Turning apathetic customers into brand apostles


Like all relationships, that between a business and its customers can get tardy and insidiously lethargic. New businesses which are eagerly seeking to attract customers away from better known and established brands will invariably encounter customers who are disinterested and hesitant to engage

Financial institutions like banks and insurance companies struggle with ballooning dormant accounts and customers with a significantly diminished desire to keep up with payments on their investment plans. Customer apathy is a major problem for companies of different sizes, but small businesses are often harder hit. Whatever the case may be, organisations and businesses that survive and thrive must feel an imperative to consistently stir-up customer motivation and keep them engaged.

Customer apathy is the predisposition for resisting change from one product, brand or service provider to another. It is also a situation wherein customers do not express any excitement about a brand and may have over time become largely indifferent as to how the product or service is rendered.

Customers may become apathetic when they are confounded by a major service failure that resulted in their dissatisfaction, but still remain engaged with the company due to a perceived lack of options or just customer inertia. It may also result from a general antipathy or cynical notion already held about an orgnaisation or industry as a whole.

Apathetic customers are usually not very firm in their convictions regarding dealings with a company, appear nondescript in their communication, and are mostly low on enthusiasm. They either offer base-level information on any business-related conversation or cursorily make grand and unrealistic commitments on things they actually care little about.

A customer who is slacking in engagement with a business may be physically present but emotionally detached and psychologically disengaged; therefore making them good prey for the competition. It does however leave a window of opportunity to reinvigorate the relationship and turn these customers into committed and passionate advocates of your brand and what it offers. I discuss four key ways by which businesses can accomplish this. 

Be Deliberate in Connecting with Customers

When people do business with you, you become part of their personal experience – and that implies the need for companies to make an effort to build relationships beyond the initial transaction. Dealing with customers as mere numbers on a database bewilders the idea of them being important, often leading to relationships which have little or no meaning at all.

Growth of the Internet and the preponderant number of digital tools have opened up many channels which enable companies to more easily connect with customers. Social media platforms and other marketing automation tools allow increased customer engagement and can enable customers to easily access information.

The ubiquity of hand-held devices and their choice for use in many interactions make them all the more important for brands seeking to drive customer engagement and increase brand affinity. Key among what businesses can do is the creation of responsive social media accounts, setting up links to WhatsApp chats with customer service on the company’s website and social media accounts; and the flow of timely, clear and unbiased information across these platforms.

Two of the key tenets of brand transparency is information objectivity – wherein there is no exaggeration of brand attributes and information accessibility – whereby information can be easily accessed and clearly understood by the target audience. These actions personalise customer experiences, convey transparency and instil trust in the brand. 

Check and Revise your Value Proposition.

Customer needs and pain-points are always evolving and may indeed shift over time. A business that does not keep pace with the changing needs of its customers may remain stuck in offering solutions which function poorly compared to what customers actually need.

Examining your value proposition requires a careful juxtaposition of the solutions you offer and how they compare to your customers’ current needs. It is important to keep your value proposition relevant to your customers, and ensure they are constantly reviewed in tandem with their changing needs. If the value of solutions you offer plummets over time, your customers may be compelled to step back and eventually look to other sources for the value they seek.


Empathy is when you communicate with customers in ways which demonstrate your understanding of the feelings, issues and concerns they come to you with. This requires self-awareness and great emotional intelligence. High contact services like banking, hairdressing, beauty therapy etc. require a high degree of empathy to meaningfully interact with customers.

Again, dealing with customers in these settings naturally exposes you to a variety of emotions ranging from ambivalence, anger, elation etc. While every employee may be lending their best efforts in responding to customer issues, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone has the natural ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Businesses should therefore be deliberate in their choice of frontline employees, who should be offered training and guided in ways which heighten their sensitivity to customer issues.

Small business owners and personal or professional services providers like counsellors, hairdressers ought to understand their biases, and guard against these biases seeping through in their engagements with customers.

Customer-facing employees should practice and sincerely use empathy statements, including such statements as: I can see how difficult this has been; I can totally see why you would be upset; I hear what you are saying; it’s totally natural that you feel this way; our mistake has cost you a lot of time and money; let me make it right, etc.

Empathy-filled interactions make customers feel valued and happy even when their expectations are not met. The primary goal of each customer interaction should be to create a ‘human’ moment rather than an average employee-customer event. In B2B customer relationships, however, companies may have to reconstitute the teams that manage key accounts and ensure a functioning rapport between the account managers and a client’s key contact personnel.

Understand Your Customer Base.

This implies entering your customer’s social world and developing key demographic insights about the customers you serve. These include details about your total customer base, their age distribution, gender distribution, income levels and education etc.

Aside from enabling you to offer uniquely designed products targetted at each demographic, it helps you craft a suitable communication and service strategy that allows you to fruitfully engage with each of the groups. This knowledge of your customer base also enables clearly delineated key consumer segments within your customer base, a keener understanding of their motivations, and the cultural nuances which latently drive their actions. This way, the business does not offer a one-size-fits-all approach to whatever customer issues may come up.

Businesses must sustain their efforts at building customer intimacy and avoiding complacency that naturally comes with relationships which have traversed the times, eventually leading to a slump in customer brand and emotional attachment. Like the biblical apostles, apathetic customers – however disenchanted they might have become – can be transformed into potent emissaries who of their own volition become strong and vociferous advocates for the brand – publicising the good it has done for them and what it could potentially do for others.

The writer is a Marketing Strategist and Lecturer

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