Will They Stay or Will They Go?

We had the good fortune to read a review of an upcoming biography of Albert O. Hirschman, an economist who had quite a life – some of it literally in the trenches – and a few observations that apply to situations we can find ourselves in every day. (Unfortunately, the article is behind the Wall Street Journal’s subscriber firewall, but if you can get Saturday (March 23)’s edition it’s on page C3.)

The observation that hit home with us was the concept of Exit, Voice and Loyalty, the title of the book he wrote in 1970 (he passed away last December at the age of 97).  It puts into context the choices members of any group have when confronted with the interactions they face on any given day.

Wikipedia summarizes the basic concept as that members of any organization, whether a business, a condo association, or any other grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they feel that an organization is falling down in quality or benefit to the individual: they can either exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change).

In the real world, the choice between exit and voice occurs every day.  Do you just quit a crummy job, or do you offer solutions to the boss to what you see as problems? Is your local school so terrible that you send your kids to a private school, or do you go to school board meetings and participate? Loyalty affects decisions too, the boss (you?) will consider it when offered solutions to perceived issues.  The folks who thought up seniority systems (or airline frequent flyer programs, per the WSJ article) recognized Loyalty as a powerful force. Voice and Exit exist together in most effective organizations – the ability to exit gives credibility to the voice. There are many examples of the relationship between Exit, Voice and Loyalty, both in WSJ article or the book if you want to really sink your teeth into it!

What does this mean in our little corner of the world? Review sites such as BoaterRated.com exist to provide voice to customers of marine businesses. Disgruntled customers will either talk a situation up, or they will take their business elsewhere. Happy customers are a great source of referral business, which is the best new business one can obtain. In most boating markets, it’s easy enough to find somebody to work on your engine, detail the boat, etc. if the last guy didn’t perform up to snuff. That the customer didn’t have the opportunity to add voice to the issue is a loss to the entire community – the customer could have had the situation corrected for himself, the business could have been made aware of an issue that needed attention, and others in the community would have had a better idea of who to go to.

As small businesses generally, most marine providers don’t have many avenues for their customers to provide voice as an outlet. It’s too easy for customers to Exit these days. Make sure yours have a clear opportunity to choose Voice instead!

This entry will be cross-posted at Boating Industry’s Guest Blog section. Please have a look at the other interesting things they have there!


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