Are you paying attention to your passives?

We all hate surprises – At least this kind

Last week, I talked about how we all love surprises, except when we don’t. However, that was pretty much from the CX practitioner perspective. From a customer perspective, there are so many other places that the “bad surprises” can still pop up. From a recent vacation, I had a hotel that “missed the ball without even swinging.” Showing up to a door only to find you have to walk around the building to get in. Expecting to eat at their world-famous restaurant only to find it was closed for the week for training. Looking forward to enjoying the world-class spa and pool only to be informed upon check-in that they are being renovated.


Sometimes, even good surprises can be bad surprises. During that recent vacation, a surprise car rental upgrade took me out of a 4×4 vehicle that I needed to navigate to one of my destinations into a ‘luxury SUV’ – and sure enough, the 4×4 vehicles were sold out. It’s not an equilibrium, rather just the point that providing a great customer experience can have unexpected results even with an upgrade. 

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction come in many forms

I’m not calling these out to say all surprises are bad, or customer experience is based on equilibrium, only to point out that every customer has their story that might be different than how the company might view it. One of the reasons that closed-loop feedback is so important to a customer experience program is that it can help close the perception gap between customer and brand. Help the brand find when that surprise – whether or not it was with good intentions – was not received well.

Over the years, the focus on NPS has always seemed to be how many people can turn into promoters and keep the detractors from churning. There are, at times, efforts to highlight the stories of promoters, at QuestionPro we do it through a tool called Promoter Amplification. Then, of course, there are various tools in Detractor Recovery for those that weren’t happy with the experience.

What about the middle child?

Something that is often overlooked is those Passives, that group that sits in the middle – between the Promoters and Detractors and not even part of the calculation. Even in CSAT, they tend to be the forgotten middle child. When looking at where a business loses customers, it is almost always viewed from detractors’ perspective. In fact, a web search of “detractors” and “churn” yields many opinion pieces and publications on the topic. On the other side, Promoters churn as well, but it is often viewed from the perspective that the customer could not be retained (perhaps they moved out of the service area). 

That forgotten middle child, however, is one that you should really pay attention to when it comes to churn. While not seen as at risk (or at as much risk) for churn, this group may have larger consequences when it comes to churn – mostly because they can be coming from a larger group of the customer population and, therefore, a bigger risk of revenue churn. 

When you take the opportunity to speak with customers, you should realize that all the voices have things that they see as both positive and negative about their relationships with your brand – particularly this group called the passives. It is one of the fundamental reasons we developed the NPS+ approach in our Customer Experience survey tool. As we look to the future of Customer Experience, remember that all customers have a seat at this table. That is why we develop tools such as Predictive Churn models within our NPS+ model. It is important to understand the controllable risk across all three categories; otherwise, you might be left with a bad surprise…more churn.

Recognize that the “middle child” (whether it is NPS or CSAT) will sometimes look like their “younger sibling” that will be “home” for a few more years. However, also understand that they’ll have some traits of that “older sibling” that will be moving out soon, and it is important to understand what those traits look like, which is why it is also important to pay attention to our customer “middle child”.

My colleagues Dan and Crystal, will be hosting an upcoming webinar on July 27th. For anyone learning marketing research, having practiced for a few years, and even seasoned veterans should join this discussion about better survey writing. If you think you are in a place where you already know it all, that is the reason to attend. If you recognize that you don’t, even more of a reason.