People are complicated. Make it work to your advantage.
Psychology and business are a lot alike — at their core, they both seek to understand people’s needs, wants, choices, and behaviors.
In a perfect world, everyone in any kind of customer-facing position would take a psychology 101 course before ever engaging in any interactions, because, as every customer service professional knows — people are complicated.
Every single one of your customers is an individual with their own backgrounds, experiences, issues and mindsets — whether permanent or situation-based.
Whatever emotional or behavioral peculiarities these people come with, you can bet that something completely outside of your control is the cause — you can only affect what comes next.
Sounds scary? It is.
However, there are a few psychological tips that can be applied in almost every customer support situation.
Here’s what you can do to understand your customers better, nudge them in the right direction and make them feel good about themselves and your company.
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Understand That Being Important Is Important
We all need to feel valued. You might be familiar with the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory — the five main terms that form the pattern that human motivations generally move through:
Esteem, right up there in the pyramid, presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others.
A little ego boost has a myriad of positive psychological effects, and even simple compliments and a little bit of special treatment can go a long way in making someone feel good about themselves.
The easiest way to make your customers feel important and valued is to give your undivided attention to every one you communicate with, no matter how “important” the communication may be.
Tell them they’re valued and irreplaceable.Give a genuine compliment. Send a small gift “just because.” Offer a little-known promo code or discount. Say thank you as often as you can.
Putting in a little bit of effort to caress your customer’s ego can go a long way in regards to how they feel about your company.
Leave Aside Your Fight or Flight Mode
In angry customer situations (or any interpersonal exchange, really), the first reaction is usually the first thing that goes wrong. When someone attacks, we intuitively shoot into stress and defense mode — fight or flight.
It’s easy to get defensive, however that sort of mindset is not going to help calm you or your customer down under stressful circumstances.
The key to letting go of that completely natural, but dangerous first reaction is understanding what’s causing the stress — in this case, it’s the fear of not being able to fix the situation.
The stress doesn’t come from the situation; it comes from you. By letting go of the idea that you have to fix every situation, you let go of the fear and the stress.
That’s not the same as not caring, it’s just accepting that you can only do your best in any given situation. Let go of the responsibility for the outcome and only focus on the execution — the one thing you can control.
Learn to Understand Anger
Instead of focusing on just the fact that someone is angry, try to figure out why they are angry.
People don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say, so it may take some work on your end to read between the lines and find the source of a customer’s anger. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What caused the anger?
- Were they ignored, insulted, or treated unfairly in any way?
- Do they have unmet expectations when it comes to your product or service?
Learning to put yourself in the other person’s shoes is a crucial skill to learn. Here’s the thing: for every customer who complains, 26 others remain silent.
Getting into the habit of ignoring your personal defence mechanisms and instead focusing on the only thing you can do—actually getting to the bottom of the issue—will mean that you’ll learn to proactively recognize dissatisfied customers.
Use Names (Theirs and Yours)
A lot of us are used to firing off quick email replies that jump right into what we want to say. When it comes to great customer service, that’s not enough.
Starting each email by addressing your customer by name (and for the love of everything, make sure you spell it correctly) doesn’t just make you sound more respectful and polite; it actually makes the customer happy to hear it:
A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.
Besides using your customers’ names, using yours is just as important. We’ve talked about personal customer service before:
Personal service is about making the customer feel like they’re doing business with a human, not a company.
Using names is a big part of the “human” feeling. Think about it — who would you rather get an email from, “Mike” or “The Support Team”?
Remember: a customer service exchange—whether it’s an email, live chat or a phone call—isn’t a transaction; it’s a conversation.
By introducing yourself to the customer, you make things personal and begin to frame the interaction as one between people, versus one between a customer and a business.
Understand the Power of an Apology
There’s one single word that’s absolutely necessary for your entire team to use during a crisis.
That word is “sorry.”
But you have to mean it. No one likes to hear an empty “we apologize for the inconvenience” like you’re some kind of robot.
Apologizing is obvious when it comes to a complicated customer service situation, but don’t leave it at just that.
Just because a customer’s email is positive in tone, doesn’t mean that they may not deserve an apology for having to email you for help. Many people are simply too polite to send a negative email.
According to a study at the Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, 37% of customers were satisfied with service recovery when they were offered something of monetary value (e.g., a refund or credit).
But when the business added an apology on top of the compensation, satisfaction doubled to 74%.
Remember: apologies aren’t about taking the blame. Apologies are about empathy, about showing that you understand how the customer feels, and about feeling genuinely sorry that they feel that way or are having trouble, regardless of who caused it.
Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, you can still be genuinely sorry about the way the customer feels. Let them know that.
Listen. No, Really Listen.
When a customer has an issue, they should be the one doing most of the talking.
The only “interruption” on your side should be questions — nothing more than sincerely asking the customer to explain his problem in detail, without any judgment.
This simple technique can potentially solve two issues at the same time. Firstly, being actively listened to will make the customer feel like they’re being taken seriously, which will help with their overly defensive state of mind.
Secondly, talking and explaining brings your customer back to a rational state of mind. It’s not possible to accurately communicate when you’re pissed off, and while explaining, your customer will hopefully automatically calm down.
Instead of interrupting, use active listening. Try to paraphrase back what the customer has told you. Keep your statements short and simple.
Develop Your Empathy Skills
Have you ever found yourself thinking that the support you just got was excellent because it felt “human”? Like you were doing business with a person, and not just a company?
That “fluffy” attribute—humanness—is actually tied to something very real: empathy. Great support feels human because it feels like the support agent understands you and what you want, rather than giving you robotic, generic service.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the best support is.
It’s about being human. It’s about having empathy in customer service. It’s about understanding what each customer wants, and how to give that to them.
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Make a Great First Impression
As customers, we’re not used to businesses making amazing first impressions, because most businesses simply don’t bother.
But that’s why focusing on that first impression can be such a huge win, setting your business far apart from the competition.
If you’re not convinced about it being that important, read up on the halo effect — a psychological phenomenon where a positive initial impression makes a person more likely to view everything done by the person or entity as positive in the future, even if that’s not really the case.
To translate this to customer service, creating a positive impression during the first customer interaction will help the customer hold a positive view of your company afterward. However, a negative first impression will also hold strong, so be careful!
Use Positive Language
Tone of voice has always been important when it comes to great customer service. A big part of that is the words you choose to convey your messages.
In the book Words Can Change Your Brain, researchers Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman write that hearing positive words can actually change our brain.
They found that people who used and heard positive language regularly developed changes in their brain that made them feel more positive all of the time.
Just by removing a few negative words or phrases from our customer interactions, we can completely change the way what we say is perceived.
Use the power of positive words in customer service to make your customers have more positive experiences, both in the moment and over the long-term course of your relationship with them.
Use Reciprocity to Increase Retention
There’s a powerful psychological concept called reciprocity. The idea is that if someone does something nice for us, we’ll probably do nice things for them, and vice versa for people who do mean things to us.
It seems like a ridiculously simple concept, but it actually plays a huge role in our daily lives. One study observed that when restaurant waiters delivered candy to diners along with their checks, tips went up.
What’s more, when the waiters came back afterward with extra candy, the tips got even bigger.
The researchers attributed the response to the power of reciprocity.
You can harness the power of reciprocity in your support interactions to deepen your relationship with your customers (and make them more likely to continue doing business with you).
All you have to do is think about what “candy” they might appreciate. How about an ebook, a free guide, or a credit to their account?
It can be small, but the key is that it has to be a nice surprise. Offer it at the end of your support interactions, and your customers will reciprocate by doing nice things for you.
Using Psychology to Improve Your Customer Service
Everyone that has ever worked in a customer-facing position knows that dealing with people is hard.
The basic foundation for making these interactions less difficult to figure out is learning to understand — how people think and act on a basic level, and their needs and wants regardless of their personal background.
Learning about these things will help you understand your customers better, nudge them in the right direction and make them feel good about themselves and your company.
What are the most important little psychological tricks that you’ve used in customer service? Let us know in the comments!