By the 1920s, psychology was ubiquitous in “advertising”—a term which, at that time, encompassed all customer communications, from marketing to customer service. Much of what these early pioneers discovered still holds true today.
While channels have evolved thanks to new technologies (hello, messaging!), customer service teams can still take cues from psychological strategies that have stood the test of time. Here’s what modern customer service teams can learn about delighting customers, using some of the most significant psychological discoveries of the last century.
You’re most likely to remember the first thing you hear about a topic. While people have long suspected that first impressions are important, it was only in the 1920s that this assumption began to attract scientific scrutiny. In 1925, a researcher named Frederick Hansen Lund proposed the “Law of Primacy in Persuasion,” suggesting that the first piece of information someone heard about a topic would hold the most sway.
Later studies confirmed his hypothesis and unearthed another interesting effect: recency. When researchers gave subjects a list of words to read and tested their recall, they found that people were most likely to remember the first and last words in the series. Some psychologists hypothesize that these effects exist because of the two kinds of human memory at work. When we remember the first information we encountered on a topic, it may be because we’re rehearsing it to store in our long-term memory. When we recall more recent information, it may be because we’re holding it in our short-term memory.
These effects have important implications for your customer service approach. Your customers are most likely to remember the first and last parts of any exchange they have with your brand. Knowing this, you can optimize your messaging support channels for customer happiness.
How to use the primacy and recency effects:
Anytime you have a new experience, you evaluate it through the lens of your past experiences. These are your reference points. Think about how easy it is to overspend while traveling abroad—you have no basis to determine whether that six-franc cup of coffee is cheap or expensive. Your reference points are scrambled.
In the 1970s, Professors Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky proved the importance of reference points in their Nobel Prize-winning work on prospect theory. Until then, researchers assumed that people made decisions rationally, based on “expected utility” or what the final outcome of their choices would be. Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that people don’t base their decisions on final outcomes, they measure gains and losses against their frame of reference. For instance, people unanimously prefer $5 off a $15 item than $5 off a $100 item. It’s the same savings, but one feels like more. That’s because of the reference point.
Economists often talk about reference points when it comes to price, but they also apply to how consumers view customer service. Say your favorite pizza place messes up your order one time, but your experience is generally excellent—you’re likely to forgive that one slip-up because your overall frame of reference is positive. But when you visit a new pizza joint, they have to live up to your high expectations. If they mess up your order, you’re less likely to go back, because you’re comparing them to your usual. Customers judge your brand based on previous experiences with you as well as with other similar brands.
That’s not to say having a negative reference point is always a bad thing. If your customers are used to a mediocre experience from competitors, you can easily differentiate yourself by providing exceptional service. Because their reference point is low, you have the opportunity to make that much more of an impression.
How to use reference points:
While customer service looks different now than it did back in the day, the human mind remains unchanged. We don’t make decisions rationally, but based on the quirks of our memory and points of reference. Customer service teams should take advantage of these important 20th-century discoveries to shape exceptional messaging experiences for 21st-century customers.