Are you smarter than your customers?

By | April 7th, 2011

It’s hard — maybe even impossible — to do service right if you think your customers are idiots.

If you don’t think customers are capable of rational, intelligent decisions, then it’s oh-so-easy to rationalize treating them like walking dollar signs. Or sheep.

Evidence of their collective dumbness seems to be everywhere. Here’s a cellular phone customer who thought Seattle was in Canada. A classic: The Disneyworld guest who wants to know what time the 3 o’clock parade starts. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to stupid customers.

So are your customers stupid?

Research suggests consumers do less thinking than expected before making a purchasing decision, and that they’re often unaware of the forces that dictate their behavior. A Yale study reveals capuchin monkeys share some of our basic economic decision processes, leading scientists to conclude that customers make many consumer choices by instinct.

Think richer, more educated customers are savvier? Think again. Instead of returning a luxury item because it doesn’t match the rest of a home’s decor, for example, customers in a University of Houston study went the other way, buying even more unaffordable items to make the out-of-place item looked as if it fit. Researchers called this ill-advised, emotional response “aesthetic incongruity resolution.”

Worse, customers tend to repeat their mistakes without learning from them. Too often, they’re unaware of the forces conspiring to make bad decisions and can’t help themselves. It’s largely a function of brain chemistry often triggered by cleverly-placed decoys, as Dan Ariely explains in his 2008 book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

But you don’t have to be a scientist or college professor to know that we make poor buying choices. How often have you come home to a family member or loved one who didn’t just make a questionable purchasing decision, but a spectacularly bad one?

Related story:   Can good customer service be taught? (It's not a trick question)

You know, the rhinestone-studded jacket that was on sale, but completely unnecessary. Or a frivolous item, like yet another big-screen TV, or a trampoline, or … well, you get the idea.

Do you think you’re smarter? Here’s the poll. Have at it.

Read the rest of the post here.

(Photo: J. Star/Flickr Creative Commons)

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.