bed, and the rest will wander away, pretending they couldn’t hear you.

This is how Net Promoter Score works out for most of us. We’ve got the purring Promoters and the plant-killing Detractors, and this week we’ll tackle the Problematic Passives — the group that will screw you over every time, because like middle children everywhere, they are an oft-ignored bundle of angst, stress, evil creativity and incandescent resentment. Either that or they just don’t give a crap about your company.

Last week, I heard a marketing exec dismiss his Passives as something to ignore, while he planned an all-out assault on his Promoters (poor buggers). Just as you will not usually want to kidnap someone’s cat, ask it an impertinent question and then turn your back on it, you don’t want to be ignoring those Passives.

Just because they gave you a numeric version of “Meh” (seven or eight out of ten) when you asked for their opinion, is no reason to assume Passives aren’t interested or, even, fairly happy. For many of them, and this is one of the challenges with NPS, one tiny thing may well be all that tipped them from Promoter to Passive. Didn’t pick up the phone fast enough? Mucked up someone’s title? Sent documentation in the wrong language? Forgot to cc the manager on an email? Down you go.

Paradoxically, this one-off view of things that NPS offers up, is also one of the best reasons to use it in transaction-heavy businesses. If it’s that easy to nudge a customer down the scale, it’s probably not rocket surgery to shove them back up. I don’t have a ton of patience for emoticon-based customer service programs, but if your culture permits a Rock-The-Customer-Experience sort of internal campaign, this is the time to roll that thing out and delight the asses off your Passives.

In the same way that some Passives are one check box away from Promoter status, a good many are probably the same distance from hating you formally as a Detractor. Getting there likely took a series of unfortunate disappointments or, possibly, one massive failure to deliver. These people require intervention. In fact, this is a great place to focus all that excitement you have about your Promoters. If we accept that Promoters are to be treated like the delicate jewels they are, then we know not to stalk, strip mine or otherwise offend them. So turn all that energy on those folks who clicked on the 7 button.

How you handle this depends, I suppose, on the size of your customer base and the kind of business you’re in. I think the more personal you can be, the better. Call them up. Send them a present. Take them to lunch. Waive a fee. Wave a wand. Invite them to a conference. It’s up to you, but don’t sit on this one hoping it will change all by itself.

If you’re thinking in terms of a customer advisory council, your Passives are your best recruits. They’re engaged enough to keep paying their bills, but they’re not starry-eyed about your brand or your products. Neither do they have a wall in their kitchenette dedicated to the destruction of your company. That doesn’t augur well for an advisory council member.

While I would hope all of your customers are prepared to tell you the truth about their experiences, only the Passives bring the tiny suitcases of emotion that let you have objective conversations. Everyone else shows up with a luggage cart.

In case you are wondering, it’s time to send your neighbour’s cat home. It never really liked you very much.

Previously published on the BizMarketer blog

BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams.
I help companies have better conversations

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