Our understanding of psychology has advanced significantly over the past century. Certainly, the notion that simply ringing a bell to make customers salivate in today’s competitive environment is now outdated.
Businesses should turn to empirical research to drive consumer insights from experts in Behaviourist and Cognitive research. For example, Aaron T. Beck developed Cognitive models showing that our beliefs, thoughts and assumptions have a huge impact on our behaviour. This past research and similar studies should be central in organisation’s efforts to improve customer experience. Only by understanding people – customers, can we work to improve their experiences with our products and services.
The model illustrated below explores the psychology behind satisfaction and provides context for the customer experience work KAE undertakes.
Fig. 1 – A Framework for satisfaction research (M.D. Johnson, C. Fornell), including KAE’s KX model
Here, Johnson and Fornell’s satisfaction framework (yellow), has been paired with KAE’s programme for customer experience change (green). With this framework, we can see how the mapping of satisfaction and resulting behavioural consequences are continually evaluated and prioritized to inform change recommendations for implementation. Indeed, by understanding how expectations, perceived performance and ultimately satisfaction differ at an individual level, we can explain past customer behaviour and model future behavioural change.
Starting at the beginning of this model, as customers’ understanding of comparative products and services grow, so too do their expectations as to what those products should deliver. When a product or service is totally new and innovative, customers have little understanding of what to base their expectations on. Perceived performance in this scenario is based on the product meeting their underlying needs. However, for more mature markets and products, customers have a wealth of information to evaluate a product’s performance on, where meeting and exceeding expectations become more important as an input to satisfaction.
Imagine buying milk at the local store, you’ve bought milk thousands of times before, you have a good idea of what it should cost, how it should taste, how long it should take before going off. Here, product satisfaction is driven by the product meeting pre-existing expectations which affect how you evaluate the milk’s performance across all those criteria. Expectations drive satisfaction.
Now imagine you are visiting a foreign country and have stumbled into a restaurant looking for lunch. You may not know much about the local cuisine, the area or the restaurant. In this case, your ability to evaluate performance on pre-existing knowledge of prices, taste and quality is limited. Instead, you are more likely to judge the meal against your core needs – was the meal tasty and did it fill you up. Here, expectations play a much smaller role in guiding your overall satisfaction because, quite frankly, you didn’t know what to expect. Instead, perceived performance drives satisfaction.
In this latter example, where direct product comparisons are difficult to make because of a lack of experience, our expectations are often based on a combination of similar experiences. For example, we might be drinking Soya milk for the first time and base our expectation on the most similar experience we think we have had, drinking dairy milk. Behavioural Psychology defines this phenomenon using ‘schemas’, meaning mental categories of similar experiences that we use to set expectations.
There are, of course, a wealth of other factors that impact an individual’s perception of performance and expectations of what a product or service should deliver. Some studies have found that as we age, we become more pessimistic and so have lower expectations which are easier to exceed. Operant Conditioning theory, a cornerstone of Behavioural psychology, shows that the consequences of any behaviour have a huge impact on the likelihood of repeating that behaviour. This is a crucial concept for those concerned with customer experience as post purchase experience largely impacts repeat business.
Looking at the included figure, three additions– map, prioritize and implement demonstrate how KAE’s KX model integrates with Johnson and Fornell’s satisfaction research. Satisfaction, how perceived performance is viewed and the extent to which expectations are met, can be mapped and measured across pain-points, touch-points and at an overall level. The KX model can then monitor behavioural change across metrics such as churn, product uptake or profitability to understand the relationship satisfaction has on these behavioural consequences. By quantifying the link between satisfaction and behaviour, strategic recommendations can be informed by a true understanding of potential return on investment. Further, as the figure included demonstrates, this is a loop, meaning overtime the effectiveness of this customer experience program improves as the link between satisfaction and behavioural consequences is better understood.
Certainly, customer experience management is incredibly complex. We have established that customers have differing expectations and perceptions of product performance. This means that where two customers receive the same service, one may be delighted and one thoroughly unhappy. However, for an organisation to improve at customer experience for all, we need not only track and measure satisfaction but also understand customers at an individual level, whilst linking satisfaction to behaviour. This calls for a toolbox of research techniques, where using behavioural psychology is just one of them.
 Pickle, H.B. and R. Bruce, 1972. Consumerism, product satisfaction/dissatisfaction: An empirical investigation. Southern Journal of Business