Apostles and Terrorists

Adam Greenfield’s rant about OZOcar reminded me of a concept from James Heskett’s The Service Profit Chain. In the early 1990s Scott Cook at Xerox coined the idea of service apostles and service terrorists:

Service apostles are customers so satisfied that they convert the uninitiated to a product or service. Xerox’s management currently [1994] wants to achieve 100% apostles by the end of 1996 by upgrading service levels and guaranteeing customer satisfaction. But just as important for Xerox’s profitability is to avoid creating terrorists: customers so unhappy that they speak out against a poorly delivered service at every opportunity. Terrorists can reach hundreds of potential customers. In some instances, they can even discourage acquaintances from trying a service or product.

Here’s a diagram from the article to illustrate the connection between satisfaction and loyalty.

I think OZOcar has a service terrorist on their hands. You would think terrorists would be overwhelming on the internet, but I’ve also encountered my share of apostles. I posted about Joe Nocera’s glowing endorsement of Amazon earlier this year. In the comments for that post a man I’ve never met named Martin Polley went out of his way to praise Logitech’s customer service. He even posted about it on his own blog.

Come to think of it, I’ve done this myself. I praised the Hotel Avante (a Joie de Vivre hotel) offhand a couple months ago for their excellent check-in service.

If you’ve had a particularly good or bad encounter with a service, tell me about it in the comments below.

  1. AG

    I have to admit I’m not crazy about the nomenclature – I think it trivializes terrorism – but dude has a point.

    My experience has been that negative commentary on brands, products and services, for better or worse, has “legs” that almost no amount of praise does. However fulsome the praise you heap on something, it generally ends there – but tell your bad CS story and be prepared to have it picked up, linked to and replicated ad infinitum. It’s an interesting problem in the fluid dynamics of reputation.

  2. Jeff

    I suppose the paper was written before the Web upended the dynamics for sharing opinions about customer service. Pre-Cluetrain Manifesto (and, of course, before 9/11).

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