Unordinary Thinking No.44 – Is the lost glove theory the ultimate customer loyalty strategy?

Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison TolmanI was watching the concluding part of Fargo this weekend. It’s no Breaking Bad, but it has had threads of steel holding it all together and brilliant casting in Billy Bob Thornton as the commercially astute and emotionally cold assassin, Martin Freeman as the hapless insurance salesman anti-hero and Alison Tolman as the dogmatic everyday saviour. It contained many deep and sometimes amusing anecdotes used as references to highlight the way the characters lived their lives. In the final episode there was a story about a lost glove not being a lost cause. As soon as the generosity of the act sunk in it triggered a curiosity in me which was, ‘Could this be repeated in business?’ The story  went something like this….

“A man boards a train. He sits in his seat and looks out of the window at the platform he’s just walked down. There on the floor he sees a glove similar to his own. He checks his pocket to discover he only has one glove. Realising what has happened he immediately rises from his seat with the intention of retrieving the glove.

As he does the train starts to move away slowly. It’s a lost cause.

In a split second, he opens the window and throws the other glove out on to the platform. It lands next to the lost glove. Seeing where it settles the man smiles and sits back down.

The passenger opposite him quizzes, “Why did you throw your glove out of the window?” The gloveless man replies, “I can’t enjoy one glove. But perhaps someone else can now enjoy two”.

Does this model play out in the world of business?

We have ‘throw away’ food bins in supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda. But this is less about the store contributing and more about the shopper contributing. It’s also about a considered charitable donation rather than a charitable donation driven by the shoppers own loss.

tesco voucherWe also have supermarkets offering a ‘brand match’ redemption coupon against a future purchase because their competitors are cheaper. It’s good for the customer, along as the customer wants to shop in their store again. So whilst they accept they’ve lost out to another brand (on price), the objective is to still keep the customer.

It might not always work. On a recent trip to Tesco the brand match on our shop was over £7. It prompted my wife to comment, “Goodness, that’s more than a little worse, perhaps I should not shop there anymore”. So this model may well drive the customer to the competition, but that wasn’t the intention of the promotion.

So do models exist where businesses improve a competitor’s outcomes ahead of their own interests because it’s in the best interest of their customers?

The concept of putting customers at the heart of the business is alien to most economic schools of thought. And the concept of handing customers over to the competition is seen as lunacy even to the most liberally minded CMO.

Meet Zappos, where happiness drives customer first thinking

That is unless you are Zappos. The online shoe retailer from the US is perhaps now more famous for their service than their shoes. CEO, Tony Hiesh promotes that Zappos ‘deliver happiness’ and is ‘powered by service’.

zapposThose involved in CX will know Zappos well. They along with Disney and Amazon are heralded as the kings of customer experience. Along with the Disney Institute, Zappos has it’s own customer experience academy. Like Disney it’s open to all.

So it was unsurprising that I found the example I was looking for to prove the lost glove theory in business.

Here is how it works…

…if a customer calls up for a pair of shoes that Zappos doesn’t have in stock or sell, their call centre operators will track down a competitor who has the shoes in stock and transfer the customer to them.

An economist might shudder at the thought. The seasoned customer experience  practioner might call it genius. Genius because customers referred onward spend a reported twice as much on their next purchase from Zappos whilst telling as others about the integrity of the brand.

It does feel unnatural to push customers away, especially towards the competitor. That is unless you take the unordinary view that the customer relationship is not defined by sales but by commitment to the brand. The customer will experience a lesser quality service with the competitor, reminding them of Zappos strength and bringing them back for their next purchase.

This generosity demonstrates confidence in the Zappos brand whilst putting customers 100% at the heart of their decision making.

Posted by Christopher Brooks, Customer Experience Strategy & Director at Lexden

Lexden is a Customer Strategy Consultancy | Putting your customers at the heart of the decision.

We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers | We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions.

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