Bad news: you may never get the praise your great experiences deserve

Rick Harrison

Head of Strategy

14 March 2017

Human beings are story tellers. Conditioned to identify and share stories that prevent risk to our communities. Sure, there’s social capital in sharing positive experiences but only really the ones that show how great you are, when people post about having the ‘best experience ever!’ on Facebook it’s not normally to name check the companies that delivered it.


The social capital in exposing ‘dangers’ is just as strong, more so maybe and there’s no problem in name checking the ’bad guys’, that’s the whole point.


As human beings we respond to events by ascribing meaning to them, evaluating the experience and giving it a rating: good, bad, incredible, horrendous, etc. It is that rating that we use to communicate the experience to other people, using that amazing story telling ability that we’ve evolved.


And, of course, we are always the heroes of our own stories, good experiences are generally due to our own virtues and bad experiences the result of malign forces of some description.


One of the ways that we are great at telling stories is in predicting the future, these are stories that we generally only tell ourselves, but they tend to be detailed, well visualised and also negative.


That’s because humans are pre-disposed to avoid risk and part of the way that we protect ourselves is to emphasis down side risk onto future events. This creates a certain inertia around human activity, pain or discomfort with our current situation isn’t enough to motivate change because assumed risk is always high. The benefits have to be substantial to overcome that inertia.


Overcoming that inertia is the job of sales, marketing and advertising. They help us create a future story in which we are in some way more content than we are now. This is a particular challenge for businesses, because those making the promises are not often the same team as those responsible for delivering on those promises. Just part of the reason why customer experience needs to take a company-wide view.


Our future stories are what define our expectations. Our expectations are a big part of how we make meaning out of experiences, it is the foundation of our evaluation and but it creates a challenge for businesses, getting a positive rating is an uphill battle from the start.


This is because a positive rating usually means that an experience exceeded our expectations i.e. delivering exactly as promised isn’t enough. (Though in the context of previous disappointments this may be enough — context is incredibly important in designing for good experience — a topic for another day). Exceeding expectations enough to motivate customers to share their stories is a challenge of a different scale altogether.


On the flip side not meeting that expectation to any degree is enough to generate a negative experience, as soon as a failure occurs the future stories are rewritten, becoming more negative and it takes very little to motivate customers to share those stories.


This creates the frustrating situation where you get a better Net Promoter Score (NPS) from customer who have been pushed into the customer services channel through some kind of failure which was consequently resolved, than you do from customers for whom everything worked first time. Their revised expectations were so bad a quick resolution is seen as a big win.


So given that you’re not going to get the plaudits is it worth trying to create great experiences?


Absolutely, and not just because the costs of poor experiences are so high. Failing to set and meet customer expectations is a massive driver of customer churn, returns and customer service cost. And positive experiences are retained and positive stories are shared. Customers may not be as motivated to broadcast their experience as with the negative, but they will share them, in conversation with friends, when asked for recommendations and when telling related stories.


That customer evangelism may not be as immediate as the criticism, but it is priceless. So you may not get the praise, but you are still going to get the benefit.


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