Several months ago, we were admitted to hospital with our 4-year-old son. This subsequently got me thinking about what it actually is that makes for a positive customer experience – even when the interaction itself (a visit to hospital) is associated with a certain discomfort. Which is why I have attempted to analyze our own experience. In order to understand it, it is necessary to refer to an approx. 15 year-old edition of the Harvard Business Review, which in my view is still extremely current.
The customer's viewpoint is the right one
Competition for customers is tough. Some might say that it is tougher than ever. Over a decade, buzzwords such as “moments of truth”, “service recovery”, and “delighting the customer” have led to a sharp focus on creating positive experiences in companies' interaction with the customers.
Regardless of whether you're talking about simply picking up the pizza on a Friday night from the local pizzeria or a complex and lengthy course of consultations, then one thing is for sure in regard to creating positive customer experiences: Perception is reality. Or in other words: What's important is how the customer perceives the interaction.
Despite some years in the background, behavioral science can (still) help us to understand the complicated processes that form the basis of how this perception is formed in the mind of the customer. By using 5 specific principles of behavioral science you can actually positively influence the impressions which the customer has and which they refer to and share with friends and acquaintances.
The 5 principles
1: Finish Strong
The conclusion of an experience is clearly the most important, as this is what sits clearest in the customer's consciousness after the interaction. Always ensure then to finish strong.
2: Get the Bad Experiences Out of the Way Early
Research in behavioral science shows that in a sequence of events involving both good and bad experiences, most people want to get the bad ones out of the way first so that they can move onto the good. Thus: Get the bad customer experiences, such as a long wait in line, out of the way as quickly as possible. Otherwise you risk having the negative experiences dominating the memories of the total customer experience, which has now settled into the customer's consciousness.
3: Segment the Pleasure, Combine the Pain
Make sure to gather up as many of the negative experiences as you can so that they appear as few times as possible in the customer's consciousness. Parallel to this, try to spread the positive elements out across the interaction, so that they "last longer" in the customer's consciousness.
4: Build Commitment Through Choice
The customers get a better experience when they feel that they have some kind of control over the process – especially if it is an uncomfortable procedure which they are involved in.
5: Give People Rituals, and Stick to Them
Many companies forget how important rituals are to the total customer experience. For the customers, it feels pleasant and meaningful when activities build upon familiar rituals. Deviations from established rituals/routines will often be experienced as mistakes or difficult challenges.
Superhero(es) at the hospital
Back to the hospital. Our son had problems breathing and was admitted to a highly specialized ward to undergo a series of extensive tests. Although I don't believe it was done consciously, our experience was almost uncannily composed of the above steps. Let me start from the beginning.
During our stay, which lasted three days, we quickly became aware that our son felt secure (as we also did) with the extremely fixed routines, which the doctors and nurses established quickly in our consciousness – and which they stuck to for the entire duration. The hospital staff also involved our 4 year-old son in the process, for example, when he needed to wear an oxygen mask and electrodes. He was allowed to choose himself whether it should be the nurse, mum or dad who put the mask on, turned on the device, etc. This made him feel more involved and secure.
Obviously there were also some less pleasant, but necessary tests to be undergone and which our son would have preferred to have done without. But from a concerned parents' viewpoint, there was nothing to be done about it. He needed to have all the relevant tests. The team that treated him were however skilled at concentrating these activities into as few occasions as possible, which could easily be offset with some of the easy points (read chocolate biscuits, ice cream and fun toys), which the nurses naturally scored.
When we finally reached the end of our hospital visit, one of the specialists came and asked our son which superhero he liked the best. Shortly after, she came back with a diploma for our son, which he got to take home with him. Finish strong, you could say. The result was a perfectly happy 4 year-old, who felt like the luckiest boy in the world – and who had subsequently forgotten completely about the less than perfect moments in his stay.
My conclusion is then that an experience can be positive, even if the situation is not. Simply by following (some of) the 5 principles, you can go far in terms of influencing the customer in a positive direction. And of course it also helps in this particular example that our son proved to be healthy and well.