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How To Move Your Customers from Indifference to Recommendation

by Colin Shaw on August 30, 2018

Customers that recommend you to other people are the gold-standard of successful Customer Experience. How likely they are to tell their friends and family about you is measured by the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a common metric used by organizations to evaluate their performance in Customer Experience. These customers are your most loyal and the most sought-after of the lot, the “Raving Fans” of your organization.

However, what do you with a customer that is indifferent? How do you convince a customer to engage and eventually become one of these fanatical customers you work so hard to develop?

We discussed this predicament in a recent podcast and shared a couple of definitions about customers’ feelings to get us started.

Indifference: Not feeling one way or the other about an experience. It’s not bad; it’s not good; it’s what you expected.

Ambivalence: Feelings change toward the positive or negative about an experience; One time it’s terrible; the next time it’s okay. Sometimes the experience is as expected.

The experience in which you participate can affect how you feel about it. For example, indifference toward Customer Experience puts me in mind of utilities, like the water company. After all, you turn on the taps, and you expect water to come out, right? So, it’s not the first place I would think that Customer Experience plays a prominent role. (Except that it does. In England, I have worked with a water company. You often learn a lot about the intricacies of an industry when you are a global Customer Experience consultant and the water company was no exception! It is a complicated business getting water to come out of the taps as a customer expects…but I digress).

On the other hand, ambivalence toward Customer Experience is one you can take or leave. For example, sometimes I go to an automatic car wash, and sometimes I go to one where people wash your car. In both cases, I have had good and bad experiences with the car wash venue. As a result, I have no strong preference for either. I choose one and hope for the best, but I don’t have a definite opinion on either.

Now, both indifference and ambivalence are terrible emotional places for your customers to be in a Customer Experience. Customer defection could happen at any time if your customer either has no opinion of your experience or at times is unhappy with it.

What Makes Customers Indifferent or Ambivalent?

We would expect to find indifference with customers that are new or only occasional participants in an experience. They are indifferent because they don’t have much experience with the product. They don’t have numerous positive or negative experiences yet. We would also expect indifference when the experience does not add much emotional value, like the water company example I mentioned. However, in this case, your indifference is only as constant as the flow from the tap. If something were to go wrong with the water company experience, i.e., dry taps, then you wouldn’t feel indifferent anymore.

Customers begin to move to ambivalent when you add in the emotional element. For example, you would be frustrated or maybe even alarmed when the tap went dry. You expected the water to be there, but it wasn’t. You would interpret that as a bad experience, naturally. However, suppose the water company turned the tap water into rivers of gold. You didn’t expect that, either, but you wouldn’t be mad. You would interpret that as a fantastic surprise—until you died of dehydration, of course.

Expectations and Reference Points are Vital to Customer Experience

People have expectations about your experience. If you meet them, they tend to stay in the neutral zone of indifference. It’s when you surprise them that they stray from this area. Whether it is a pleasant or a nasty surprise has a lot to do with their reference points.

A reference point is where you start. As one of the three big ideas of Nobel-prize winning Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s Prospect Theory, reference points refer to the notion that how you evaluate an experience depends on where you started. So, if the tap doesn’t have water anymore, you judge your experience based on the fact that it always had water in the past. The fact that there is no water at all means your reference point influences you to think this new experience is terrible. However, if the water was now a river of gold, your reference point affects you to believe this new experience is pretty impressive.

Moving from Indifference and Ambivalence to Brand Ambassador

So how do you move the indifferent and ambivalent to engaged and excited advocates for your brand? You need to know their expectations and their reference points. Once you know what they expect from you, you know how to meet those expectations, and, more importantly, surprise and delight them when you exceed their expectations. Also, you need to know where they are starting. You can’t understand how you are doing unless you know to what standard you are held. Gaining an understanding of these two concepts is crucial to converting these customers that are, let’s face it, in a lousy place customer-experience wise to a more advantageous position.

Your approach will depend on which type of customer you are attempting to convert. An indifferent customer might be easier because they don’t have any negative experiences per se. You only need to boost their emotional engagement level. An ambivalent customer, however, has had negative experiences, meaning that you will need to overcome these negative experiences to help them convert to a promoter. On the bright side, ambivalent customers have also likely had positive experiences, so you can use those to build upon when attempting to convert them to loyal customers. Whatever the case, it requires the usual work of defining your experience, minding the little details, and engaging the customers emotionally.

It comes back to understanding your customers and their motivations for behavior. If you don’t know why they feel the way they do about your experience, i.e., happy or unhappy, then you can’t move them at all. Instead of a having a gold-standard customer driving your NPS score up, the indifferent or ambivalent ones could sink your NPS score like a stone.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawHow To Move Your Customers from Indifference to Recommendation