Using Behavioral Science to Improve the Customer Experience
Service operations seem a natural setting for the ideas of behavioral science. Every year, companies have thousands, even millions, of interactions with human beings—also known as customers. Their perceptions of an interaction, behavioral scientists tell us, are influenced powerfully by considerations such as its sequence of painful and pleasurable experiences. Companies care deeply about the quality of those interactions and invest heavily in effective Web sites and in responsive, simplified call centers.
Yet the application of behavioral science to service operations seems spotty at best. Its principles have been implemented by relatively few companies, such as the telecommunications business, which found that giving customers some control over their service interactions by allowing them to schedule field service visits at specific times could make them more satisfied, even when they had to wait a week or longer. Many more companies ignore what makes people tick. Banks, for example, often disturb the customer experience by altering the menus on ATMs or the interactive-voice-response (IVR) systems in call centers. They fail to recognize the psychological discomfort customers experience when faced with unexpected changes.
Likewise, for every restaurant that surrounds a bill’s arrival with a succession of complementary desserts—thereby capitalizing on the customer’s preference for service encounters that end positively—there are a lot of call centers that ignore the importance of a strong finish. Indeed, companies actively work against one by placing so much emphasis on average handling times that they inadvertently encourage agents to end a call once its main business is complete, leaving customers with memories of brusque treatment.