Sharing Benchmarks Early Creates a “Brain-Friendly” Customer Experience

October 06, 2020 Written by Ed Powers

Most agree it’s important to manage customer expectations. We’ve all had high hopes at one time or another only to have them dashed when things didn’t measure up. So it’s intuitively obvious that we should be careful when it comes to managing our customers’ expectations. 

Few of us, however, realize the importance of cultivating the right beliefs early in the sales process. Of course, some salespeople will promise anything to get the sale, but left to their own devices, customers will often set themselves up for lingering, persistent disappointment. 

If we understand how the mind works and we use a simple trick, we can increase the chances that customers will be satisfied over the long haul. They’ll renew their agreements and perhaps even buy more. 

Expectations Color Everything

The brain relies on expectations far more than we know. In fact, we can’t get through the day without them. 

We think our memory is endless because we can recall so many things, such as the capital of Wisconsin or the name of the grade school where we learned it. But scientists say our brains can access only about 1 Gigabyte—just a small fraction of what a modern computer uses. 

And despite the limited storage, our brains must deal with an overwhelming amount of information. Our senses alone collect about 80G of data in a 24-hour period, meaning we experience 80 times more in a day than our neurons can store in a whole lifetime.

So how do we manage it? By using a clever shortcut: expectations. 

The brain deploys a neural architecture called predictive coding, an ingenious feedback/feed-forward design. With it, the mind creates an expectation, and then compares it with incoming sensory data. If it sees what it expects, then the brain discards the data because it’s nothing new. But if it differs, it stores the new information, eventually modifying its expectations to better predict outcomes. This method dramatically reduces the brain’s processing and storage burden.

Many scientists think the brain uses expectations for just about everything. When we learn, for example, our brain compares outcomes to expectations, encoding which actions yield rewards and which result in punishments. Thanks to the positive or negative emotions associated with the results, we learn to repeat choices that are good for us and cease those that aren’t. 

The feed-forward nature of predictive coding also causes our expectations to influence our perceptions. In one experiment, for example, test subjects rated expensively marked wines better than cheap wines, even though they were in fact exactly the same. Predictive coding produces other unexpected effects, too. One well-known phenomenon is confirmation bias—the tendency to notice information that supports our beliefs while ignoring information that contradicts them. Surprisingly, our expectations alter how we think and adapt our behaviors. 

Because of its unique architecture, predictive coding requires the brain to believe something before it can learn about it. This raises the circular question about what happens in novel situations: how do we establish an expectation when we don’t already know what to expect? 

Anchors Aweigh

Faced with new learning, the brain has no choice—it must quickly set a new expectation. This belief “anchor” is fuzzy at first, acting simply as a placeholder. But it soon stabilizes and impacts everything that follows. 

To set an anchor, the brain first recalls whatever it deems similar. Before we try a new thrill ride at the theme park, for example, we may remember past roller-coaster rides for reference. Absent that, we ask others, starting with people within our social sphere. Next, we may go online to see what strangers have experienced, or we may seek expert opinions. 

Unfortunately, the brain favors speed over accuracy. The subconscious automatically generates the anchor based upon whatever information is available, not necessarily correct. And of course, data are often flawed. Experiences by nature are highly subjective, may not be relevant, and can vary due to many different factors. 

Whatever anchor we then establish disproportionately affects our subsequent beliefs. That’s because learning is a biological process. Neurons must fire many times to alter the chemistry and store data in the synapses, so it takes time and multiple reinforcements to change an expectation. 

So if we leave customers to their own devices, we risk them setting their own misinformed expectations. This can lead to lasting disappointment, which in turn reduces the chances they will buy again. 

A Simple Fix

We shouldn’t leave things to chance. As customers subconsciously and automatically formulate their beliefs early in the sales cycle, we must be explicit–and truthful–about what they can expect.

Behavioral economist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman says an easy solution is to share relevant, comparative data, like the results previous customers have achieved. Showing explicit data triggers the brain to suppress any nascent, implicit assumptions that could foment later dissatisfaction. In this way, we can carefully and deliberately set the customer’s mental anchor, thereby avoiding downstream problems.   

The approach can even lead to more sales. Showing the mean and variance can spur a conversation about why some customers obtain results above (and others, below) average. For example, some buyers may enjoy better outcomes because they do a better job of managing the transition to a new software platform. This creates the potential to sell premium support or include change management consulting to plus-up onboarding services. 

MetaCX can make the implicit explicit, increasing customer loyalty and growing revenue. Collaborating to establish goals and expectations early and repeatably in the sales process leads to a more “brain friendly” customer experience throughout. With MetaCX, customer expectations remain in proper alignment, and savvy salespeople can even boost deal revenue. For more information, request a demo today! 

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