The Fall of Summer


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Fall leaves are a lot like customers. They typically don’t depart simply due to the lure of a competitor like gravity invites a leaf to the ground. They are pushed out by the negative force of poor service or indifferent service.

All my life I thought that fall leaves departed the tree because they got too old to hang onto the branch and gravity bested their grasp. It does not work that way. Peter Raven, a renowned botanist, reports that trees literally throw their leaves off of the limb. It is much like a customer throws a service provider off their preferred list.

Here is how leaves become the ultimate prey of gravity. As days get colder and shorter, trees create a hormone that sends out a chemical message (much like social media) and triggers the creation of cells that appear at the spot where the leaf stem meets the branch. These abscission (root word for scissors) cells make a microscopic sized cut that gradually severs the leaf from the branch. Once severed, gravity takes over and does its job.

Customers have their own form of chemical messaging that leads to severing ties with a service provider. Too often service providers assume customer exit is due to the changing needs of customers or concern for price. And, that does happen. But, typically, like the leaf, a poor or bland service experience that appears the result of an indifferent service provider causes customers to float to another service provider. Today’s customers are seekers of value. Not ho hum, okay, satisfactory worth–but real obvious value. They seek a positive return on their investment of time, hassle and funds.

It means creating delightful experiences that perpetually remind customers they are important all the time, not just at the spring of the relationship. It involves communicating and serving through the channel, style and form preferred by each customer. It means keeping ties to customers strong and vibrant. It requires making service as effortless as possible. It entails keeping all promises, even those only implied. And, if an incident occurs that puts the customer relationship at risk, it requires a world-class response that repairs the relationship as it corrects the hiccup.

The fall of summer brings changes in nature. The fall of service can bring alterations in customer loyalty unless service provides build strong ties that bind, not apathetic incidents that separate.

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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