• CVO – Chief Voodoo Officer

Open wide: This (journey) won’t hurt a bit.


Customer service
Image credit McKinsey & Co

Worried about your “customer relationships?” Don’t be. You don’t have them anyway. That’s one takeaway from Thunderhead research on Customer Experience (CX), in which 59% of respondents characterized their interactions with brands as totally one-way—not relationships at all.


The fact is that enterprise-scale transformation toward CX excellence is a sprawling, yearslong initiative demanding executive sponsorship, the grit to break silos, and the backing to buy costly systems. And sometimes, hey, it actually does work. But the past 10 years of CX hype seem primarily to have spawned countless infographics, some soothing iconography, and at least one supremely unhelpful “Customer experience measurement pyramid.”


So we’re especially delighted by three simple insights from behavioral psychology, and how they’ve been shown, according to McKinsey & Co., to burnish customer journeys...and even short-circuit pain points. Put these into practice, and you may yet win those elusive “relationships” afterall.


To illustrate the principles of researchers Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu, we call on hypothetical solar-power company SolarX, which is in the business of leasing and installing solar-power systems on consumers’ homes for a monthly fee.


Principle 1: Sequence.

Granting that even the best customer journey will have its highs and lows, research shows that the lows do more damage when placed at the end of the journey. So, place them where they’re more forgettable: at the beginning.


Old practice at SolarX…

Suppose established practice was for installers to complete the homeowner’s installation, then hand him/her an invoice for installation plus the first month’s lease. “Here’s a bill” isn’t a great calling card.


New practice at SolarX…

Instead, SolarX tweaks its journey to bill the full installation cost and first month’s lease upfront, when the salesperson closes the sale. Lasting impression? Off-the-grid bliss.


Principle 2: Segments.

Customers tend to perceive companies better when unpleasant experiences—again, granting that they’re inevitable—are clustered together in a single touchpoint...with positive experiences spaced around them. McKinsey gives the example of a trade show that clusters the painful parts (registration, payment, etc.) at the beginning of the show, with rewarding experiences (speakers, cocktails, bands) spaced throughout the event.


Old practice at SolarX…

The pain point is the multiple calls, schedules and visits required to become a SolarX customer:


Customer becomes aware/responds to ad → invites a sales call → decides to buy → attends roof-measurement → attends installation → attends municipal safety approval → power finally activated


Assuming they all happen on-time, that’s at least four visits to schedule—spreading the pain of asking the customer to open his/her calendar and find slots four separate times. Ick.


New practice at SolarX…

Instead, SolarX tweaks its journey to rip off the Band-Aid by scheduling all four visits during the initial inquiry. Jarring? Perhaps – but entirely possible with the right phone script, whether it were “Let’s schedule you just in case you decide to buy,” or “schedule each visit now and save 5%.”


Principle 3: Control.

Customers hate feeling out-of-control regarding their journey. By empowering, engaging and updating them, you reduce the chance they’d blame you for inevitable slips. Execution here happens at the nexus of content, technology and operations.


Old practice at SolarX…

After the sale—a huge financial commitment—customer is left wondering when that sleek new equipment will finally arrive → SolarX not updating the customer about what matters most to him/her.


First monthly bill arrives precisely 30 days after installation, whenever that date may fall → SolarX not empowering customer to manage a large financial commitment on his/her schedule.


Bill media promotes new, more-efficient solar technology on the horizon → SolarX not engaging properly at this stage of the journey


New practice at SolarX…

In the run-up to installation, the customer logs into SolarX portal and sees a progress bar, FedEx-style, showing exactly where his/her components are in the manufacturing process, with a scheduled arrival date → Customer is updated.


SolarX lets customer choose a billing cycle that works for him/her → Customer is empowered to manage financial commitments.


Bill media recommends ways to limit power consumption and self-service his/her solar panels—making those cloudy days seamless → Customer is engaged in an educational series that respects his/her position within the journey.


...none of which excuses corporate leaders from their big, gritty duty to wrangle customer journeys. Far from it; companies nailing CX stand to win 10% more revenue and 25% lower cost. But for smart managers seeking near-term impact, behavioral psychology just might provide the right levers to pull right now.