Behavioral Science for Customer Service

May 28, 2019

Whether you’re a business leader or a project manager, if you deal with people, you’re dealing in behavioral science. And there’s no better industry served by behavioral science than the service industry itself.

With any service encounter, perception is reality. What matters most to the consumer is he or she interprets the interaction. Fortunately, behavioral science can make sense of how these perceptions are formed. By studying how people respond to the sequence and duration of events, and by interpreting how they are rationalized in the perception of the customer, behavioral science can uncover insights that give your service initiatives an edge.

Know the Sequence

The sequence of events in an interaction greatly affects the recipient’s perception of their encounter. When someone recalls an experience, they only remember a few vivid pieces. From these snapshots, they make an assessment of how an experience went. This assessment is based on three factors: the trend of pain or pleasure, the high points and low points, and the ending.

Behavioral science also shows people prefer a sequence that improves over time, rather than worsens, even if the net gain of the high-to-low experience is greater than that of the low-to-high. And of course, a terrible ending usually dominates an individual’s perception of an experience.

Control the Duration

Three things are certain about how duration affects one’s perception of an event. One, people who are engaged in a task don’t realize how long it takes. Two, when asked to recall the passage of time, people overestimate. And three, increasing the number of segments (e.g., phases, scenes, commercials) in an encounter lengthens its perceived duration.

An interesting note about time: duration influences one’s perception of an interaction only when the time elapsed is much shorter or longer than expected.

Help Rationalize the Experience

People seek to make sense of an event by rationalizing what they experience. If they can’t infer an explanation for something—often unexpected—they’ll come up with one on their own. Behavioral scientists call this “counterfactual thinking,” and it happens in one of three ways.

First, people often tie a single outcome to one large event, rather than many smaller ones, even if the smaller events amount to more time, disappointment, or reward than the one large event. Second, people also blame deviations from the norm for unexpected outcomes. And finally, people tend to ascribe blame to individuals, not machines, processes, or natural phenomena, even when it is most likely—if not entirely—out of one person’s control.