4 Drivers of Customer Loyalty — or Churn — According to Neuroscience

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Do your new customers resist or push back just when you expect them to be interested and engaged? Do your internal teams struggle to onboard new accounts? Do your users pause or even cancel their licenses before they ever go live?

It may be due to the inner workings of the brain.

Neuroscience offers intriguing insights into why the first few days, weeks, and months of a customer’s journey sets them (and you) up for success or failure. This critical initial stage, called onboarding, is the period in which companies familiarize new customers with their products and services, a process that may take 90 seconds, 90 days, or 90 weeks.

During this time, four key areas will determine whether your customers churn—or become loyal champions for life.

1. First impressions

As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and this is especially true in business. That new account you just signed is actually an organization made up of individual people. Even though the people you interact with may appear to be rational and logical, the parts of their brains that activate during onboarding deal with fear and value.

Faced with anxiety and uncertainty, your customers’ brains set a cognitive anchor on their first impressions, often in a matter of seconds. These split-second first judgments are incredibly powerful; they predispose us to embrace information that confirms our initial views while ignoring or rejecting anything that casts doubt.

When new customers have a favorable first interaction with you and your teams, they look for evidence to confirm this supportive relationship moving forward. However, when that first interaction is adverse or nonexistent, customers continually confirm their negative prejudice. They stop gathering information and stay stuck in their initial bias. It feels better to keep confirming what they already think rather than looking for new evidence that counteracts their beliefs.

The lesson? Once the mind learns, the underlying neural patterns are difficult to change, which is why perceptions linger and opinions survive and spread. When you mess up the initial connection with new customers, you’ll play catch up for a long time to come.

2. Buyer’s remorse

Consider the personal risk buyers take on when they select your product over all others: their decision could put their reputation on the line. It could even put them out of business.

Buyer’s remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase. It’s frequently associated with large and extravagant purchases, like cars, vacations, and houses. However, people battle buyer’s remorse even when purchasing something as insignificant as an ice cream cone. In fact, roughly 82 percent of people report feeling regret or guilt over a purchase—$10 billion worth of goods, collectively.

Buyer’s remorse is common because of a mental process called prospection. Prospection means you do your best to imagine how you’ll think or feel in the future as a result of your decision. For example, your brain goes into prospection when you anticipate that fantastic vacation coming up or how great life will be when you finally move into your new home. Your customers go into prospection during the sales process when the sales rep shares all the sensational things your product or service can do for them.

When onboarding new customers, remember that even when the customer signs the contract, the customer’s brain keeps anticipating—conjuring up scenarios to confirm every expectation and fear. This goes on indefinitely until there’s a reason to stop. That’s why your onboarding program needs to address the fear, remorse, and regret your buyers might have.

3. Cognitive closure

Since new customers’ brains ruminate in fear and doubt, you must engage them immediately. By setting a clear ending to the buyer’s journey and marking a clear beginning to the customer’s journey, you’ll keep customers from dwelling in buyer’s remorse.

When important activities don’t have distinct endings, the brain keeps churning. That’s where a process called cognitive closure comes in. Cognitive closure is a stopping mechanism that applies “the brakes” to the brain’s validating processes and allows crystallized judgments to form. Cognitive closure provides a definite answer to the questions the brain keeps asking itself. It’s a way to stop the uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity of prospection.

A proactive and prescriptive onboarding program provides ways to satisfy your customers’ neural networks with clear beginnings, handoffs, kickoffs, milestones, and deliverables. When customers know what’s happening next, they relax and start to trust you.

4. Building trust

Consider how people on the customer’s side feel. During onboarding, you move new users from what’s familiar to the unknown. A buyer might feel insecure about the choice he or she just made and its impact on the organization (or people’s careers). Both the project team and end-users might resist having to learn to use a new tool on top of the other projects they’re juggling. When you leave new customers hanging without addressing all this change, they feel abandoned.

Rather than letting customers and their users ruminate, determine what you want them to think and feel after purchasing your product. Most likely, you want them to trust they’re in capable hands. You want them to feel confident that they made the right decision and be excited about what’s coming next. Onboarding customers in an orchestrated way is the key to building trust—and keeping your customers’ brains engaged.

Start immediately

How you interact with new customers during the critical beginnings of a relationship can impact your customer relationships for life. So, onboard your new customers with care, create positive first impressions, set clear endings and beginnings, immediately build trust, and make sure customers know what a great decision they’ve made.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A very insightful post. Much of what neuroscience addresses with customers, whether they are new or established (or even former, when the original value concept is re-introduced through winback efforts), can be directly linked to the emotional and cognitiive underpinnings of behavioral economics.

    For example, Kahneman’s “Peak End Rule” examines what key, motivating impressions are left with customers as a result of transactions or experiences. These impressions can range from highly positive to highly negative, directly impacting decision-making and downstream behavior.

  2. Michael, thank you for your thoughtful comment. It looks like the business to business companies have a huge opportunity to address their customers as people. I’m excited to keep learning.

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