Having options make customers more satisfied

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There are basic tenets that can help you ensure better-quality customer service, and most of them are intuitive. Customer service representatives that are easy to contact, polite, friendly, and helpful obviously do better than their counterparts. But there are subtle psychological factors at play in a customer’s ultimate satisfaction in a given brand experience, and how you incorporate them into your business could help you earn higher customer satisfaction—and loyalty—overall.

One peculiar facet of customer psychology is the availability and type of choices you provide, but it’s more complicated than you might think.

The Psychology of Choice

The traditional view of choice is that it’s a good thing, and that having more choices ultimately makes us happier. In some ways, this is true; having the power of choice in a work environment, for example, makes us feel more in control. Today’s customer lives in a world where expansive choice is the norm (thanks to the prevalence of online brands), and in general, customers expect to have multiple options available to them.

However, this doesn’t mean that having more choices is always a good thing. In fact, customers may be overwhelmed if they have too many choices. In a TED Talk on the “paradox of choice,” Barry Schwartz explains that people who are given a basic set of options tend to make their decisions faster than those given an expansive set of options. What’s more, the limited-option crowd usually ends up more satisfied with their decisions than the expansive-option crowd.

Why is this? It could be that the sheer number of decisions available forces people to overthink their decisions, which complicates the decision making process, and leaves them with more residual stress and lingering “what if?” questions. Regardless of why this effect exists, it’s a reality of customer psychology, and your customer service should reflect it.

Applying Choice to Customer Service

The basic concept here is that customers want options and choices—but not too many—so consider applying that principle in one or more of the following ways:

  • Offer simpler, easier-to-understand service options. If you want to help customers make better decisions from the beginning, you’ll need to offer clearer, more basic service plan offerings. The credit card industry, for example, is overwhelmed by different credit card offers that vary in APR, terms, rewards, fees, and other variables. When you’re trying to choose the best card for personal use or debt consolidation, all this information can be overwhelming. It’s better for customers if you offer a handful of strong, easy-to-understand service plans—perhaps two or three, rather than dozens.
  • Offer targeted solutions, rather than casting a wide net. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates the importance of targeted solutions by describing spaghetti sauce competitors Ragu and Prego. The former offered dozens of different varieties of sauce, while the latter developed three, specifically for key demographics who preferred plain, spicy, or chunky varieties of sauce. Overwhelmingly, customers flocked to Prego because they served fewer, more targeted choices—rather than focusing on sheer quantity.
  • Give customers limited, clear choices on how to contact you. More contact methods mean more customers will be able to reach you via their preferred medium. However, as you’ve learned, “more” isn’t always better. If a customer reads an owner’s manual and sees 10 different contact methods, they’ll hesitate before making contact; instead, offer 2 or 3 contact methods you know to be successful with your target audience.
  • Give customers two or three options to solve a problem. If a customer has a problem with your product or service, make the options for resolution as clear and reduced as possible. For example, despite a complicated backend process for handling returns, Amazon gives customers in its returns center only three initial options: return an item, return a gift, or check the status of a return. It’s cleaner, faster, and helps funnel customers in the right direction.
  • Offer defaults for customers who don’t make choices. Finally, you need to be prepared for the indecisive customers in your crowd. Have a default or a backup option that kicks into effect if the customer doesn’t want to make a choice; for example, if a customer doesn’t hit any numerical prompts in your automated phone menu, make sure to connect them with a representative.

It seems counterintuitive that your customers will actually be happier with fewer choices, but empirical evidence consistently shows that this is the case. Let your customers feel empowered by giving them key choices, from what products and services they buy to how they engage with your customer service team, but never let them feel overwhelmed or stressed by the amount of choice they have. It’s a simple, yet highly effective move that can boost your customer satisfaction within weeks of its incorporation.

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