Tag Archives: customer service

Shielding customers from choice

noun_choice_1714276It’s easy to believe that choice is a good thing for customers.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that more choice means that each customer will be better able to find something that meets their particular needs?

Customers hate choice.

Why? Because choice means thinking, and we avoid that whenever we can (as behavioural economics has proven over and over again).

I was put in mind of this by the latest McDonalds ad campaign, entitled “Grown Up“. In it we see a father and his little girl enjoying a day together, capped of (of course) by a trip to the golden arches.


Once there, dad is totally flummoxed by the new ordering screens, and his daughter steps in to show him what’s what, followed by the caption “The moment they surprise you”.


Dad’s slight bemusement is a familiar feeling for a lot of parents, watching their kids instantly intuit how to use the latest dizzyingly complex technology.

It must also be a sign, I think, the McDonalds has been getting some feedback that its ordering screens are not seen as easy to use. Why not? I suspect because there are simply too many choices.

The choices aren’t new, but customers used to be shielded from them by staff.

One of the big customer experience challenges for organisations, as self-serve and digital journeys become more common, is how to preserve flexibility without overloading customers with choice. In many cases, AI offers a possible solution. More often, we’d be better off simplifying the journey with sensible (and popular) defaults.

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Why customer emotions matter

noun_1325508Emotions have a big role in the decisions we make.

Our brains work by taking in information about the world, processing it, and responding in appropriate ways.

There are 2 separate systems at work. Different authors call these the “Low road” and the “High road”, “System 1” and “System 2”, or “Hot” and “Cold”.

They all basically make the same point—unconscious decision-making is quicker and easier, so we tend to trust it rather than making the cognitive effort to think consciously1.

Emotions are a special category of unconscious decision making oriented towards avoiding damage (fear, disgust) or getting something we want (joy, anger). They are, to quote the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences,

“A process that functions in the management of goals.”

It follows that emotions are important for anyone who wants to understand the customer experience or purchasing decisions, but emotions don’t factor equally in all decisions. We rely on emotions when there isn’t much perceived differentiation between suppliers. This is something David Ogilvy knew…

“The greater the similarity between products, the less part reason plays in brand selection…”

David Ogilvy

…and which research has confirmed. The research also helps to quantify which types of products tend to be a more emotional or more rational purchase decision (there are some examples in the diagram below). Emotion vs Reason3

Relative importance of emotion and reason2

When it comes to the customer experience, it turns out that emotion totally trumps reason. A good example is waiting times—it’s the quality of the wait that matters, not the quantity. Customers don’t evaluate the length of the wait rationally, they respond emotionally to how long it feels.

Designing experiences that create the right emotions is what sets great organisations apart from others whose products and services are just as good in purely functional terms. To do that, we need to understand customer emotions and what shapes them.

Is it possible to measure customer emotions? Maybe, but that’s a post for another day…

  1. Kahneman’s “Thinking fast and slow” is the must-read in this area.
  2. Adapted from A. Chaudhuri “Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behaviour


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Experiments to learn about action

noun_1280396I usually describe my job as helping clients to understand their customers and staff.

In particular, I help clients to understand how people think and feel (their attitudes), how those relate to their experiences, who they are (segmentation), and what they do (behaviour). Usually the ultimate reason is to answer the question…

“If we do X what will happen to Y?”

Learning about people

There are basically two tools in the researcher’s armoury: asking questions and observation. Which works best? Broadly speaking we know that observation works better for behaviour, because people aren’t very good at remembering or (in particular) predicting what they do. We ask questions because it’s the only way to try to understand what’s happening inside people’s heads. It’s not perfect, but it’s often the best tool we have. Where possible, combining both techniques can give insights that neither on its own is capable of.

In either case, however, we’re simply bystanders observing what happens to customers. That means that it’s very difficult to prove the links we identify, especially if we want to predict what will happen if we make a change of some sort.

It’s the knotty old problem of correlation versus causation. The classic example here is the early 20th century study that found a significant link between US households which owned a vacuum cleaner and those that sent their kids to college. The link is true, it held for the population at the time, but it isn’t a direct causal relationship.

The point here is that the correlation holds for prediction (if I know whether or not you have a vacuum cleaner I can make a better-than-chance guess about whether your kids are at college), but fails for intervention (buying a vacuum cleaner doesn’t make it more likely that my child will get into Harvard). That’s why observational studies are flawed if we want to draw conclusions about what actions to take.

Learning about action

To prove a case for intervention, in other words to answer the question “If we do X what will happen to Y?”, we almost always* need to use an experiment. Experiments can be very difficult to design well, so read up on the details, but the important principles are:

  • You need a control condition to serve as a baseline
  • Participants are randomly allocated to receive control or treatment
  • Participants shouldn’t know which group they’re in
  • People interacting with the participants shouldn’t know what group they’re in

It’s usually difficult, and often impossible, to meet all these conditions in practice for the kinds of customer experience change we’re looking at, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do the best we can.

One place where the experimental approach has taken hold is in digital A/B testing. Web design (A/B testing is almost an illness at Google) and communications (email subjects etc) understand the value of making data-based decisions about which choices will deliver the best results.

Another is in the public sector, where the popularity of “Nudge” theory has seen behavioural economics tactics teamed with experiments to see which messages have the most impact on behaviour. This discussion of Kirklees Council’s GDPR mailings is an interesting example.

It’s high time we spread that enthusiasm for experiments throughout the rest of the customer experience.

Experiments are the only way for businesses to know the impact of planned changes on customer attitudes and business success.

* There are times it is possible to prove causation from correlation, but it’s tricky. Judea Pearl’s Book of Why is probably worth a read if you’re interested in this stuff.

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User stories & customer journey mapping

noun_1213168A big mistake that many organisations make when they try to map the customer journey is that they stick too close to their own perspective.

The result may be a customer view of their process map, but it’s not a true customer journey map.

Why not? The tell-tale problems are:

  • Too much detail
  • Ignoring context in customer’s life
  • Focused on products, processes & touchpoints
  • Starting too late in the journey
  • Finishing too early in the journey

How can we overcome this tendency to let the inside-out view dominate? The best way is to use qualitative research and allow customers to lead the creation of the journey map.

User stories are a really useful tool to make sure you approach the journey with the right mindset. They’re normally written in the form

As a__________ I want to__________in order to__________.

Doing this will allow you to stretch your view of the journey, so that you start when the customer became aware of their need, not when they first got in touch with you. This more accurately reflects the customer experience, and opens up opportunities for innovation.

It also puts the customer’s goal (not your product) front and centre. This helps you to make sure that the experience you design is addressing the right problem, and opens you up to the possibility of solving it in new ways.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

—Theodore Levitt

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Empathy in Customer Experience

empathyI often talk about how important empathy is, but I realised the other day that I was using it in two different ways:

1) Empathy as a tool to inform the design of customer experiences

2) Building empathy at the front line as an essential output of insight

Let’s look at both of those in a bit more detail.

Empathy for design

To design good experiences you need to blend a deep understanding of customers with the skills, informed by psychology, to shape the way they feel. Getting that understanding requires in-depth qualitative research to get inside the heads of individual customers, helping you to see the world the way they see it.

When you understand why people behave the way they do, think the way they think, and (most importantly) feel they way they feel, you can design experiences that deliver the feelings you want to create in customers.

Design, to quote from Jon Kolko’s excellent book Well Designed is…

“…a creative process built on a platform of empathy.”

Empathy is a tool you can use to design better experiences.

Empathy at the front line

Improving the customer experience sometimes means making systematic changes to products or processes, but more often it’s a question of changing (or improving the consistency of) decision making at the front line.

Those decisions are driven by two things: your culture (or “service climate”), and the extent to which your people understand customers. If you can help your people empathise with customers, to understand why they’re acting, thinking, and feeling the way they are, then they’re much more likely to make good decisions for customers.

I’m sure we can all think of a topical example of what it looks like when front line staff are totally lacking in empathy.

The best way to build empathy is to bring customers to life with storytelling research communication. Using real customer stories, hearing their voices, seeing their faces, is much more powerful than abstract communication about mean scores and percentages.

Empathy at the front line is necessary to support good decisions.

Two kinds of empathy?

Are these two types of empathy fundamentally different? Not really. The truth is we are all experience designers. The decisions we make, whether grounded in empathy for the customer or making life easy for ourselves, collectively create the customer experience.

You can draw up a vision for the customer journey of the future, grounded in a deep understanding of customers, but if you fail to engage your colleagues at the front line it will never make a difference to customers.

To design effective experiences you need to start by gaining empathy for customers, but you also need to build empathy throughout your organisation.

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The Graphic Gameplan

noun_75258My job is to give clients actionable insight about their customers.

“Actionable insight”—what a dreadful phrase! Can we make it a bit less management speak?

My job is to help clients understand what their customers want so that they can do a better job of giving it to them.

The trouble is that understanding is only the first step. If we stop at understanding we’re likely to do more harm than good. I like to quote Bruce Lee:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.

Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Bruce Lee

So how do we turn our knowledge about customers, and our willingness to improve, into action?

You need three things: top-level commitment, buy-in from throughout the business, and ideas. To get them, you’re going to need to go further than simply presenting the results of your customer insight—you need to involve your colleagues in creating an action plan.

That means some kind of workshop. Workshops are great, but they can often be feelgood days that generate loads of ideas and enthusiasm with little in the way of concrete results.

Good workshops require structure. Build exercises to explore and generate ideas, but finish with a converging exercise in order to deliver a clear way forward. ‘Gamestorming’ is a great book I turn to when I need an exercise for a workshop.


One of my favourites for helping people move from insight to action is the “Graphic Gameplan“. The beauty of this exercise is that it forces participants to break ideas for improving the customer experience into specific actions, slotting them into a strategic timeline view. It leaves you with momentum, accountability, and a clear vision of what is happening next.

If you don’t have a gameplan for improving your customer experience, maybe it’s time to organise a workshop?

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Trust: is honesty more important than competence?

Most theories of trust see it as multi-dimensional.

The details vary (some links below), but mostly boil down loosely to two things:

  • Competence
  • Integrity

Understanding how they relate to each other is really important.

For instance, Stephen M.R. Covey points out that the way banks set about repairing their reputations after the financial crisis was exactly wrong, from a trust perspective.

Their response was to employ lots of people to ensure they were “compliant”.

That’s all very well, and perhaps even necessary, but it won’t do anything to promote trust. Compliance, and rules more generally, are what we create when we can’t or don’t trust people.

Competence is a situational judgement. Each of us is competent in certain areas, and not competent in others. Moreover, competence does not require infallibility—customers are quite forgiving of mistakes (as long as you admit you’re wrong and make an effort to put things right).

Integrity is about who you are, and it’s much more long-term. If I lose trust in your integrity then it’s very hard for you to win it back.

The implications for customer service are clear—don’t be afraid of admitting a mistake, and never ever lie to a customer.

Strange how often we do the opposite, isn’t it?


We run a 1/2 day briefing on trust as it relates to Employee Engagement and Customer Experience. You can find more details on our website.

Three of the best models of trust are:

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