Stuck in the Middle With You

joe —  Sun 3-Oct-10 — 6 Comments
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I once worked with a great friend that loved to pull pranks. Let’s call him Dave, um, because that’s his name. Due to the advent of caller id Dave has had to retire one of his longest running pranks – the 3 Way.

Dave would get the phone numbers of two people or organizations that were either competitors or often had passionate but radically opposing views. With his multi-line phone and very quick fingers he would put his phone on mute, call both numbers, and bridge them together. This left each side wondering why the other had called them and the ensuing conversation of discovery left us in stitches. I’ll never forget the day that he linked Shane Jewelers with D Geller & Son Jewelers. I believe it ended when one side threatened to come over and kick the other’s tail.

Passion is an interesting and very misunderstood concept in the business world. At this moment you likely have a customer that loves what you do and you have a customer that is extremely irate with you. In between is everyone else.
Love You Hate You.png

The problem is that we are taught that one end of the spectrum is the opposite of the other and that people move up and down incrementally along the line as they increase or decrease their happiness coefficient. Maybe if we just apply a little TLC to those that seem to hate everything we do that we can move them closer to simply “dislike us”. Ben Zander.pngSo too we believe that if we apply that same TLC to those in the middle that we can move them to maybe “like us a little more.”

People at the extremes of love you and hate you have a critical thing in common, they have the capacity to take a strong position. They are passionate people. What separates them is simply their position. As Ben Zander, author of The Art of Possibility says “A cynic is a passionate person that does not want to be disappointed again”

People in the middle don’t typically take strong positions. They may like you or not. Let’s take a look at the same line with different words.
Passion Ambivalence.png

Companies that have great customer support departments know this and leverage their practice around the similarities of the extremes. They know that if you can satisfy the need of the most irate customer that they do not become a less irate customer, they become an equally passionate happy customer. The customer is passionate by nature – use that to your advantage.

They also know that people in the middle don’t usually migrate to the extremes. In other words, when a customer’s position changes it folds to the other side.
Love You Love You.png

Conversely true, if wronged, passionate happy customers fold to the other side as well. If you don’t spend as much time with your happiest customers than you do with your most irate you risk getting a reverse fold.

Want a great reference account? Don’t look to those in the middle, go for the ones that are really irate. Make them happy and you are going to have one heck of a reference. Be very careful once they fold to the good. They still require an equal portion of the 80% time they were getting before, otherwise they will fold back.

So if you have the type of business where passionate customers make or break you (isn’t that all?), you have to pay attention to the extremes. The middle will likely remain the middle despite your best efforts. Consider giving 80% of your energy to the 20% on the extremes. They are your tipping point.

Question of the Day
How do you currently view and treat your toughest critics?

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  • Paul

    You said “So if you have the type of business where passionate customers make or break you (isn’t that all?)” – in answer to your question, I think ‘no’. For example, ‘staples’ or commodity type products often don’t provoke great passion in most people, such as household cleaners or brand of tires.

    You also said “Consider giving 80% of your to the 20% on the extremes.” I think there’s a word (energy?) missing in there?

    About your question of the day, we can learn so much from our toughest critics. They are often our toughest critics because they actually see something in us that THEY ARE/HAVE, and act like a useful mirror for us. Parents often fight with their children passionately when they (perhaps subconsciously) see something in their children that THEY did when they were younger or perhaps even still do.

    And yes, passionate ‘love you’ customers can quickly become your loudest critics if you do something they disagree with, as if it were a personal attack against their ‘loyalty’.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Good thoughts.

      Not sure if I fully agree on the passionate customers in a commodity business. I’ve got quite a few commodity things that I absolutely love. My Staples “no pressure” stapler is so cool. I remember using a certain brand of paper for my printer because it never jammed. I think you can drive passion in a commodity business. Granted that it may not be profitable as diminishing marginal utility may come in to play. But you can still drive passion in those industries.

      (thanks for the editor catch – I think I need to run these by you first next time 😉

  • http://mynexthat.blogspot.com Mark

    An interesting analysis. I recently worked for a company that had a problem with Net Promoter Score (% that “loved” us minus % that “hated” us). The difference was like 6% or something, when it should have been ten times that.

    The goal of the management team was to improve this score and there were several approaches put forth. The one most favored was to push those in the middle (ambivalent) into loving us. It was thought the best we could do with those who hated us was to make them ambivalent.

    While I don’t have any data, your analysis “feels” right. The visual I have is radial – like a speedometer – with an angle and a number that indicates how far out from the center they are. Your argument is that you can’t change the number (their level of passion), but you can change the angle (love v. hate).

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Mark, I’ll try and find some hard data to support this. I like the speedometer analogy.

  • Hannes

    In my years of dealing with customers and the love/hate relationship. I have noticed that most of the time, the problem was with “not understanding” the “customer needs”. It was not communicated correctly or was not interpreted correctly.

    The key was to listen, listen and listen….Then adopt your actions and passion to what the customer needs are. This changed the love/hate to a “Love with a smile”. When this was achieved, the extremes seem to be handled easier and with a more positive attitude.

    Dealing with toughest critics is because they have an expectation which was not met or what they need was not met. I view them as positives for improving the way I listen and react to their needs.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Great advice, Hannes.