Bewildered? What Do Your Customers REALLY Want?


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When you ask a person why they bought something, they can always tell you straightaway. It might not be the reason, but it’s the reason they give.

Is the person lying? Except for rare exceptions (politicians, criminals, celebrities learning too late that Twitter and Booze don’t mix), not at all. Many times people don’t know the real reason they did something.

People are not rational beings. They are emotional, or irrational, and these emotions influence their behavior, including (and especially) their buying behavior.

Professor Ryan Hamilton of Emory University and I wrote a book about this concept called,  The Intuitive Customer: 7 imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level, we explain how this irrationality inherent to the human condition manifests itself in our daily lives. Our second imperative of the seven is:

Imperative 2: Embrace the all-encompassing nature of customers’ irrationality 

Not everyone agrees with me on this point. I understand why; being irrational is not exactly something we aspire to, is it?  Perhaps I should clarify what we mean here. People are not incapable of being rational. However, being rational takes effort and quite frankly, most of the time people don’t bother.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow talks about how our brain works. (What you might not know is that he wrote this book because he wanted to know why his thinking was wrong so often!) He discovered through his research that our brains have two ways of thinking, the fast, intuitive way (which he calls System 1), and the slow, rational way (which he calls System 2). We access the fast, intuitive way more often because it’s easier than the slow, rational way. We do this all the time, including when we are customers.

I am guilty of buying emotionally. I recently shared my lackluster experience buying a car. I should have dumped this dealer and moved on to another. But I didn’t. Why? Because I wanted that Lincoln—and I knew it as soon as I saw it, emotionally anyway. Before we even went down this road with the dealer (#punny), I did loads of research and put my findings in a spreadsheet about the value of the car, the gas mileage, the resale price.

However, if I am honest with myself, I only employed all the intellectual comparison activity to justify how much I wanted that car!

As Customer Experience Consultants, we see this rationalizing of irrational behavior all the time. What people do is much different than what people say they will do. People say they want the option of salad at Disneyland because “I’d like to eat healthier when I am at the park.” But then, when that same person smells a delicious and unhealthy churro, they ignore the salads Disneyland presents and buy the churro because “I’m on vacation, and I deserve a treat”.

So you can ask customers what they want, do it, and then wonder why they didn’t do what they said they would. You can even ask customers afterward why they did what they did and get the wrong answer. Asking questions doesn’t work. Why? Because the customers don’t know the answers.

The answers you seek lie in their actions. Instead of asking customers what they want, watch what they do. Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and especially loud speaking are the actions of Customers.

Irrational behavior is everywhere, even sometimes disguised as rational behavior. We estimate emotions’ influence makes up more than half of any experience. Emotions get the attention of our customers’ thinking and then their brains react. Study after study has proven it. Psychologists have seen this concept in action enough that they have names for the brain’s reaction to emotions. In every experience, customer behavior is influenced by emotions.

It’s important to remember irrationality’s ubiquity when you are designing an experience. Don’t be fooled by the disguise it wears in the rationalizing explanation that a customer tells you. Instead, watch what they do. When you combine what you know about peoples’ behavior with what psychologists know about emotions’ influence on the brain, you get some interesting insight on how to take your Customer Experience to the next level.  No questions asked.

Tell us about an irrational purchase that you have made. Did you regret it after?

To learn more about these fascinating and compelling concepts for business, please register for our latest book and FREE book launch webinar: The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives for moving your Customer Experience to the next level (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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