A Case for Using Psychology Before Implementing Customer Experience Design

Recently I was asked to join a project on improving the customer experience of waiting at an upper-end photo retailer. Naturally, waiting is not nice. Most often waiting is “dead time” – that dreadful experience of one wanting for a part of their life to go away (pass) as fast as possible.

When it comes to waiting, the guiding behavioral science principles are “empty time is a drag” and “make waiting time useful, interesting, not necessarily pleasant” – you want people to leave eventually.

Nonetheless, an experience designer needs to go beyond the established (in a good way) potential solutions and to take into account the particularities of the context in which the waiting occurs. In this case, the service provider (business) is an upper-end photo equipment retailer and customers come in and have to wait for various purposes. Some clients come to rent photo equipment while others come for the repair/ warranty service. The latter caught my attention because waiting for your camera (which is still under warranty) to be repaired is a particularly unpleasant experience.

From the customer’s perspective, “This sucks”! The client’s camera (or other electronic equipment) that isn’t exactly cheap broke down. When the client paid the hefty price, she didn’t make only a financial effort, but she also took a trust-leap. The client trusted the retailer and the manufacturer’s brands that if she buys a rather expensive piece of equipment, she will get a well-performing product. And things didn’t go as expected, to put it mildly.

At the same time, this isn’t exactly “the end of the world”. Moreover, there are solutions, though some involve going to a repair-shop, in this case, provided by the retailer.

From a client’s point of view, waiting in itself is unpleasant; waiting for your product (equipment) to be fixed truly sucks because it shouldn’t have malfunctioned in the first place.

From the service provider’s point of view, this is a situation of mitigation of (very) bad experiences. Sure, the established ways of making waiting time useful or, at least, not “empty” or “wasted”, such as providing the possibility of charging one’s smartphone, laptop or tablet will make the experience less bad. Nonetheless, such measures don’t address the core problem the customer who came for the warranty (repair) service has – the loss of trust. In this case, the retailer’s repair service experience (including the wait) needs to be centered on regaining the customer’s trust.

Regaining trust is the core of designing the customer experience, including the wait, at a warranty department.

This isn’t a simple task. Regaining trust is much more difficult than gaining trust. Yet, it is not impossible; or, at least, the customer’s experience can be designed in a way that helps solve the problem, not just in a way that doesn’t do any further harm to the overall customer experience.

In order for a service provider to regain the client’s trust is to deploy (and show) a genuine effort of solving the client’s problem. A design feature that would both make the wait less empty and show that the business is taking the client’s problem seriously is to live-stream in the waiting area what is going on in the repair shop (room).

This exercise in transparency provides the client with something to do during the wait – she can watch the technicians repair her faulty equipment and it contributes to regaining trust. The client can see that the business doesn’t hide what it does.

The live-streaming feature influences how the repair technicians behave. They are more likely to act very professionally because they know they are being watched, even if the client doesn’t breathe in their backs.

The enhanced transparency works if other trust cues are in place. For example, a clean and tidy work-room (repair shop) indicates professionalism. Clean light-colored uniforms for the technicians indicate care for the work done. Car-mechanics’ work clothes are expected to be rather dirty and in “dirt-proof” colors because cars are dirty. However, electronics aren’t seen as dirty (they don’t use oil and petrol), thus light colors are more appropriate for repair technicians’ uniforms.

A "bias for action"

The story, unfortunately, doesn’t have a happy ending. Both the retailer and the contractor that invited me to join the project exhibited a “bias for action”. In plain language, they decided to move on with the project before I submitted my input.

A “bias for action” sounds like something good – moving fast and agile in Doing things. But I can’t help wondering why people who take pride in doing things very seldom ask “why are we doing this”?

Figuring out that having a waiting area with comfortable chairs will improve the waiting experience requires very little skill and cognitive effort. But it takes someone who understands human psychology to design an experience that makes the customer say “it wasn’t too bad and it was interesting”.

Moreover, it takes a deep understanding of human nature to figure out which problem to solve in the experience design. In the case of waiting at a warranty department, the problem to solve is regaining trust.

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