Are your Customers Apostles or Terrorists?

What determines customer loyalty, and the different types of loyalty displayed by a customer?
According to Professor Adrian Furnham, airline stories are probably the best way of understanding the true nature of customer loyalty. He suggests that regular travellers ether have the ‘nightmare from hell’ story, or alternatively they have a story of brilliant customer service.
On the one hand, people tell of the 10-hour delay, the luggage sent to the wrong continent, the breakdown of in-flight entertainment, and the cabin crew with a very ‘low charm level’.
But others tell the opposite story: the upgrade to first class, the free champagne, the limousine transfer to their hotel, and the free tickets for future travel.
Are people in the ‘nightmare from hell’ lost forever? And are those customers who get great service certain to give loyalty to that particular airline forever?
Professor Furnham suggests the way to view this question is by dividing customers into five distinct categories:

1. Apostles - The real enthusiasts are sometimes called apostles or champions. They can be to others ‘product bores’. One might think that they actually work for the company as they seem to remain illogically loyal to products (and services) that they really can’t even differentiate from other brands. Thus, certain blended whiskies, through clever and sustained marketing, have ensured a loyal following who, under all circumstances, will insist on ordering only one blend, although in blind tastings they are quite unable to find it. They are what all companies want - the die-hard enthusiasts who would, it seems, never consider changing brands.
Some people think that ‘apostles’ are na├»ve and unlikely to try different brands or services. But others think they are seriously discriminating, taking what they buy very seriously and courageous in their support for a particular brand.

2. Satisfieds - Next are the ‘satisfied’ people who are affectionate towards a product or service in the same way as one is affectionate towards an old car or familiar building. They are comfortable with the product. It is predictable and consistent and, quite simply, satisfies their needs and their income.
This customer probably believes that they could probably do better elsewhere, but the effort is not worth the gain. Rather than proselytes, these are the quietly faithful. Could this explain why so many people in the UK are so reluctant to change their bank, even though many people don’t particularly love the bank they choose to do business with?

3. Indifferents - Most customers fall into the category of ‘indifferent’. They are the sort of people who circle ‘moderately satisfied’ on surveys and are not easy to please. Their indifference may result from many causes. They may be infrequent and therefore undiscriminating users of the product or service. Or it may be that the only thing that really motivates them is the price. Value-for-money people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They seek out special offers; changing brand or service provider with little thought.
Indifference may also occur because some people feel it rather strange to be ‘committed to’ or ‘loyal to’ commercial brands. For example, they see adverts with housewives hugging soap-powder as a bit odd.
Watch a middle-aged man shopping from a list in a supermarket. The list says washing-up liquid and the poor innocent is confronted with myriad shapes, size, colours, and ingrediaents. The indifferent customer simply reaches for the size container he believes is required without giving any thought to it.

4. Defectors - These are the once-faithful customers who received unexpected and unwelcome bad service. They can be heard complaining loudly in stores, and can be found practising their assertiveness techniques with bewildered staff!
Defectors can sometimes be recovered by the company, but it takes time and effort. They can be placated and nurtured into loyalty. But you have to ask whether it is really worth bothering. Defectors become neurotically hypersensitive to inattentive or poor service once they have received it. Retaining the defector can be a really costly business.

5. Terrorists - There is a final type of customer who is characterised by nil retention and nil satisfaction. These are  the service ‘terrorists’. These customers are not happy with simply walking away from a particular brand, they want to tell the world how bad it is. They are, in a sense, apostles of the opposition; dedicated ‘atheists’ not indifferent ‘agnostics’.
They write to newspapers documenting their bad experiences. They use Twitter, Facebook and social media to spread the word. They appear on TV shows berating the company. The ‘terrorist’ wants more than recompense, and once started on their mission, they can be difficult to stop. They can reach, and put off, hundreds of potential customers and can be a nightmare for any company.
According to Professor Furnham, some brand terrorists seem politically motivated. For others it may be just an attention-seeking opportunity. Others have been humiliated or angered by bad service, or not being listened to when they give honest feedback.
Fortunately, only the most dissatisfied customers become terrorists. But unfortunately, the opposite is also true of apostles. What this means is that for most organisation, you are only as good as your last performance. Good reputation takes a long time to acquire and a very short time to lose.

The ‘Three Rs’of Customer Loyalty
The so-call 'service profit chain theory' suggests that the most direct and proximal predictor of company revenue, growth and profitability is long-term customer loyalty. Loyalty means the magical ‘Three Rs’: retention, referral and repeat business. 
The satisfied customer is loyal, but loyalty should always be measured at the upper levels of satisfaction. It is so easy to slide down the slippery slope from apostle to terrorist. All organisations that care about customer loyalty and customer retention need to take note!

Adrian Furnham is Professor of Psychology at University College London and the Norwegian Business School. He is the co-author of 'The Psychology of Physical Attraction' (2007).

For more information on the service profit chain theory click here:

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