Focus On Your Detractors

This post first appeared on CentraCX’s blog in April, 2021.

Customer Feedback Management: Focus On Your Detractors / CentraCX

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

We all know someone who is unconditionally in love with a brand; they simply won’t stop talking about their latest purchases and recommend that others buy from them as well.  Well over a decade ago, when Bain Consulting researched this behaviour, they found a strong correlation with continued brand loyalty and as a result today’s ubiquitous Net Promoter Score was created.

The Net Promoter Score asks the question “on a scale of 0 to 10 how likely are you recommend us to family and friends?”. Based on the response, customers are categorised into three classes: Promoters (9 or 10), Passives (7 or 8) and Detractors (0 to 6).

Is having a Passive customer better for your business than having a Detractor? Using the NPS system, because they’re more likely to recommend you to family and friends, intuitively you’d say yes.

In this post, I’m going to suggest the opposite.

If someone is a Passive customer of your business, nothing’s happened to disappoint or wow them throughout their history with you. They’re equivocal about you. You’ve met their expectations all along but there’s no relationship there. And that means the next competitor who turns up with a newer feature, a cuter salesperson or a better price is likely going to win them away from you.

A Detractor customer is a Detractor for a reason. Something bad has happened at some point. Maybe it’s happened multiple times. They’re emotional about you (which we want as CX managers) but not in a good way (which we don’t). While Promoters are often simply fans of the brand, Detractors are rarely unhappy because of brand reasons. Something has happened to make them that way. The business has created them.

The good news is that if you’ve created them, you can also re-create them. And the even better news is that research shows that if you can convert a Detractor, chances are they will become your most ardent and influential Promoters.

In 1965, eminent American psychologist, Elliot Aronson, conducted a series of social experiments suggesting that people are more sensitive to gains and losses in esteem than the level of esteem itself. When someone always supports us, we take it for granted and can discount it. But we regard someone who began as a rival and then became an enthusiastic supporter as an authentic advocate.

Aronson concluded that a person whose liking for us increases over time will be liked better than one who has always liked us. Personally, we find it more rewarding when someone who was initially negative toward us, gradually becomes more positive than if that person’s feelings for us were positive all along.

Aronson also said that the feeling is mutual. To like us, resistors have to work especially hard to overcome their initial negative impressions. Moving forward, to avoid the cognitive dissonance of changing their minds yet again, they’ll be especially motivated to maintain a positive relationship.

To draw a parallel with NPS, once Detractors become Promoters, they are much more likely to remain a Promoter than someone who was always a Promoter. Our best customers aren’t the ones that have supported us all along. They’re the ones who started out against us and then came around.

The third conclusion Aronson drew was that it is our former adversaries who are the most effective at persuading others to join our movements. They provide better arguments on our behalf because they can empathise with the doubts and misgivings of other resistors and fence sitters. And they’re a much more credible source because they haven’t just been blind followers all along.

This leads me to my second parallel between this research and an NPS program: Detractors who become Promoters are much more likely to credibly refer their friends and families to your business! People are more likely to be persuaded if they know the person referring the business was once a critic of it.

For these reasons, I believe organisations should be focusing their efforts on converting their Detractors:

1) They’re easier to shift than Passives – there’s already emotion and a relationship there,

2) They payoff is greater – there is a distinct possibility that they’ll jump the Passive category entirely straight to Promoters and once there, they’re much more likely to remain Promoters, and

3) Once they become a Promoter, they’re much more credible as a referral.


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