Customer anxiety – the often-silent barrier to great customer experiences
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For many of us who work in the customer experience domain, the theme of “walking in the shoes of our customers" has become cliched. The objective, however, is still very relevant but also misunderstood and we often try and achieve this from a functional or process perspective (inside-out). This approach, unfortunately, only gets us halfway into our customer's proverbial shoes! The emotional aspect of customer experiences is often either lost, overlooked or considered too “fluffy" to spend time and effort on.
Emotions influence decision-making to a large extent, in many instances, more than facts and logic. Anxiety is one of the emotional elements that play a large role in decision-making; and it is not just in decision-making that anxiety plays a role, but also in day-to-day customer experiences. Anxiety adds significantly to the perception of increased effort in a customer experience (i.e. how easy or difficult was it to fulfil something).
The most common settings for customer anxiety occur in healthcare, financial services, travel and education. This is most likely because the decisions that are taken in these areas usually have a big impact. If you or a close family member has ever gone through surgery, I'm sure you could relate. Customers who are taking a big trip get distressed about missing the flight, not having all the paperwork in place or even about the flight itself. Purchasing a property is a major financial decision, and people are often worried about whether it's the right timing, the right area, the right property and the right financial institution. In fact, any decision relating to a major life event is prone to trigger anxiety.
Anxiety in service offerings are often caused by the following reasons:
Not being in control (e.g. car services or repairs are prime examples)
Lack of information or knowledge about what to do, where to go, what process to follow, etc. (e.g. the vehicle licensing, home affairs and tax offices of a country are the most common in this instance)
Complexity – where you don't understand the product/service and are totally dependent on the supplier/vendor for their understanding (e.g. IT or digital equipment servicing and repairs)
Number of choices available (e.g. it can be overwhelming when customers need to choose from a myriad of banking products and associated features and pricing)
Great brands understand this and part of their value and success is that they've managed to remove or significantly reduce the anxiety from their products and services – delivering a consistent, trusted, predictable and known product or service. Several studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between anxiety experienced with offerings, and customer satisfaction and trust of the brand or company.
So how do we engineer the anxiety out of our customer journeys, especially in a world where we are rapidly deploying digital and AI-enabled interactions?
It is an established outcome in psychology that when people feel anxious, they seek advice and counselling from other humans. To leverage this aspect, a blended human/digital experience should be delivered, allowing people to start a journey digitally, but to automatically route them to a person once anxiety is identified. This requires real-time analytics capabilities that can recognise anxiety in certain behaviours. Going back-and-forth on a website and then trying to search for help could be identified as such a trigger.
Disciplines like Design Thinking can ensure that businesses cater for removing customer anxiety in their customer solutions and experiences. The human-centred design approach focuses on steps like understanding and empathising with customers/users as part of understanding and defining the problem to be solved. Using the right tools and techniques during these steps (i.e. empathy maps, customer journey maps, customer interviews or focus groups and observation) allows customer anxiety to surface. The solution steps of ideating, prototyping and testing facilitate a mechanism to assess whether businesses are succeeding before actually building an offering.
Designing and building experiences to reduce or remove anxiety out of the journey will help create a memorable experience. The sense of relief when we return knowledge and control back to customers is often the “Wow!" factor so many brands attempt to deliver. Combined with the functional aspects of an offering, this will go a long way in trying to fill both the shoes of our customers!