The 'halo effect' of customer experience
When striving for the next level of Customer Experience, it is critical to understand how your customers make decisions. However, it’s probably not happening the way you think it is.
As Customer Experience Consultants, we see our clients presume that customer evaluations of an experience occur at the product level. This presumption is only partway true. People do evaluate at the product level, meaning how much it costs or how it tastes, and it is important. However, people also reference their other expectations, as in how much they think your product should cost or how delicious they predict it will taste.
Sometimes, even with clear expectations and the ability of the product to meet those expectations, there are other influences on the customer’s evaluation of his or her experience. These influences can be surprising.
My latest book, co-authored by Emory University’s Professor Ryan Hamilton discusses how these unimportant aspects can be quite important to your Customers. The book is called The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives For Moving Your Customer Experience To The Next Level, and includes:
Imperative 6: Accept that apparently irrelevant aspects of your Customer Experience are sometimes the most important aspects
We assume customers enter the experience with an expectation of how good it will be. They then compare the expectation with the reality to create their evaluation. When the experience exceeds their expectations, they evaluate it positively. When it doesn’t, they don’t. This assumption is accurate in straightforward cases, meaning the experience was clearly excellent on all fronts—or clearly wasn’t!
But what if the experience falls short, but only by a little bit? For example, let’s say you went to a hotel where the experience was fine. The room was fine, the service was fine, and so on. However, you thought this particular hotel would wow you. While they didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t feel wowed either. Now, even if the experience was objectively good (i.e., nothing was technically wrong with it), your disappointment regarding feeling wowed translates into a negative evaluation.
When things get ambiguous or difficult to evaluate, customers may use their high-level impressions of the brand, the retailer, or the service provider to guide their evaluations or what we call a “halo effect.” Your feelings toward a brand create a positive or negative halo influencing your evaluation of their Customer Experience.
Consider experiences eating at McDonald’s, a brand that prides itself on its consistency anywhere in the world. However, when you go to a McDonald’s in the UK, you don’t have the same experience you do in Des Moines or Toronto. It’s similar, but not the same. Also, McDonald’s has a huge brand reputation (whether good or bad) that affects your evaluation. Plus, there is another local influence at work in these experiences, with different tastes unique to the area, such as:
It’s possible just seeing these local items on the menu affects your evaluation of your McDonald’s experience in these countries, even if you don’t order them.
However, if you removed the McDonald’s logo and branding from the equation, your evaluations of your dining experience would change. You see, your brain associates your expectations with the McDonald’s brand. Without that reference point, your brain doesn’t know what to expect, and as a result has fewer expectations influencing the evaluation. If you think you would still know the taste of McDonald’s without the packaging, you are likely wrong.
Several studies have shown this to be the case. But rather than a dry study, here’s a great example from Lifehunters on YouTube:
These are food experts, ostensibly with refined palates, and they couldn’t tell the difference without the packaging.
McDonald’s is one example of a brand with a reputation. But there is also Zappos and Starbucks, Bank of America or Goldman Sachs or Amazon and Volkswagen. Each of these brands creates an expectation in your mind, either good or bad, depending on their halo effect with you.
Organizations must understand how these halos affect their customer’s impression of the experience, and manage them better. Some try and succeed; others fail. Why? Too many organizations are letting their halos slip by focusing their efforts on things that won’t change customers’ evaluations.
For example, say you have a retail location where you want to improve the Customer Experience. You could change the organization of product in the store. You could begin a loyalty and rewards program to keep people coming back. But, after doing all the work, you notice they’re not moving the needle forward on your results. In fact, it seems like your customers didn’t notice the changes.
However, one day you notice that your car park outside the store has issues. The flow is confusing, the spaces too small, and the sidewalk is uneven. Your customers have learned to get around, but it was an effort that makes a poor impression that reflects on your experience. You might try fixing the sidewalk and improving the size of the spaces in your lot to enhance their impression upon arrival. It will likely have more influence on your Customer Experience than a frequent buyer program will.
Another example could be updating the bathrooms and keeping them spotless. These little impressions—a better car park, clean and modern bathrooms— add up in the mind of customers, and they create a better impression about the retail experience.
There are many influences on how a customer evaluates your experience, not just the ones about which you have always heard. While they do assess your experience at a product level, they also do it at an expectation level. Also, your brand reputation affects their assessment. Furthermore, other little impressions affect their overall impression of your brand. When you understand and address all of these elements, you are taking the steps needed to move your experience to the next level.
Join our free book launch webinar on October 18th to find out more about how you can make little changes that have a BIG impact: The Intuitive Customer: 7 Imperatives For Moving Your Customer Experience To The Next Level or join one of our new training courses from $59.
What brands create high expectations in your mind? I’d be interested to hear the brands and why in the comments below?
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world's leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX