Seth Godin’s Akimbo: A Quantum Theory of Customers

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses how customer service is similar to quantum physics and how to perform customer service effectively.

An element will exhibit a discrete quantum state in an environment. That element can move from one quantum state to another, and they do so by either taking energy or giving off energy.

We can think of customer service as having a similar analogy. Within the quantum universe of customer service, a customer can move from one state to another. Some customers are fans, and some customers are haters. Most customers, however, exhibit a state of indifference.

When an external event or force affects a customer, that force or change might change a customer’s feelings about us from one state to another. When that happens, the change of the state in which the customer is about to move into is the moment when an effective customer service approach counts.

When we look at the distribution of reviews on Yelp or Amazon, we will not see the typical, normal distribution curve. We will most likely see a bi-modal distribution, with one big hump at one end and one big hump at the other end of the curve.

Most of the time, customer service worth investing in is either about moving somebody from the indifference state to the raving fan. Another effective way of practicing customer service is to mollify a customer who might go from indifference to a disgruntled hater of the product or service.

However, most organizations do not see customer service as a valuable tool in managing a customer’s emotional state to the organization’s advantage. Most organizations treat customer service as a chore that is best to be minimized for cost-saving reasons. When we treat all customers the same without paying the necessary attention, we will be wrong almost all the time. We end up spending money on the wrong things and disappointing the people we are hoping to turn into raving fans.

Before we can be effective at doing customer service, we need to figure out what to do with “customer service triage.” We need to be able to sort customer service cases into three groups.

The first group has customers who will remain cheerful and loyal, no matter what we do. The second group has the customers who will not be satisfied and remain unhappy, no matter what we do. The third group has the customers who will respond positively to our actions by either moving from the state of indifference to a fan or moving from the negative state to a state of indifference. The more accurate we can differentiate the grouping, the more effective we can practice customer service.

Organizations need to figure out, based on behavior clues and analysis of the lifecycle, which customer is in a quantum state that can be adjusted. The opportunity here is to treat different people differently and get smart about what it means to be different. The art of this is to realize that what makes something a purple cow or makes it remarkable.

If we designed our product/service right in the first place, we could create something worth talking about. On occasions when we stumble, we also knew what proactive effort we can take to turn the stumble into a win that people insist on talking about it.

To do customer service well, there is a role for human intervention. It needs to be human intervention based on the understanding that different people want different things in different moments.

It will take an understanding that the customer in front of us is at this moment about to make a decision. Once they decide how to interact with us, it’s not going to be easy to fix it in the future. Knowing that and acting on it is a chance to make things better right at the critical moment.