Following up on an earlier post, the question of what really “fuels” dissatisfaction has been a hard one to answer because it is both multidimensional (I.e. There is no single source of discontent) and unique to the individual customer. That notwithstanding, I do believe that the answer does revolve around one single category of emotions: that being FEAR and UNCERTAINTY.
Come on, really? Many customers are customers of simple products. Not all purchases are big purchases like houses, cars, or other things that will stick you with really long term regrets. Most daily purchases- you gas transaction, payment of a utility or cell bill, a hotel reservation, and the like, are obviously too simple to drive the emotions of fear and uncertainty, right?
To the contrary, I believe fear and uncertainty emanates from many sources, not the least of which is being “surprised” in a way that has negative consequences. How many of you have gone through the angst associated with the uncertainty of data charges from your cell phone company? Or wondering if you identity will be compromised from an online purchase? Or if you electric bill for this month will bust your budget? Or if your credit card will exceed it’s limit and embarrass you among a group of close friends or family? Even something as simple as the uncertainty of missing an airport connection, can often create hours of angst rendering any exceptional service you receive before, during or after a flight pointless. Why? Because for most of us, worrying about something important will end up distracting anything within close proximity to it. Outside of a small handful of us who can compartmentalize emotions, most things outside of what’s urgent and important for us takes a backseat until what’s important gets resolved.
Some companies seem to get this, although I wonder how much much of what we see in this area is deliberate rather than simply random or haphazard success. Nevertheless, you more than likely have seen some examples of how uncertainty can be effectively minimized, if not overtly managed. Some simple examples include:
– airlines who announce connecting gates while still in the air
– unlimited calling and data plans
-leveled payment plans from electric and gas utilities
– notification of hold times and queue lengths
The proliferation of SMS alerts for everything from bank balances and data usage to first class airline upgrades and flight delays all help customers avoid surprises. Still, I wonder if some companies are just doing these things for technology sake rather than from a genuine understanding of customer mindset and motivating forces. In fact, most of this can be done without any technology intervention.
I am reminded of when united airlines used to (maybe they still do) allow customers to tune their in seat audio to the atc frequency so that they could monitor the flight. One of the reasons I liked that was you could hear about turbulence being reported by other pilots in advance of the bumps, as well as all the requests by your pilot for faster routing, smoother altitudes, as well as any unexpected delays. In fact, even now, when I am on an airplane that is going through turbulence more than a few minutes, I start wondering if the pilot is actually working as hard as the united pilots did to find the smoother air. Of course they probably are, but at least with united I knew. And that made the uncertainty go away.
Here’s another more recent example, and perhaps my favorite so far. The other day I ran into an electric utility that alerted (actually they reminded) customers to the fact that the summer months were approaching and bills would be spiking…thus opening up an opportunity to convert customers to both a leveled payment plan (same amount every month) and direct debit option, thus minimizing or eliminating the elements of uncertainty and surprise from the customer interaction. More importantly for the utility, it had the dual benefit of saving enormous amounts of money by minimizing transaction costs, eliminating a huge volume of inbound calls to the call center related to hi bill issues (high bill complaints are the highest duration and highest cost type of call for utility companies, in which 50+ percent of the time, the call actually results with the customer concluding the bill was similar in magnitude to the same time last year.. Can you think of many cases in which being proven wrong leads to a positive and happy state of mind?
I think the implications of adopting this “avoid the surprise” philosophy could be very large in terms of taking customer satisfaction to a new level. But it does require some fundamental changes in everything from how we view customer behavior, to how we design our offerings, and most importantly, how we define, measure and manage our success in this domain.
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