By Shep Hyken

Let’s go back to physics class for just a moment. Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states, “For every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I admit to struggling in physics, but this was one principle I understood. The other day, a friend quoted Newton’s third law, and it hit me. Not only does this happen in physics, but it also happens in business, specifically when there is bad customer service or a bad customer experience (CX). So, with that, I bring you Shep’s Law of Customer Service, which is: 

For almost every bad customer experience created, there is an opposite reaction by the customer. They don’t come back.   

 Notice that I put the word almost in the definition. Let me explain. 

A company wants a customer to buy its product or service. Then the customer has a bad experience. Perhaps an employee was rude or there was a problem with a shipment and the company didn’t handle it properly. Let’s call that the company’s “action.” The “equal and opposite reaction” comes from the customer choosing not to come back, which is the opposite of what the company wants the customer to do.  

Where customer service and CX differ from Newton’s third law is that it’s not always an exact equal or opposite reaction. It doesn’t happen every time, but almost every time. What if almost all your customers, as in almost nine out of 10 of them, were to leave after experiencing bad customer service? That’s exactly what we found in our latest customer service research, that 86% of customers are willing to switch brands or companies because of a bad customer service experience.  

And the company doesn’t even have to deliver truly bad service – just not “good enough service.” Eighty-three percent of customers are willing to switch because another company will give them better service.  

Now let’s remember that perfection is not reality, so it’s not quite as grim as it may seem. I have emphasized the word almost, and for very good reason. Our research also found that most customers give one or two chances before leaving deciding to leave. While not quite an equal and opposite reaction, it’s close enough to make the point.  

And mistakes don’t count if they are managed well. A mistake or complaint handled well actually reinforces that the customer made the right choice to do business with that company – sometimes even more than if the mistake had never happened at all.  

Let’s summarize it this way. When a customer chooses to do business with you, there are two future outcomes. They come back, or the opposite happens, and they don’t. So, manage for the reaction – not the opposite reaction – that you want to happen, which is to get the customer to say, “I’ll be back.”