Is behavioural science such a great step forward for customer experience?

A client asked me to comment on a recent paper (Feb 2010) from McKinsey & Company entitled “Using behavioral science to improve the customer experience”, which itself was based on a HBR article from some years back (Richard B. Chase and Sriram Dasu, “Want to perfect your company’s service? Use behavioral science,” Harvard Business Review, June 2001, Volume 79, Number 6, pp. 78–84). The article basically laid out Chase’s four behavioural principles:

· Dilute/splice unpleasant stuff with pleasures, so that customers focus on the positive.

· Let customers stick to their habits rather than disorient them with unexpected change.

· Give customers choice, so they feel more in control of the interaction.

· Get bad experiences over early as the final elements of the interaction will persist in the customers memory.

The behavioral science principles are just that. They are like design principles – except that the population they apply to is “humans”.

This creates an interesting opportunity. You can take these principles – or go one better and take any of the segment-based design principles you discover through your design team’s work – and you can use them in abstraction – eg you could go through ANY of your direct marketing processes, or literature, or call centre practices, or client service touch points, and apply them a la this article – “scientifically”, “rigorously”, etc. And that’s fine. Buts it’s also a blunt instrument, and has risk. That doesn’t mean don’t – it just means it has risk, and you do a cost benefit calculation.

But it is not magic. Take for example two of the four practices mentioned in the piece:

a) Provide consistency – get out of the way /don’t intrude when I’m doing a transaction – I want it low noise.

b) Don’t be brusque in interacting with me – stay personal, not just transactional

(The more principles you discover, and the more situations you try t apply them to, the more you will discover these tensions within your list of principles.)

How the heck do I hold those two together in real life? The answer is it’s a wicked problem, and you need design. And guess what, if you use design instead of abstracted behavioural science principles to guide your customer interactions, then you take real-time guidance from customers about how they want the two resolved – the resolution is inherently contextual and fit to the audience.

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