Why Do Customers Behave the Way They Do?

You may have the best customer support processes in place, be equipped with a kickass customer support software, and recruit great support agents to run the support show. But you keep wondering if you are somehow falling short when delivering great customer experience. Well, let me tell you this — you are not alone.

Most companies fail to recognize the underlying factors that influence how customers rate their support. Customers are complex beings — some are grumpy and some are absolutely wonderful. If you are in a customer-facing team, your ultimate goal is to turn their frowns upside down. Your aim is to create conversations and experiences that delight them. But what works for one customer may not work for another. Since your patrons have unique personalities, it can be a challenge to constantly reinvent your support tactics to achieve your customer happiness goals.

To truly delight your customers, you need to understand how they think. Imagine getting into your customer’s head — you will learn what drives them, how to keep them consistently happy, and how to keep them coming back to you for more business. By the end of this series, I promise you will be able to identify ideas that will help you understand your customers and respond to them better.

So, here’s the plan. I will be discussing the psychology behind great customer experience in two parts. In this first part, I will be talking about the four key drivers of customer experience (listed here) and how you can leverage each piece of information to create more customer happiness —

  • Importance of first impression
  • Respecting your customers
  • Delivering personalized experience
  • The paradox of choice

Come on then, let’s dive in and see what makes or breaks a customer’s experience.

#1 First Impressions

Common knowledge has it that you have only thirty seconds to make your first best impression. The society we live in judges us based on its first impressions of us. That’s why we have to look presentable for an interview or dashing for a date. Your first thirty seconds with someone (your customer) will determine how the rest of the conversation will go (your CSAT score).

These first impressions are closely connected to what is commonly known as social cognition. Psychologists hold that social cognition is the innate process of judging whether someone is a friend or a foe. In the case of customer support, how your customer perceives you determines how they will respond to you.Customer_Support_ExampleNow, let’s rewind to the last time you were a customer and your experience went sour. Chances are that it went sour right from the time the agent opened their mouth to say hello. How you greet your customer will set the tone for the rest of the conversation — it tells the customer what kind of support they can expect from you.

You can't control how the rest of a service transaction will go. You can control the first 30 seconds and set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Click To Tweet

The greeting is also one of the areas of social cognition that can work in your favor. Though great customer experience requires great support skills at different points during the conversation, you can get there quickly if you know how to deal with the first thirty seconds. Once your customer makes that initial decision that they like you, it’s easier for them to trust you resulting in a pleasant experience for them.

Learning how to make that first greeting is crucial to your customer support interaction. Click To Tweet
Examples of how to respond to a customer’s request

Most companies fully understand the importance of their support agents’ first hello so much so that they script what they need to say and how they need to say it when they first greet a customer. One of the common things that companies expect their support agents to do is smile and say hello when taking a support call. Science has it that human beings can differentiate vocal intonation between a smile and a non-smile. Since you are not physically present in front of your customer, that smiling tone is key to that first greeting.Now imagine how this staged greeting would pan out for a bored customer support agent. Not a pretty picture, huh? Though scripted or staged greetings are not always successful, they still underscore the focus that companies put on the first thirty seconds. So, companies try to enforce these scripted greetings as habits. Over a period of repeated practice, these scripted greetings begin to come naturally to the support agent. For instance, Nestlé has branded mirrors at each phone reps’ station so reps can see if they are smiling when they are talking on the phone.

Remember that your first thirty seconds is your strongest ally. Now, go ahead and greet your next customer with a smile!

#2 Respect Your Customer

Have you ever wondered why failure in customer support is so frustrating that it transforms an otherwise zen person into a furious Hulk?

Let’s quickly think back to the last bad experience that you had.

  • You had to listen to the IVR and punch a few buttons before being connected to a customer support agent.
  • You had to wait for an online order that was due to arrive a week ago with no explanation for the delay.
  • You were overcharged for your meal at a restaurant and the desk clerk simply rang up a new bill.
  • Your credit card was billed twice and the payments team refunded the money without offering an apology.

You had a pressing issue and the customer support team on the other side fixed it for you even though you had to jump through hoops to connect with them. Yet, you claim that these are bad customer experiences. What do you think happened in each of these situations? The common denominator for each of these scenarios is a lack of respect.

You went with a set of expectations on how you wanted the issue to be treated and the support team didn’t respond to the issue the same sense of urgency or expertise that you expected.

And if you dig a little deeper, you will be surprised to learn that respect is one of the most primal needs of human beings. It is closely tied to feelings of security and identity. When this need is threatened, it evokes anger or rage.

At the root of failed customer transactions and customer frustration is the lack of respect. Click To Tweet

Let’s shift gears for a moment. How is it possible that you as a support agent are disrespecting your customer? It so happens that it is only natural for us to see things from our perspective, from where we stand, or how something impacts us. When you are working with your customers, you tend to focus on what you are doing. It is easy to see customer queries as a bunch of support tickets that land in your inbox every day, something that needs to be closed. But in reality, these tickets are wrapped with each of your customer’s emotions and expectations.

Consider the feelings of your customer before considering the mechanics of resolving their query. Click To Tweet

Respect is not an emotion; it is a communication skill that can be learned. I’m going to give you a simple trick to master it — it’s called response packaging.

A typical customer support or service transaction has three parts to it — the customer asks a question, you come up with a solution, you tell the customer the answer. The most difficult of the three parts is the second one. It requires you to find a solution which you may or may not know. The easy part, the one that most of us overlook is the last part — response packaging. How you convey your solution and response is a simple yet powerful way in which you can turn any customer conversation around in your favor.

To help you understand this better, consider this scenario — a customer has reached out to a support rep for help with adding new agents to their helpdesk.Response_Packaging_Customer_SupportIn the first conversation, the support agent has done their job of giving a solution to the customer. But the customer doesn’t look happy because the support agent has addressed only the mechanics of the customer issue.After_Response_Packaging_Customer_SupportIn the second conversation too, the support agent has done their job of giving a solution to the customer but in a way that is enthusiastic, responsive, and acknowledges the customer’s feelings about the issue.

How you package your response is a powerful way to turn any customer conversation into customer delight. Click To Tweet

#3 Personalized Customer Experience

One other closely related psychological trigger is the element of personal touch that you can add to your customer support. Let’s take a moment to analyze why we crave personalized experience.

According to a study, this has something to do with our need to control and an overload of information. Consider this — when you are shopping online, you don’t just get to see what everyone is seeing but you get to see something that is tailored to your interests. If truth be told, you are not controlling anything or making a choice on what you want to see on a page or website. However, seeing something tailored to you makes you feel that you are in control over the information you are engaging with. Though this is a bit of an illusion, it still has a powerful impact on our purchase decisions.

If you ever happen to see what the homepage of your Amazon account looks like, you will notice that all the sections are tailored based on your shopping and search history. This page view will not be the same for a fellow Amazon customer.

And about information overload — we prefer personalized experiences because we don’t have to deal with excessive information. Imagine having to wade through all that excessive content that lands in our inbox every day in the form of emails. Through personalization, you are presented with precisely the information you are interested in or looking for.

Companies are rapidly inching towards online and digital support. They are taking to personalized experience with the help of technology. But that alone won’t cut it. You need to know your customers and humanize your support. It’s that simple, really! Let’s look at the top three easy ways in which you can do this.

  • Greet your customers by their name, be it a phone call, direct email, or a monthly newsletter.
  • Use your real name when responding to your customers through email, chat, or call. Receiving an email signed off as Monica is a lot more personalized than receiving an email signed off as Freshdesk Support Team.
  • Use multiple channels to provide customer support so that customers can choose the medium of support. A robust helpdesk software should help you with that!
  • Use context in your support. Details such as name, contact details, conversation history, etc. can help provide your customer with a highly personalized experience.
  • Make sure that transitions for a customer are as smooth as possible so that they don’t feel like they are left hanging.

#4 Paradox of Choice

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he decided to ax more than 70 percent of Apple products and focus on just four. Jobs said, “I figured if I can’t figure it out working inside Apple with all these experts telling me into it, how are our customers going to figure this out?” This allowed the company to focus on making those four products better and also created a loyal customer following.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, in his book Paradox of Choice, talks about the perils of showing too many options for a customer to choose from in the purchase journey. Though this gives customers the opportunity to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, analysis paralysis, and dissatisfaction.

Why is it that the more options we have, the harder it is to make a decision?

Schwartz explains that the more choice we have, the more difficult it is to make a decision. We begin to doubt our ability to choose the best option. This makes us feel unsettled. Instead of feeling happy about the many options, we feel paralyzed. This anxious feeling gets intense particularly when the choices are tailored to our interests.


Let’s apply this behavioral pattern to customer support. Popular belief has it that you need to offer support on as many channels as possible so that your customer can reach you easily. But that isn’t a favorable experience for your customer. Research shows that 84% of customers prefer a straightforward solution to their problem rather than a broad array of support channels. Seeing the number of support options might, in fact, scare them away from contacting you at all.

Have you ever looked at Apple’s help page? It’s quite putting off to see so many help options on their support page. Apple_Helpdesk_Customer_SupportOn the other hand, I like Infinum’s help page — it is as straightforward as it can get. The big hello on their page is a great welcome greeting which is followed by three options that revolve around their core services. Customer_Support_Help_Page_ExampleNow, let’s say we made a decision. Even after that, we feel less satisfied. We tend to look back at the choices we didn’t make. We have that lingering feeling in our minds — What if the choice I made isn’t the best one? What if there is a better option to choose that I missed? Bill Watterson, in one of his comic strips, illustrates this brilliantly well.Paradox_Choice_Customer_SupportBack home, we tell our support agents to avoid offering multiple solutions and then asking the customer to choose one of them. And this has been working pretty well for us for two reasons — the reduced chances of the customer feeling less satisfied and with fewer choices to dwell on they progress to the solution more quickly.Adding to this are the constantly increasing expectations that we have. Today, customers have a growing set of options to choose from. This is because your product is not just compared to something similar that your competitor has to offer but to pretty much every other product out there. This does not just scale expectations but also creates the perception of what a perfect product should be. And finally, when we do purchase a product, it somehow falls short of the expectation we had in mind. This creates a sense of dissatisfaction, a gap between our perception and reality.

Final Thoughts

All of you that has worked and is working in a customer-facing team knows by now that dealing with people is difficult. To make it less of a chore, you need to learn to understand how people think, feel, and behave in a particular way. The goal is not just to resolve a customer complaint or answer a customer query. You need to make them feel valued. You need to make them feel good about themselves and about your company. If you master this, you’re on your way to delighting customers.

I will see you again in part two of the series on the psychology behind great customer experience. I will be talking about some of the other behavioral and psychological undercurrents that drive great customer experience. Meanwhile, if you have any ideas that have worked for you, drop them as comments. Let’s keep the conversation going.