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Earthworms and Airlines

An earthworm’s digestive system is essentially a tube that runs straight from its mouth to the rear of the body. It doesn’t so much eat anything as displace it, and as long as there is sufficient material in front to provide locomotion, everything works just fine.

Nick Hall By Nick Hall

This model is not entirely dissimilar to the customer service philosophies of certain industries. Customers come in one end and just as many customers leave out the other, and as long as there’s enough going in to replace what’s leaving, it seems sustainable, right?

We’re all familiar with the recent rash of airline incidents, captured on shaking cell phones and featuring seemingly innocent customers being subjected to appalling levels of treatment from apathetic airline staff. Many of these incidents occur because the airline’s business model is focused almost exclusively on attracting customers rather than keeping them. Their definition of success is a full airplane - full stop - so the lion’s share of investment is reserved for accomplishing this and little else. No doubt this is why they continue the otherwise baffling practice of overbooking.

Of course, it’s not just the airlines. If you look at the list of usual offenders identified as being the worst when it comes to customer service, there are few surprises, and almost all share a carefully cultivated customer service model that makes switching to a competitor even more painful than it is to stay where you are.

The pool of willing fools is finite, however a limited customer base is not the only factor that makes this (lack of) service philosophy so precarious. The modern threat of hyper-adoption looms large for many docile industries, and the speed of devastation is directly related to the degree of widespread dissatisfaction.

If any of the following scenarios sounds familiar, you might do well to consider striking a more sustainable balance between attraction investment and retention:

  • You’re spending more on attracting customers than you are on keeping them
  • You haven’t done any sort of customer feedback survey in years
  • You conduct customer surveys regularly, but no one really looks at them
  • The only time the word ‘retention’ is used is in conjunction with ‘water’
  • You’re constantly having to reduce your prices or make deals

Few business or brands do everything they can to maximize customer retention, however the ones that make the effort can achieve legendary status. Even a little effort can make a lot of difference.


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