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Customer Zombies

By: Bill Bleuel


Geoffrey James noted in a brief article that there are customer zombies. He sees a new zombie customer arising from sloppy selling. He noted that may be the result of qualifying a lead, failing to document the buying process, failing to cultivate the real decision-makers, failing to neutralize competitors, and/or failing to make a compelling case. On the other hand a blog from the food service community suggests that food customers can also turn into zombies. Sales or service zombies can be found in either case.

A recent study from Colloquy found that more than 50% of customers who initiate a loyalty program failed to return. Customers become zombies when they lose interest in the company, product or service. Customer zombies will probably exhibit the following characteristics:
  1. reduced physical contact
  2. reduced communication
  3. reduced spending
  4. reduced interest in sales promotions
  5. discontinued complaints
Of course, there are many more ways that customers can exhibit zombie characteristics. The two questions that need to be answered are:
  1. what creates customer zombies, and
  2. what do we do with customer zombies
Customers do not start out being zombies. It takes effort or lack of effort to change a customer from one who was attracted to company, product or service. If the customer has expended the energy to seek out your company, there is potential life in the relationship between the company and the customer. When the company chooses not to build on that potential relationship or unconsciously take steps to diminish the relationship, the customer can easily take the first step to becoming a zombie. It doesn’t matter if the customer has taken the first step of completing an application for a loyalty program. A loyalty program does not eliminate the possibility of a customer becoming a zombie. Zombies do not have relationships. The primary step that must be taken to eliminate the possibility of creating a zombie customer is to have an active program that starts building the customer relationship at the time of the first customer contact.
Unfortunately, some customer zombies are better off being eliminated. In other words, some customer zombies create more negative value to the company then any positive aspects of their purchases would counteract. The best way to eliminate customer zombies is to lead those zombies to your competitors. In this way you will increase the value of your company and give your competitors a challenge they were not expecting. It may sound harsh to suggest giving a zombie customer to a competitor, but it is the lesser evil than keeping the zombie customer for you and your company.
On the other hand, some zombies are worth investing in order to “bring them back to life.” If the zombie customer reacts positively to a contact it may be possible to reinvigorate the relationship between the customer and the company. The challenge for every company is to assess all their customers and decide what action to take as each zombie is identified.
The bottom line is that zombies can be found in every group of customers. The intelligent company will take the time to identify the zombies in their midst and take the appropriate action to either eliminate them or “resurrect” them.
This article was originally published by The Customer Institute
Published: May 6, 2014

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Bill Bleuel

Dr. Bill Bleuel is an award-winning Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dr. Bleuel’s expertise lies in the quantitative aspects of business. He specializes in the measurement and analysis of operations, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention. He has held senior positions in engineering, marketing and service management at Xerox, Taylor Instrument Company and Barber Colman Company. Dr. Bleuel has also experience as general manager in two start-up companies that he co-founded.

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