Principles of behavioral science unequivocally lead to better customer service by telling us what really makes people tick. Service is then just about positive manipulation of interactions so that customers inevitably start skewing towards loyalty. Creating an experience that really gets under your customers’ skin is a cinch once you grasp the psychological underpinning of their behavior.  Following are some of those principles that explain what motivates customers to engage with a brand by getting to all the complexities and core perspectives of human brain.

The Framing Effect:

The framing effect is a well-known behavioral phenomenon. The concept is about human psychology as to how people get influenced and form judgments about the information presented to them. The idea, however, is to manipulate the information in a way that in turn positively influences people’s perception about the interaction.

When applied to service encounters, the framing effect is all about coming across positive by giving away positive undertones from what you say to the way you say it e.g. replacing the ‘I can’t do’ with ‘What I can do is…’ or taking responsibility to fix the problem instead of shifting the blame on your customer etc. Mere changes to the way you state your point can have a major effect on customers’ behaviors and judgments. Like saying:

  • ‘How can I help you?’ instead of ‘What’s the problem now?’
  • ‘There seems to be a misunderstanding’ instead of coming on strong with a ‘You are wrong’ statement.
  • ‘Please tell me how I can be of assistance and I will make sure that (the nominated person) gets back to you on this’ instead of ‘It’s not my department/job’
  • ‘The reason for this policy is ….. I really want to help you fix this problem. How do you think we can reach agreement?’ instead of ‘It’s company policy….’

Instead of inciting reactive or belligerent sentiments through downright negative statements, positive framing helps elicit positive thoughts and responses. Research shows that 70% of the shopping experiences are founded on customer’s view of how he is being treated. And framing is most rightly the first step towards fair customer treatment.

Reciprocity: How Favors are Conducive to the Loyalty Effect:

Reciprocity is ‘a strong determining factor of human behavior.’ It refers to the human psychology of responding to a positive action with another positive action, or to put it simply, it’s the act of returning favors. According to Wikipedia’ definition, ‘As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.’ In Prof. Robert Cialdini’s ‘The Psychology of Persuasion’, he says, ‘The impressive aspect of reciprocation with its accompanying sense of obligation is its pervasiveness in human culture.’ The legitimacy of the idea has been established after many intensive studies carried out by various sociologists through time, where all of them concur that human mind strongly subscribes to this kind of behavior.

When Forrester surveyed 6,000 of North American consumers, it was found that companies that had a reputation of genuinely caring for its customers outperformed other companies and even overtook them in generating cross-sales and repeat purchases.

Zappos lets actions do all the talking by bringing into play the subtle surprise factor to keep the customers racing back. The company notifies its customers of 2-3 day shipping but surprise upgrades it to 1 or overnight.

There is a well-known story about how the loss prevention employee of Ritz-Carlton shipped back Joshie the Giraffe that a child forgot at the hotel and also come up with a pictorial storyline about what Joshie had been doing during his prolonged stay at Ritz.

A little consideration and putting customers’ first is what engenders loyalty and fantastic ROI. Application of reciprocity by some of the world’s best businesses shows that it’s quite practical and realistic. Moreover, following are some of the specifics about this rule.

    Customers are most susceptible right at the moment of favour.

Professor Dennis Regan of Cornell University said, “We want to do the “first available thing” to even the score,” People instantly jump at the very first opportunity to even the situation and beat the feeling of being in debt.

    Personal touch and surprise factor are important.

Research shows that the feelings of reciprocation are at their strongest in customers when the gift or favour is personalised or unexpected. 

    Customer reciprocation outweighs freebie.

Tipping is the best example to demonstrate this principle. If you give customer a free mint after meal, the tip will increase by a few dollars. The reciprocation is often disproportionate, where the scales mainly tip in business’ favour.  

Atmospherics: Creating the Ambiance:

Philip Kotler, the professor of marketing at Northwestern University, first came up with the idea of atmospherics in 1973. Professor Kotler defined atmospherics as the ‘conscious designing of space to create certain effects in buyers’ or ‘the effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional effects in the buyer that enhance purchase probability.’ According to him, customers do not just take into account the product while buying something, but the service, packaging, advertising, pleasantries, and space are all a part of experience. Atmospherics comprise of three major forms i.e. the exterior make-up, interior ambience and the design of window displays. The aim is to ‘create attention, communication and affect’, all of which lead to an increased likelihood of purchase.

Although subliminally, but atmospherics do influence customers’ behaviour and intent because besides price, there are many other psychological drivers of the customers shopping behaviour like lighting, music, placement of products etc.  Mehrabian and Russell (1974) propose that an individual’s emotional response to the physical stimuli in an environment depends on environmental factors combined with his personality traits. The emotional response also forms his behavior in that setting which could be approaching, avoiding, exploring etc.

From retail to hospitality industry, almost every business is perfect today at the knack of creating atmospherics. Especially, the supermarkets are very shrewd at creating a favourable ambiance using lights, music and colours. Cosmetics departments use soft lighting, warmer lights are used in the bakery and soothing colors like blue and green are used more by stores.

Donna Karan said that she never wants customers to think that they are walking in a clothing store. “I want them to think that they are walking into an environment, that I am transforming them out of their lives and into an experience, that it’s not about clothes, it’s about who they are as people”, she said. In her all-white DKNY store, the first thing that a customer notices is a video monitor and a café, because according to Karan “It’s all about energy and nourishment”. Apart from the black, ivory and gold walls at her collection store, another thing which is hard to get by us the scent of candles, about which she says, “I wanted a nurturing environment where you feel that you will be taken care of.”

Gianni Versace says that the statement that he is trying to make with the elaborate mosaic and parquet floors at his Versace store on Fifth Avenue is “quality-my message is always a scream for quality.”

Giorgio Armani store gives out its message for exclusivity by just putting a single suit on display.  The aim is to be consistent with the designer’s message that Armani suits are exclusive and no Armani customer is going to run into another man wearing his suit.

The customers at Whole Foods store in the New York City are always greeted with fresh flowers. “These are what advertisers call “symbolics”–unconscious suggestions. In this case, letting us know that what’s before us is bursting with freshness,” says Martin Lindstrom, one of the world`s most renowned branding experts. While the chalkboard signs at the store make people feel that they truly are shopping at a Farmers Market where all the signs are handwritten.