Designing Your CX: Using Cognitive Bias To Your Advantage

Soumik Roy

Whether they’re learning about your brand for the first time on your website, buying your product at a store or on the Internet, or interacting with your representatives for after-sales services, people remember how you make them feel. If any of these experiences make a bad impression, consumers will switch to another product. Companies that win in today’s marketplace are those that deliver an outstanding customer experience (CX) across different touchpoints.

But how do you design an effective CX? Many companies struggle to get it right. Benchmarking against the practices of top-ranking players such as Southwest Airlines or Nordstrom, which are known for their effective CX, might serve as a starting point. But imitating others can never be enough. To win customer loyalty, it is important to design a CX that resonates emotionally. It is not the best design or the most touching message that wins; it is the overall packaging of the brand that makes the difference.

We conducted a survey to find out what the elements of this overall winning package should be,1 and we discovered 13 cognitive biases among customers. Knowledge of these can give brands the winning edge in reworking their CXs. The most important ones are outlined below.

Affective forecasting

Knowing the emotional state of your customers when they visit your store or website or call your helpline would help in designing your CX. But how does one gauge this in advance?

In the survey, we asked respondents about their most recent interaction with a brand (which in most cases had taken place minutes before we interacted with them), seeking to know how they felt before, during, and after the interaction.

Our conclusion, after aggregating and sorting the responses, was that customers’ emotional state largely depends on the time of the day. In the morning and early evening, 88% of those surveyed said they were usually charged up and impatient, while around noon or late evening, 75% said they were calmer and more patient. The brand’s CX should also be tailored for different times of the day.

Blind spots

Many customers have biases. But how do you understand what a customer’s biases are when they are contemplating buying your product? How will these biases affect their choice, and how might you counter these biases? The simple answer: You cannot know. When we asked respondents about their biases, 92% failed to give a clear answer despite much probing. You can’t really prepare for biases; at best, you can keep things clear and simple to avoid triggering any potential bias.

Cheerleader effect

Our survey showed that products look more attractive in groups than on their own, and this factor should be kept in mind when designing the CX. But how do you decide which products should be grouped together? How can you make a particular brand stand out?

Visit an online shopping platform or a supermarket and take a look at how products are placed. Products that look  sophisticated and that include all the right information on their label are more likely to be chosen over competitors. About 90% of the respondents agreed with this, except in cases where the products were extremely price-sensitive.

Endowment effect

People value things more when they own them. Similarly, they value brands more if they are familiar with them or if they have used their products in the past. Your CX needs to pay more attention to those about to buy products or services for the first time. About 95% of those surveyed said that once they had connected with a brand or product, they would excuse small mistakes and hiccups in their experience journey.

Empathy gap

People respond differently when they are motivated by anger, hunger, or even happiness. Although these feelings may be quite different from those that your brand resonates, most brands have a standard CX that treats all customers the same way, regardless of how they are feeling.

Around 83% of survey respondents gave a negative reply when asked if brands handled their emotions well across different touchpoints. The challenge for CX designers is to ensure that customers have a great experience regardless of how they are feeling when they approach the product.

Functional fixedness

About 65% of the respondents admitted that they didn’t really explore the full range of possibilities available to them at each touch point provided by the brand. If something does not feel right about an interaction or a platform, customers tend to switch to another. While designing the CX, companies should think about the various permutations and combinations they are making available to customers at each touch point. More importantly, they should educate them on how they can leverage each touchpoint to their benefit.

Other biases

There remain several other biases: the hot-hand fallacy, the law of the instrument, the mere exposure effect, subadditivity effect, the third-person effect, the zero-risk bias, and the zero-sum-thinking effect. They all must be taken into account while designing the CX.

But the basic requisites for an effective CX are: Put your best foot forward, treat customers with the utmost respect, and show them you are attentive to their needs. By paying attention to each aspect, you will definitely gain ground, regardless of what else you do. And understanding customer biases will enable you to deliver an enhanced CX.

The author and his team ran a series of surveys online between July and September this year. The 993 responses received were all from customers who had done at least three of the following in the past month: shopped online using a mobile app, shopped at a retail store, called a customer care helpline, or sought support from a company representative (either in person or online). Respondents were primarily based in North America, Asia, and Europe.

For more insight on CX, see What A Local Baker Taught Me About The Customer Experience.