This week I had an introductory meeting with a good friend of a good friend who is Corporate Council with a passion for Customer Experience.  And my friend was correct; Mike Williams is a very classy person who understands the service world and really gets CX.

During our conversation, Mike told me about a time when he used a basic understanding of science to explain customer retention to a peer group of Sony Electronics leaders (Mike was EVP & General Council). Here, in my own words, is Mike’s story:

What does it take to start a fire?  You only need three things – combustible material (fuel), oxygen, and an igniter (spark, match, lightening).  You can keep pushing the igniter on your propane grill but, unless you start a gas flow, your burger will never cook (don’t ask me how I know this, I just do!).  Good things happen as soon as you start the propane flowing.  And he drew this diagram on his whiteboard:

Mike went on to say that there are three things required to cause a customer to defect – poor product or service, poor experiences with your business, and a viable alternative.  Having competition will not cause a customer to defect, unless the product/service you provide is unsatisfactory, and/or your business practices and experiences delivered by your employees are awful.  My version of the science of fire graphic is shown here:

The lessons I took away from this story are:

  • There is no need to worry about competition if you evolve your products and services to keep up with customer needs and wants.
  • Your products and services had better deliver on the promises (expectations) your company is communicating to prospects.
  • Your company must be an all-around good partner and your employees must always treat customers the way they want to be treated.

At this point, I must again ask the title question – why is customer retention so difficult?  I think Walt Kelly answered that question in 1971: