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A silent customer isn’t a satisfied customer

Customers lie.

Shouldn’t be breaking news, but sometimes we try to forget that.

Even though the field of economics has long wanted us to believe in “rational actors,” the reality is that people lie, cheat, steal, are misguided, etc. It happens. You hope it’s not normative, but it happens.

There’s a secondary issue too: a silent customer isn’t automatically a satisfied customer. We are taught often to think “no news is good news.” But sometimes no news is assuredly bad news.

So now what?

Sweet little lies

I don’t know every single sales market in the world, but in Germany the process of a customer breaking up with you is usually accomplished through a series of sweet little lies along with contrarious actions.

It begins innocently enough with a question or a belief that your product can’t do X-function.

It ramps up to “It’s not you, it’s me.” (That’s how breakups usually happen, right?)

Usually almost everything is some degree of a lie, albeit small. The problem arises if you believe it’s them and not you!

The real reason is typically quality or cost. The customer wants to trim cost, but doesn’t want to say they need to trim cost (it makes it appear like they’re not doing well), so they concoct a series of lies to make it seem like they’re still killing their numbers. Or they are not satisfied with the mediocre quality that you deliver. They start to look around elsewhere but without a direct warning. You have to smell the indirect warning signs:

Examples for indirect warning signs are:

  • Customer suddenly tests a similar product/service from a competitor.
  • Customer doesn’t buy additional licenses/services from you although it was agreed.
  • Decisions get abnormally delayed.
  • Regular calls or meetings with your people get cancelled without new proposed dates.
  • They hide away from discussing long-term strategy or plans with you.

Why and how do we lie?

This is actually pretty interesting — lying is fairly tied to social class. Here’s one good quote on the psychology of it:

“Why does this happen?” Rucker asks. “Those high is social class, by definition, have more wealth and resources. They feel more empowered, and this psychological sense of empowerment leads them down the path of cheating to help themselves. Those who are low in social class do not feel empowered. They feel more communal and more dependent on others, which produces a willingness to help others, even when it involves behaving unethically.”

Most people you meet in a white-collar sales context are “high in social class,” so they are often lying to help themselves. Makes sense. Again, it’s often about cutting cost — although there are other factors, including:

  • Your product isn’t doing what it should
  • They don’t like you (relationship)
  • A competitor sold them better on a different suite and they need a less-awkward way to tell you that
  • They’re in the middle of a 17th “re-org” and don’t know whether they are coming or going

If customers lie, how do you get better at what you do?

You need to know the actual reasons a customer left, right? But if they lie, how do you figure that out?

  • Ask them directly to be truthful when you see that their actions are different to their saying.
  • Anonymous off-boarding surveys
  • Chase the gossip at trade shows, etc.
  • Analyze the types of customers that leave — is it a specific vertical? Could that say something about your end product?
  • Understand that a silent customer isn’t automatically a satisfied customer.

There are ways to determine the truth of the situation. But always consider that, if it’s a half-assed explainer of why the dynamic is ending, it’s probably a lie. Customers lie. It happens. But you can still better your business despite that. Read our B2B Sales Essentials to get full insight.

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Ted Bauer
About the author

I help companies to market their content in the most effective way.

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