Customer Forensics: “When,” not “Why”


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Customers sometimes have a single encounter with an organization and then elect to go elsewhere. The customer’s “I’ll never go back” decision could be based on a complete mismatch between what the customer expected and what the organization provided. I once stayed at an aLoft Hotel and decided never to return! They did absolutely nothing wrong; I guess I am just not that hip! Give me regular Marriott, Hilton or Hotel Monaco!

When customers become a “regular” and then suddenly elect to go elsewhere, it is a completely different issue. Frequently the organization that has been abandoned concludes the customer’s decision to exit was due to explainable reasons like “your fees/prices became too high” or “my needs have changed.” They even conduct exit interviews designed to capture the “Why” behind the customer’s sudden desire for a divorce.

Should the organization elect to gain deep insight into the rationale for customer churn, they too often begin with “Why are you leaving us?” This “Why” question focuses the customer forensics™ investigation solely on the tipping point—that single incident that resulted in the customer saying (acting), “I’m outta here!” But, the more fruitful question begins with “When.”

Most customer departures are driven less about a single event and more a combination of factors that finally reached the tipping point. The spark that ignites exit only works because other factors have gradually increased the customer’s growing interest in switching providers. Think of it as the “roving eye” phenomenon.

Since switching requires effort and a potential disruption of operation, it likely takes a series of negatives that finally bring customers into a “zone of indifference.” Once in that zone, customers only need a trigger to push them into the “zone of wrath” where they actively plot and/or initiate their exit move. Failing to learn the truthful details about a customer’s entrance into the “zone of indifference” can seduce an organization into focusing on a symptom and not on a root cause.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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