How do you measure the strength of relationship in a way that helps you understand customer behavior? It’s absolutely critical. If you’re going to try to improve the customer relationship, it should explain changes in customer behavior. I was thinking about this recently while getting a haircut and thought about how it applied to my selection of a hair stylist.
I’ve used the same person to cut my hair for the past few years. She does a good job – I’m nearly always pleased with the result. (But then again my bar is set relatively low!) And the price, while increasing over time, has been reasonable. She has a great personality and it’s always nice to interact with her.
She recently took a sabbatical and recommended a replacement in the same establishment. I scheduled an appointment. It got off to a really good start. Scheduling was much easier and I was offered several convenient times.
When I got there she began like any other stylist – by washing my hair. But then she gave me a scalp massage and put a hot towel on my face, all at no extra charge. It was a great experience and the cut was outstanding. I’ve gone back to her since that first cut. Even when my original stylist returned, I have continued with this new stylist.
Had I been surveyed at the time, I would have been considered a loyal customer to my original stylist. To use some “strength of relationship” measures:
- I was a repetitive and stable buyer over a period of time.
- To use an even stronger measure of behavior, I gave her 100% of my spend for the past few years.
- I would have given her a 9 on the Net Promoter Score scale – and actually have recommended her a few times.
- I experienced no significant problems with her service.
So why, as a consistent loyal customer, did I defect? When comparing my original stylist to the current one, gaps emerged between the two experiences:
- Better core product – probably marginally better than my original stylist.
- More ancillary product attributes – through the scalp massage and warm towel on the face.
- Better service – far more scheduling options on short notice. This was born out by several other experiences over time.
Few popular relationship measures compare alternatives. Why not? Deciding how you spend money or time comes down to making a choice between alternatives. Knowing how those alternatives compare is critical. Even though my behavior didn’t change over the past few years, I didn’t believe I was having a great experience that couldn’t be improved upon.
What are the learnings?
- Behavioral measures are important, but they should be considered outcomes of the relationship. Consistent behavior can result from many reasons other than preference –like high switching costs. In this case my biggest concern was experimenting and getting a haircut that made me look like Moe from the Three Stooges for a few weeks. It was only when forced to try an alternative did I find one that was better.
- “Absolute” measures don’t take into account a measure of a relevant alternative and tend to be weaker in explaining past behaviors or the likelihood to change behaviors in the future. I can like my current choice, but still consider it to be on par with many other choices. That translates into a neutral position, not one of loyalty.