Why Don’t Customers Buy After They Say They Will?

by Colin Shaw on July 12, 2018

Many organizations have called to tell us that their Customer Experience initiatives are not performing like they did. The results that were once skyrocketing have plateaued. They are surprised by this turn of events, but we are not.

As global Customer Experience consultants, we know that Customer Experience is less of a destination than a journey. Where you are going with Customer Experience (i.e., what customers want) could change and the work you do on the route (i.e., the way you deliver a Customer Experience) will also need to change. In other words, what got you where you needed to go yesterday is not going to get you where you need to go today. You have to embrace new thinking and approach Customer Experience differently.

We discussed these calls on our recent podcast. It seems to us that things are going wrong with your Customer Experience for one of two reasons:

  1. You stop delivering the Customer Experience that people want.
  2. You deliver the Customer Experience that people wanted, but people have changed their expectations.

In my experience, it is the latter. People have changed their expectations or they didn’t tell you the truth about what they want in the first place.

For example, I often share the story about having salads at theme parks. People told Disney researchers that they wanted an option of a salad at the parks. However, when Disney made salads available, they didn’t order them. Disney needed to get at the truth of the matter about the salads. I suspect the truth is that people felt guilty because they ate a lot of junk at the park. People said they wanted a salad so next time they might make better choices. However, their behavior shows they are still going to eat junk, not a salad.

What is a belief and what does it have to do with Customer Experience?

To get at the truth of the matter with your customers, you should try to ferret out their beliefs. Psychology research has determined that beliefs, when they meet specific criteria, are consistent drivers of behavior.

A belief is a grouping of opinions, values and attitudes about subjects. If you ask people about these opinions, values, and attitudes, what you discover may or may not predict behavior, i.e., whether people will make a purchase or if they would recommend your brand. To predict behavior with accuracy, you must discover a particular set of beliefs.

Beliefs influence customers’ behavior when:

  1. The belief is strongly held, but not extreme
  2. The belief is based on personal expertise or experience
  3. The belief is expressed frequently, repeatedly and publicly
  4. The behavior and belief are measured consistently and robustly
  5. The behavior is consistent with subjective norms

As many of you know, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Apple products. I have a strongly-held belief that Apple products are excellent. It’s based on my personal experience because I use Apple products all the time. I have expressed this belief frequently, repeatedly, and publicly(I should get paid commission as I talk about them so much!) While I haven’t had research done on this, my admiration of Apple has been consistent and robust over the years. Loads of other people like Apple, too, so my behavior is consistent with subjective norms. All of this influences my decision to buy Apple products when they debut.

Now if we tested these criteria with cable companies as the subject, the results would be the same although my opinions of cable companies are very poor. My behavior would be the opposite also; instead of buying it, I would triumphantly cut the cord!

How do you discover beliefs?

It’s up to you to find ways to get at the real reasons for why customers do what they do because of these beliefs. You have to decide what you want to know so that you can ask the right questions to discover the correct answer that reveals their beliefs.

Market research is not all the same, however. To get to people’s beliefs, you may have to change how you research them as well.

The Emotional Signature is a level of emotional engagement that you have with your customers. Our Emotional Signature research measures how your emotional engagement drives business for your organization. It also reveals how people feel about your Customer Experience as it is now and helps you define what you would like it to be. This type of research is useful when you are getting at the truth of the matter with your customers’ beliefs.

One way we ask questions is to try hypothetical situations. We find it reveals different information than a survey question. Hypotheticals often show you both objective and relative findings. Objective findings are verifiable facts. The objective findings suggest relative findings. Sometimes you can trust relative findings more than objective findings. For example, let’s say more people bought the object for $15 when it was blue than when it was red. I might not trust that $15 is the price point for the blue one (objective finding), but I would believe that people thought the blue one was worth more than red one (relative finding).

You should use different forms of research to get at these beliefs. Triangulation in social science means you validate your data from at least two sources. Triangulation refers to combining research methods to study the same behavior. An example of triangulation would be to ask your customers a series of hypotheticals, but then also use surveys and analyze past behavior. Triangulation efforts yield the most accurate data for your findings.

I find it ironic to say this next bit because I am all about creating a customer-centric experience, but it bears repeating. If you want people to buy when they say they will don’t listen to what they say. By that, I mean that you shouldn’t listen to what customers say they want. Instead, watch what they do.

The way to get to a fantastic Customer Experience with skyrocketing results today is not the same as it was yesterday. You have to observe how customer expectations change and then adapt your Customer Experience to meet those expectations. It’s not easy but it is essential, especially if you want to see the improvements in your Customer Experience metrics that you did in the past.

Have you changed your experience or product only to find that your customers never really wanted what they said they did? Let us know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in the following blogs and podcasts:

How We Make Decisions—Prospect Theory

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 six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawWhy Don’t Customers Buy After They Say They Will?