Richard Nixon popularized the expression, the silent majority, when he used it to label the broad swath of Middle Americans who are reticent to publicly declare their opinions. To counter what he felt was a biased media, he appealed to them to emerge from the shadows and vocalize their support for his administration’s Vietnam War policy. He wasn’t the first to use the expression. In the 19th century the phrase was a euphemism for the dead, all those people who had died throughout human history. They were referred to in that way because there were so many more of them (14 times more) than there were of the living.
It’s that usage of the phrase that I find more interesting and profound. To me it speaks of respect for time and for dimensions of life and I think that the phrase can apply in the context of businesses and their symbiotic relationships with customers. As with human history, the longer a company remains in business the higher the odds that their silent majority (of departed customers) will outnumber their number of active customers. I know it’s a bleak thought, but it’s true. The challenge is in slowing that tide, to do what it takes to keep customers alive.
To keep them alive longer you need to know your customers and what makes them tick. And I don’t mean just by documenting a few items in the CRM. Knowing your customers requires you to be interested in their business, in the goals they plan to achieve, and in the capabilities of the people who operate the products you’ve sold. You need to know how they are progressing towards their goals and what more they need to get there.
Let’s look at some of your customers, many who will join the ranks of your silent majority
- They love your products but think they require a lot of care and feeding
- They love your products but you think the customer requires a lot of care and feeding
- They love the fact that their own business is growing but they don’t publicly attribute any of it to your products
- They love your service people but refuse to interact with your sales people
- They love your sales people but refuse to interact with your service people
- They love your EVP of Sales but no one else at your company
- They love your products and your services and are concerned that your company hasn’t yet turned a profit
- They love your service but hate your products
- They love your annual conference and happily retweet your marketing tweets but never agree to speak to your prospects
- They love your products but hate your service.
- They love your products and services but their bosses have wandering eyes and are smitten by another
Besides the word “love” being in each of those statements, what else is common?
Ambiguity and contradiction
Customers are human and are fluid, and multi-directional, in the way they behave. Companies are too despite the preponderance of processes, governance, and standards. Ownership changes, priorities change, leadership changes, the employee base changes, competition grows more intense. All this leads to ambiguity and as a vendor your challenge is to recognize these situations and to deal with them in such a way that you keep the customer. Costly, you say? Yes, it can be.
Even more costly though is trying to understand the contradictions and dealing with them. Why would a customer love a company’s service but hate their products? The answer can’t be a nonsequitur such as, “because the service people are awesome.” Clearly, the need is great to dig a bit deeper and to understand why.
Hope for a brighter future
Anyone who has read my blog posts knows I always offer up the gift of information so check this out. It’s an article I urge you to read, written by my Oracle colleague, Peter Jeffcock, all about machine learning (simplified) and how it can help identify candidates for churn. I’m not being prescriptive here (that said, we’re already moving down this road) but in my opinion he offers up the best go-forward approach for Customer Success. If you want to understand your customers you’ll need to do it in excruciating detail and you’ll need to do it at scale. Machine learning. Machine learning. Machine learning.
Extending the life of your customers is vital in today's hypercompetitive business environment where your customers have plenty of alternatives and the cost of switching is so low. Examine your customer base and understand the steps you should take to sustain them. Don't let your silent majority grow unnecessarily.
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