How Deep is Your Customer’s Love


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“She told me today that she knew for sure she really liked me a lot?” It was my son’s after school report as a 14 year old just-figuring-out GIRLS! This was his first foray into romance. And, he seemed noticeably unenthused about the apple of his eye’s characterization of her feelings for him. Bottom line, he was totally confused. “Dad, does that mean I’m her boyfriend?” The next day he came home on top of the world.

“What did she tell you today?” I casually asked, not wanting to pry too much. “She said she thought she might love me a little!” He was now convinced he qualified as her boyfriend. The previous day’s definitive “like you a lot” was today far inferior to today’s tentative “love you a little.” He is grown now with three young daughters who are a few years away from trying to figure out how to describe feelings of affection beyond their today’s innocent, “I love you, daddy!”

I recently reflected on his early puppy love challenge as I worked with a client trying to accurately assess customer loyalty. How do you know when customers’ “like” becomes customers’ “love?” It seems a bit like determining when a creek becomes a river; a pond becomes a lake or a boat becomes a ship. We know for sure customer retention is a good thing. But, marginally satisfied customers are technically retained…at least until an option comes along that is better, cheaper or just different.

One of the most popular gauges of customers’ affection is their affirmative answer to the question: “How likely is it you would recommend our organization to a friend or colleague?” Companies hang their hat and incentives on getting a large number of “advocates” on their Net Promoter Score. The NPS has done much to be the wakeup call for getting leaders to make the customer’s experience a key priority. But, is customer intention the right measure, or is it customer behavior? And, what about all those customers who would never recommend anything to anyone no matter how great it was? How do we ascertain their devotion?

We recently asked the well know “would recommend” question on a customer phone survey our client was using to assess customer loyalty. But, we also asked the same customers, “Have you ever recommended the organization to a friend or a colleague?” Ninety percent of survey respondents answered “Yes” to the “intention” question, but 20+% fewer answered “Yes” to the “behavior” question.

So, do the “did recommend” customers love the organization more than the “would recommend” ones? Do the “would recommend” customers know for sure they really like the organization a lot?” Would they qualify as a girlfriend or boyfriend if the organization was a teen? Where does “like” stop and “love” begin? Using quantitative analytics to assess qualitative emotions might suggest we are due a new loyalty yardstick.

Marilyn Ferguson wrote in her book The Aquarian Conspiracy, “In our lives and in our cultural institutions we have been poking at qualities with tools designed to detect quantities. By what yardstick do you measure a shadow, a candle flame? What does an intelligence test measure? Where in the medical armamentarium is the will to live? How big is an intention? How heavy is grief; how deep is love?” It is something to think about.

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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