The Apostle model demonstrated the relationship of customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. If you are working in the zone of indifference, your customers are vulnerable to new offers to purchase.

When designing your services, products, or customer interaction, you must be aware of how your customers will feel about their experiences.  Once you know this, you can make plans to make your customers feel more positive about doing business with you.

In this post we will discuss the relationship between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, the Apostle model, and the dreaded “zone of indifference”, which is like a black hole and should be avoided if possible.

In the next post we will discuss how customers feel about any perceived gaps between how they expect your company to perform and how the company actually performs.  And we will discuss the “zone of tolerance” and why it can also be considered to be a black hole.

First, let me first define the two key terms I just mentioned.

Definition of indifference – Lack of interest in or concern about something.  For example, when my wife asks me what I want for dinner I generally reply “Whatever you make is fine”, or just “whatever.”

Definition of tolerance – The ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant.  For example, “Would you mind shopping for dinner tonight” generally causes me to make a sarcastic comment like “I can’t think of anything I would rather do.”

Note that both words are weak and passive.  Hardly the way you want your customers to feel about the experience you deliver.

Apostle Model

This model made an early appearance in the July-August 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review in “Putting the Service Profit Chain to Work” by James L. Heskett, Thomas O. Jones, Gary W. Loveman, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard A. Schlesinger.  The model demonstrated the relationship of customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.  I took the liberty of modifying the original graphic to reflect the current method of measuring satisfaction on a five-point scale and customer loyalty on the 11-point NPS scale.

If we use the 5-point scale, the area from 2 to 4 inclusive is the zone of indifference.  People in this zone are wiling to listen to discussions of products or service which compete with the ones they use.  And, it will not take a major selling concession to get them to change suppliers.

Think about commodities like paper, fuel, and clothing.  How many of us care which brand we favor?  We care about price and functionality.  If it meets our basic expectation and the price is right, we will buy it.  Actually, we are more loyal to the retailer than the product.  I use Staples paper for my printer and a well-known off-brand gasoline supplier for my car.

If the price is relatively large, like a car, I care more about the brand than with a commodity but over time, I have come to believe that all new cars at about the same price point will get me where I need to go as good as any other brand.  And many make me feel the same as the rest of the crowd.

In the B2B world, there may be reasons for loyalty other than pure satisfaction with the product or service.  If my company has a number of the same products throughout the company, then we most likely will increase capacity with another of the same model.  This is because the user community already knows how to use it and their procedures translate well to newer units.

The best example I can think of is computer software.  “Everybody” uses Microsoft office because we all know how to use the products, we have help readily available, and we are ensured of compatibility of our work.  Similarly, Apple users are extremely loyal because they don’t want to learn the tricks of another operating system.

In the CX world, many people believe that a target response should be either of the top two boxes.  So, a 4 or 5 is considered equally good and no one gets concerned if the 4’s start piling up.  However, from this graphic, we can see that a 4 is to be considered as needs improvement and people have to be more concerned about improving these customer perception than any of the lower results since they are so very close to the top box and only need an incremental improvement to become loyal and an advocate.

Key Takeaway

When administering customer satisfaction surveys, anything less than the top box must be considered unacceptable.