Pretty much all businesses have unsatisfied customers who spread negative word of mouth, and that’s just an inescapable fact. Even those with the best rates of customer satisfaction, such as Apple, are not immune. Once upon a time I was myself a happy Apple customer, willing to laud the company’s virtue to any who would listen, but over the years they really began to tick me off. I think it’s the way every last Apple device needs to be updated like, well now, it must be something like two or three times a day – and often seemingly just for the sake of it. ‘No!’ you could have heard me shout at my Macbook Pro, ‘you cannot have any more updates! Just be happy with what you’ve got! Consider yourself “to date”!’ And unless you love having to learn where iTunes has hidden all your music for the 45th time that year, you might be the same. I really want to go into Apple HQ, find whoever is responsible for these constant changes, and whack them across the back of the head with a bushel of uncooked spaghetti. ‘See?’ I’ll say. ‘Different isn’t ALWAYS better, is it?’

Apple would therefore call me a detractor. You see, Apple uses Net Promoter Score® methodology to measure customer loyalty, which is an increasingly popular way for businesses to group their customers into one of three classifications. Customers are asked the question ‘How likely are you to recommend us to others?’, and give an answer between 0 (I wouldn’t wish you on my worst enemy) and 10 (I want to have your company’s babies). They are then classified as detractors, passives or promoters, and the number of customers in each group can be expressed as a percentage. The Net Promoter Score® is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors, and any result above 0 you have more people talking you up than shouting to anyone who will listen that you suck.

But what about detractors who aren’t even customers? There’s a bank that I detest, let’s call it The Bank Of Yesterday. I have never actually been a customer of theirs. This was not for lack of trying! Several years ago, I wanted to open a new bank account, and the bank was recommended to me by a financial planner. It seemed like an easy decision. I called the bank and said, ‘hello there, bank, I’d like to put some money in you, please.’ The bank’s representative said, ‘sure, let me take your details, we’ll mail you a form to sign, and that will be that.’ It sounded pretty simple.

Time, however, passed. One day, maybe while I was ironing my socks, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, surely that form should have arrived by now’. I called the bank and they said ‘indeed, that form was sent ages ago.’ We double checked my details and discovered that the address they had for me was wrong. So, we corrected it, they apologized, and said they would send the form again.

More time passed, and the form still didn’t arrive. I called the bank again. ‘Hmm,’ they said, ‘it seems that address correction didn’t get saved into our system. Let’s try again. Apologies!’

This happened – I am not exaggerating – SEVEN TIMES. A rational person probably would have given up, but for me it became something of a crusade. Each time I called, I would go over the history of the problem with the bank representative, who would become increasingly astounded and apologetic each time, and then absolutely fail to fix the problem. I have never tried so hard to become someone’s customer. On the seventh and last time I called, I said to the representative, ‘Listen, do not print my address out of your computer. Do not delegate this task to IT or the mail department. What I want you to do is, get an envelope, write my address on it by hand, and put it in the mail yourself.’ The representative assured me that they would do this.

The form never came. No one ever called to chase it up. And I would see buses drive past me with big ads on their sides for the bank, trying to win me as a customer. ‘Hey,’ I’d say to the buses, ‘I tried.’ And people walking along the sidewalk beside me would think I was a crazy person.

In the end, I don’t know who the bank managed to annoy more – me, or whoever it was receiving an ever-increasing volume of unsolicited mail from them. But neither of us even had to be customers to become detractors. If they had asked me ‘how likely would you be to recommend this service’, I would have said ‘what service?’

That said, if they had been using Net Promoter Score® methodology, perhaps they could have found a way to turn my -1 into a 10. All they would have had to do to secure my loyalty would have been to have the form delivered by a parade of showgirls dancing on top of elephants, floated down to me by white doves on a silver platter, to be signed with a solid gold pen that I was then allowed to keep. And you know what? By now, they probably would have made their money back.

This story was written by Sam Bowring from Australia.