Probably the most important book of our times was written 50 years ago: Exit, Voice and Loyalty, by Albert Otto Hirschman*, an economist with wide experience as a planner and someone who deals with reality in a practical way.
Hirschman’s main observation – other than in economic theory – is that there is often no real choice for citizens and consumers. Either there is no competition (like the country that you belong to) or switching is expensive or complicated (like with your cable provider). In such a situation, „nagging“’ is a logical public reaction. People complain and express their dissatisfaction, often in a way which is not very comfortable.
However, “nagging“ is the deciding factor when it comes to exit or loyalty i.e. whether they stay or leave. “Nagging“ may be a cause of stress for suppliers when it comes from customers. But it also indicates a certain stress on the customer (or citizen) side. The more stress there is, the lower the relative price for leaving (exit) appears.
If ”nagging“’, however, is reduced to its core messages, and these messages are used to change or improve the interaction, the conflict has found a way towards building loyalty. It has proven to be worthwhile staying and contributing. If not, the probability of an ‘exit’ continues to rise.
In customer gardening, ”nagging” is raw material to convert it into nutrients that further foster growth (or remove a road block on the way).
If and how this happens or not, says Hirschman, determines not only the continuity of customer relations with their suppliers, but also has an impact on the strength of these relations. Only societies with strong networks of loyal and productive relations between companies and groups of people are strong and stable. In other words, only relations where “nagging“ is welcome and listened to, are able to build out strong networks. And if not, the customer feels hostage. And your customer’s problem is, in the end, your problem, therefore it is better to react now (before it gets even worse).
Doubt and protest are constructive elements and impulses to trigger development. How good is what we did yesterday to pave the way into the future? That must be a constant question, and innovation is the answer. Doubt and protest are a tool of innovation. Without them, there is stagnation and decay.
In that sense, “nagging“ is a real resource for adaptation and a real indicator of the value of change. I have come across Hirschman several times in my professional life, but it never has been as valuable as today in explaining the recent zeitgeist (and what to do about it).
A friend, who is responsible for the Twitter account of a mobile operator, made a good comment: ‘From my feedback, I can generate a dictionary of all the foul words in my language. How can that be a resource?’ You can decide yourself how you look at it. You can also look at it as a dictionary of customers that you lost. Why did you lose them? Because you did not pay attention to their email. They got through the nonsensical interaction with your chatbots. No one was there when they called. Who cared when they threatened to cancel their contracts? What you see is the last fumes from their exhaust pipe, when they are long gone. You see the exit, not the voice.
- Albert O. Hirschman: ”Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States.” Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 1970