I’ve just been trying to buy an extra bag on an American Airlines flight for my daughter who comes home from the US this week. Despite the information on their website that says you should be able to do this online after you’ve checked in order to ‘save time at the airport’, I have not been able to do this. A call to AA customer services in the UK ends with ‘I’m sorry we don’t have this facility’ and ‘is there anything else I can help with you with, have a nice day’. How frustrating! It reminded me of a quote I noticed in a recent article in Flight Global from David Kondo, Head of Cabin Interior Development with Finnair, who admitted: “We do really suck at understanding what people want. That’s where the hard work lies.”
Why airlines don’t know what passengers want
Surely airlines are aware of what their passengers want? We are constantly being barraged with all kinds of questionnaires and surveys for us to comment on our experience both in the air and on the ground, so how can it be that airlines themselves feel in the dark about our feelings about their services? The issue here is about the subjective nature of almost all conventional research. Asking people what they want, what they think and what they do is a very unreliable way of getting to the truth. This is not because people are being deliberately misleading, but rather that we are not consciously aware of the real drivers of our behaviour and so cannot accurately express them when asked.
Science has known this for many years and has conducted hundreds of behavioural experiments to demonstrate this. We ourselves have shown that simply changing the colour, smell and ambiance of an environment where a transaction takes place can alter improve profit by 37%, despite no awareness of this from those customers – even after pointed questioning. Or that, whatever participants say after they’ve been through an investment game, they don’t actually invest their money with the trader they said they not only preferred, but also trusted more.
Although advances in neuroscience, psychology and behavioural economics have long indicated the problem of customers being unable to tell us how to improve experiences, most businesses remain stuck with the same old research methods that have been so prevalent since the 1950s. But new techniques, including the monitoring of customer physiology using wearable biometric devices, mean that we are now far more able to track the unconscious drivers of customer behaviour and, having learnt what they respond badly to, start to design experiences that are smoother, less painful and closer to what people want.
Improving the airline customer experience
For the airline sector, this offers huge opportunity. In the design of pre-flight services – booking, checking in, ordering extra bags (grrrrr!); when arriving at the airport, offloading baggage, security, getting on board, during the flight itself and when disembarking – all these elements have an impact on the overall experience. Using unobtrusive wearable technology that monitors, for example, heart rate, electrodermal activity (the amount of sweat on a person’s skin – a reliable indicator of ‘arousal’) and skin temperature, allows us to ‘see’ the moments where the customer experience goes wrong. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the area of cabin design. Just as with all mass passenger solutions – rail, bus, coach, etc. – there has been very little science done in the real world with real people to understand the actual experience of entering and exiting, sitting down, standing up, eating a meal, plugging in your laptop, or watching an entertainment screen. This is not to say that engineers and scientists in labs have not been hard at work measuring these things in detail, but not in the field, where all experiences are different because they do not occur in the sterile, controlled environment of a laboratory. In so many business areas, not enough real world experimentation takes place using biometrics to help design better products and services that best suit human beings. We rely on what people say and that can, at best, lead us down blind alleys.
As the work we did for a leading airline demonstrates, by using behavioural science to ‘index’ your current experience, you can see which parts are working well for you, which need to be improved and even which can be dispensed with as superfluous – monitoring experiences can be as much about taking out what you don’t need (and so saving cost), as adding in what’s missing! In this latter way, our airline client was able to save themselves £10m a year without any negative impact on either passenger numbers or customer satisfaction scores.
From aircraft cabin design to online booking systems, from the impact of free vs paid-for snacks to what uniforms staff wear, all have an impact on the customer experience, whether passengers are aware of it or not. The only reliable way to understand their impact and how this might be used to: a) eradicate ‘friction’ in your experience (we call these moments ‘Tripping Points’); b) to design ways of ‘softening’ the negative impact of inevitable experience hiccups (e.g. giving up personal information); or c) compensating for things you cannot alter through pricing, is to forensically investigate your current experience using behavioural science. This will highlight where the actual experience is at odds with customer expectations and provide a benchmark against which future improvements can be accurately measured. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m trying to find the name of the Customer Experience Director at American Airlines now, but I doubt whether they will take my call. Maybe they don’t yet have the ‘facility’ to use science to better understand and therefore improve their customer experience with all the commercial gain it would bring?
Workplace stress – using biometrics to understand stress and build resilience
Last month the health secretary intimated that the NHS would struggle to cope with demand over the next 10 years and that the health of the nation would depend on individuals and organisations. Whatever your political standpoint, it is clear that the health of employees is going to become an increasing focus for business.
According to the UK Health & Safety Executive, in 2016-17, over half a million workers were suffering from ‘workplace stress, depression or anxiety’ resulting in the loss of 12.5 million working days at a cost of around £26 billion to employers. These figures represent almost half of ALL working days lost to ill-health with staff citing ‘workload pressure’ as the dominant cause. We only need look at our public services to see the dramatic cost to both schools and the NHS of the provision of supply staff covering for the sickness absence of essential employees.
How can HR departments best address this devastating issue? How can they use experiential insight to help design, implement and monitor tailored interventions that will work to bolster resilience, improve wellbeing, cut workplace stress, reduce sickness absence and increase staff satisfaction and productivity?
Stress is essential for growth. Without stressing our bodies and minds we do not grow and adapt. Excessive stress, however, has a negative impact on our physiology and psychology and effects our physical and mental wellbeing. We can of course build our resilience to stress; our brains and bodies adapt to changing environments and pressures all the time. What we need to know is when are we placing excessive stress on individuals and to understand what businesses and individuals can do to mitigate these situations and build individual and organisational resilience.
During our pioneering research using biometrics to understand peoples’ physiological reaction to experiences, our evidence shows that if we monitor the physiological signs of stress through heart rate variability over an extended period of time, we can understand the causes of excessive stress in both work and home life. We can then use this to help organisations and individuals mitigate, cope and adapt to excessive levels of stress. These programmes in turn create more resilient and healthier individuals and the organisations they work for.
Why can’t we just survey people about workplace stress?
Asking people about the causes of stress simply doesn’t get to the truth. Firstly, this is a sensitive issue and people may be reluctant to tell the truth to their employers; secondly, people are not always consciously aware of the underlying causes of stress; thirdly, surveys are biased by recent events and their poor design. What is needed is an objective understanding of the unconscious and physiological reactions to stress.
If we connect volunteer employees to advanced biometric devices for 72 hours, we can understand the underlying cause of their stress. We can then design interventions to help. These may be organisational programmes, management training or individual interventions.
A happy, healthy (physically and mentally) work force is undoubtedly more productive and has less time off for sickness. Bottom line cost savings, increases in personal and organisational resilience, happy teams, less time dealing with these issues – the benefits to business and individuals are significant.
How monitoring brain activity can help us better understand customer and employee experience
In this final post in our series about the different methodologies for investigating customer and employee experience (read our full academic paper), we’re going to look at some of the ways of actually scanning the human brain and visualising the activity taking place to better understand behaviour and decision-making.
The first thing to say is that none of these methods can tell researchers what people are actually thinking – don’t worry, scientists cannot read your thoughts. What they are able to do is monitor either electrical activity, blood flow or magnetic fields within the brain as an indicator of where and when greater or lesser mental activity is taking place. If we can correlate this activity with actual events, we can hypothesise the reasons driving that activity and, with clever experimental design, reach conclusions about their causes and how these might be positively influenced.
We can use this to monitor the impact of any changes we might make to a product or service experience in either a positive or negative way depending on what we are trying to achieve. If we want patients to be calmer before surgery, we should look to reduce brain activity in areas associated with anxiety and also slow their pounding, fearful heart rate. Conversely, if we are designing a new rollercoaster ride, we’ll almost certainly want to do entirely the reverse!
EEG & MEG
Neuroscience is built on the foundations of the electrical properties of neurons, the building blocks of the brain. By monitoring the electrical currents produced by firing neurons in the brain using electroencephalography (thankfully EEG for short!), we can ‘see’ when and where this activity is taking place as an indication of different types of mental processes. However, because of the thickness of our skulls and the fact that the measuring electrodes are affixed to the outside to the scalp, we can only reliably measure this activity about an inch down. This means we are measuring activity in the ‘cortex’ – the outer layer of the brain. EEG has a very high temporal resolution – which means that we can detect changes in milliseconds – but its spatial resolution is relatively low. So although we can identify the general brain region where things are happening, the exact source of any specific activity is hard to pinpoint precisely. What’s great about EEG is that it can measure in real-time and in the real world as people go about their normal day – albeit that they will need to wear a cap that covers their head with a number of electrodes connected to it. This makes it ideal for studying individual behaviour (rather than interactions with others which would clearly be heavily influenced by the presence of such odd headgear) and for combining with other measures like eye tracking for example – looking at websites on a computer or an app on a smartphone – to see how brain activity is linked to visual attention.
EEG can detect both changes in the oscillation of brainwaves and also what’s called event-related potentials (ERPs). Our brainwaves occur in different frequency bands that correlate with different mental processes depending on their location. By experimenting with different stimuli and monitoring the resulting brain activity, we look to understand the impact of external events. For example, experiments have indicated that greater alpha wave activity on the right hand side of the brain is correlated with negative affect (the avoidance of stimuli), whereas on the left hand side of the brain it correlates more with positive affect (an ‘approach’ response). ERPs are direct reactions to sensory and/or cognitive events. Activity in different wave forms have been shown to correlate with, for example, negativity when mismatches between expectation and reality occur (the moments that we call Tripping Points®); to indicate emotional arousal (something we can also measure via electrodermal activity); and the capturing of attention due to a positive stimulus. By linking activity during product evaluation to product preference and actual purchase decisions, we can understand how different cognitive processes are triggered and therefore how they might be influenced – a key element in improving customer experience.
Using the same principles as EEG, magnetoencephalography (MEG) can also provide an insight into brain function by monitoring the changes in magnetic fields produced by electrical activity. This technique is better at spatial resolution, but is very expensive (because of the nature of the electrodes) and cannot be used outside of a laboratory.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners can monitor the oxygenation of blood in the brain. Put simply, more blood is needed when are brains are active – it’s the reason why our brains burn 20% of our body’s energy despite taking up just 2% of our body mass. By tracking this blood flow, scientists can ‘see’ where and when this activity is occurring in response to events to provide insight into human behaviour and decision-making. fMRI is very good at spatial resolution and uses data to construct 3-D topographic models of the brain highlighting activity areas. This allows us identify specific areas of the brain that are active during tasks and thinking. However, its temporal resolution is relatively poor and activity cannot be viewed in real-time.
fMRI provides a fantastic resource for monitoring activity around attention, arousal, affect, reward, decision-making and memory and can investigate implicit processing, i.e. which brain areas are active when we are just thinking. It has identified the key areas for decision-making in the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) and shone a light on cognitive control and working memory to measure what self-report cannot. Although fMRI remains the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to brain function, it is purely a lab-based method at present (with subjects mostly lying motionless in a narrow tube while monitoring takes place) and, because of the immense computing power needed to process the output data, remains a lengthy and expensive option.
Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has recently emerged as an exciting new way of imaging brain activity. The method monitors changes in blood hemoglobin levels in the cortex by shining light into the skull to identify brain activity. It is spatially less sensitive than fMRI, but can produce comparable results and, like EEG, is very portable – allowing the measurement of individual behaviour in real life settings. It is very sensitive and can detect and distinguish neural activity related to decision making and, combined with other physiological measures (like EDA and heart rate), offers great promise in allowing us to understand how customers and employees respond to actual events.
We believe in finding better ways to understand human behaviour rather than just asking people to fill in surveys. This understanding helps businesses to enhance the customer and employee experiences that contribute to commercial success.
Who’s there to help when the blue lights are flashing for ambulance staff themselves?
We recently came across a tender that had been put out by Health Education England ‘promoting wellbeing for UK NHS Ambulance Personnel’. It called for bids from interested parties to provide employee research services to try and uncover the causes of sickness absence rates amongst ambulance crews and 999 telephone operators. Currently these are about 25% higher than across the rest of the NHS – which already has the highest rates of any sector in the UK!
The tender prescribed the services they were looking for:
An overview analysis of existing data with regard to the rising and disparate rates of sickness across the 10 different regional ambulance services. Mostly, it suggested, linked to the stress of a job that seems to get more and more physically and mentally demanding and quoting increasing suicide rates as a worrying indicator.
Some focus groups, where staff could outline the pressures of their job and whether they felt supported with the right elements in place to help them cope.
Finally, a ‘brief’ all-staff survey to ask for opinions on the themes previously identified and how these might be addressed.
The budget for the study was £180,000 over an 18-month period. Now forgive me for being critical, but why on earth would such a cash-strapped organisation as the NHS want to spend such a large amount of money and wait a year and a half for the kind of conventional employee research which does nothing to address the root causes of sickness absence (only its symptoms)? This predictable approach will not help to reduce sickness absence and is unable to trial and test alternative approaches to genuinely understand the underlying issues.
Indeed, I would suggest that the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives already knows what this employee research is going to find. Namely that staff feel overworked and under-supported, that the pressure they face just doing their jobs leads to the kind of mental and physical health problems that result in short, medium and long-term absence from work and limits productivity. I’m really not sure how asking those in the firing line (in some cases literally) for their opinions on existing and potential future support is going to help.
A new approach to employee research
What’s needed is a far more objective, psycho-physiological study of what actually happens to those whose primary role is saving lives. How can we really know the specific moments in their day when things get too much; when events occur beyond their ability to cope, their individual resilience is simply not enough, and the stress becomes acute and contributes to a myriad of other physical ailments?
What we need is some science. If we could biometrically monitor a representative cross-section of emergency service workers, both at work and when they are at home, we would be able to create a benchmark against which to compare any interventions designed to improve things. And, by carrying out reviews of the data from these studies with the individuals concerned, we can understand the potential causes of these problems – work and lifestyle (almost certainly linked to sleep, nutrition and diet, hydration, relaxation and exercise). We can then encourage people to take action themselves to help to enhance their resilience as well as working with the organisation to reduce excessive stress.
Through an aggregation of both the physiological data and an analysis of the psychological feedback on their working and home lives, this kind of investigation can lead to the identification of the critical factors affecting the physical and mental wellbeing of ambulance and call centre staff and how they might be addressed. These solutions (both individual, organisational and environmental) can be piloted, trialed and rigorously tested using the same methodology to ensure they are refined to cost-effectively deliver real improvement in the resilience of staff, reducing sickness absence, staff turnover and increasing productivity and staff satisfaction.
This employee research can also be used to measure the impact of tactical interventions, the kind of double-whammy that provides real value for money when budgets are tight and, excuse the pun, gets right to the heart of the problem by testing actual solutions at the same time.
Such a study could be carried out on a representative sample of the ambulance service’s 27,000 staff for less than the cost of the proposed tender and be completed in around half the time. Saving money and saving lives, in terms of both its staff and its patients, is surely exactly what our ambulance service should be about and it is only by understanding the employee experience in scientific detail that we can hope to achieve this. I would urge those writing these kind of tenders in future to seek out innovative and scientific approaches to solve the problem, rather than simply ticking a box and defaulting to the same old research methods that have served us so poorly, in terms of objective output, in the past.
In a recent post, we looked at some of the measures of internal physiology – like heart rate and EDA – that can help us to understand the drivers of customer behaviour – the Tripping Points® as we call them. Today we’ll review some of the other methods outlined in our academic paper, the ones that monitor external indicators of human responses to stimuli, specifically the eyes and the face
The largest part of the human brain involved with sensory perception is the visual cortex at the back of the skull and our eyes have evolved to be overwhelmingly our most developed organ in terms of keeping tabs on the world around us. With advances in camera technology, science is able to monitor both the movement of our eyes and also measure their ‘fixation’, that is how long we dwell on a particular point in our field of vision, through both mobile eye-tracking glasses and devices fixed to monitors (PC and TV) in front of subjects. By analyzing eye movement and fixation and superimposing this data onto a video of what the subject is looking at, we can build a very accurate picture of what is grabbing and holding people’s visual attention. Fixed eye-tracking is ideal for monitoring how people ‘see’ websites and advertising material, as subjects are sat facing the screen. Mobile eye-tracking glasses are useful for monitoring more ‘real-world’ scenarios as people carry out everyday tasks like shopping, although the devices themselves (though increasingly less bulky and more like normal glasses) are still noticeable and may therefore detract from a completely natural experience. An issue with this methodology however is that, on its own, it only measures overt visual attention and gives us no clue as to the ‘why’. We can see what people notice, how quickly and for now long they look at it, but not any of the reasons why that might be or how it relates to other sensory input (sound, temperature, touch, taste, etc) and the impact of this on behaviour. However, by linking eye tracking with other internal physiological measurement – like heart rate, EDA and EEG (the measurement of electrical activity in the brain) – we can understand both what people notice and how it affects them, giving us the evidence to support hypotheses as to why this is happening.
Monitoring the eye can also allow us to measure the size of the subject’s pupils as they navigate the world. The scientific study of the attributes of our eyes have revealed that our pupils change size in response to both external stimuli (the amount of light) and also as a result of internal mental processes. Thus our pupils dilate in response to increased cognitive processing as well as emotional arousal, giving us an indicator of the intensity of response that may be independent of something we are actually looking at. For example, regardless of what we are noticing visually, our pupils may be responding to other sensory inputs like an unpleasant smell, a change in temperature, pain, etc. However, although pupil response may indicate arousal, it gives us no clue as to the valence (the direction) of that arousal – i.e. whether it is positive or negative. There is also some experimental evidence to show that an increase in pupil size may reflect greater interest in something that we observe. What’s interesting about pupillometry is that pupil dilation does indicate cognitive surprise (Tripping Points® again!), which is very difficult to control voluntarily and so gives us a useful indicator of the impact of such an event on subsequent behaviour. Combining pupil measurement with other physiological methods provides the best opportunity of understanding both the response to an experience and the reasons for that response.
Facial Expression Analysis (FEA)
By capturing the facial expressions of people as they interact with different stimuli – presented in front of them, such as websites, TV screens, events, etc – researchers can, either manually or by using automatic facial coding software, monitor the change in people’s reactions to what they see and experience. Through recording all the facial features of a subject, we may be able to detect the valence of that person’s response, i.e. whether that response is positive or negative. FEA relies on a universal set of facial expressions for all humans (which is indicative of the emotion that person is experiencing) so that a response can be successfully coded and also, for accurate measurement, that the subject is clear, well-lit and directly facing the camera. There is some evidence that FEA correlates with the self-reported response of people, but would appear better at identifying negative responses to stimuli.
Within the field of FEA, there is also a more objective measure of human response using electromyography (EMG). This involves the use of extremely sensitive devices, affixed to the skin, which can monitor minute changes in facial muscles and offers researchers the opportunity to understand how stimuli can affect subjects emotionally. By measuring the contraction of two specific muscle groups – at the eyebows (to monitor frowning) and on the cheek (to monitor smiling), scientists are able to record the implicit affect of stimuli – both positive or negative – on subjects, even when no overt change is facial expression can be detected and people are not consciously aware of their reaction. However, because of the nature of the measurement, attaching electrodes to the skin, facial EMG cannot be done covertly and can only really occur in a lab situation.
Again, both FEA and EMG are best used in combination with other physiological methods to more accurately correlate the ‘what’ with the ‘why’ of a particular event or experience. It is also worth noting that some in neuroscience have recently cast doubt on the efficacy of a universal set of facial expressions that indicate specific emotions. This is despite the 40-year history of research into this area and a number of software manufacturers offering facial coding as a way of ‘measuring’ emotion. In a future post we will return to this BIG question of whether what we are feeling really is ‘written all over our face’ and the controversy over where science has got to in understanding and measuring emotion.
In our next post, we’ll look at some of the neuroscientific methods for investigating human behaviour involving scanning the brain to measure electrical activity and blood flow as indicators of mental activity.
CX Lab help uncover the unconscious and conscious behaviour of your customers and design and implement customer and employee experience strategies that deliver a significant ROI. Please get in touch
Why buying a house is as bad as buying a car
…and vice versa
Why is it that we humans seem so against the idea of paying commission to sales people, brokers or agents, and yet are happy to contribute tips – on top of the actual price of their meal – to waiting staff who are presumably just doing their jobs? It’s a very practical demonstration of what behavioural economists are well aware of – that people are not against paying over and above the ‘accepted’ rate for particular services PROVIDED we get to see what or how those services are performed. Let’s look at this in relation to two of the lowest regarded ‘professions’ – who historically have come right near the bottom of league tables when it comes to trust – car sales people and estate agents.
In both cases we have a complicated and stressful transaction nearly always involving some kind of exchange, a large amount of money and some kind of third party, like an external finance provider. The estate agent or car salesperson should be an ‘expert’ middle-man working to help make a deal happen, yet their role appears to be overwhelmingly seen as detrimental to the parties involved!
This perception is because what they do to ‘earn’ their money lacks the transparency of the restaurant. Whether we are well looked after or we are not, we can decide at the end of the meal to either reward the waiting staff (or not) for their ‘performance’. This is not true for a car salesperson. As a buyer we have no idea what their commission is and how it is earned – the sale of the car itself, the finance deal, extra insurance, paint protection, accessories and service plans are all bundled up into the cost. It is this that limits the trust we have and makes us wary.
The truth is that human beings see ‘value’ as the most important thing in any economic transaction – not just the monetary cost, but all the elements that contribute to get you from the start of your purchase journey to the end. And one of the problems with buying a car, just like buying a house, is that for the customer the journey rarely ends with the sale being agreed. All things are relative: we will only know if the price we’ve paid is too much if some new information comes to light. Without that, our mental ‘value calculation’ is fine. But as soon as we think we’ve been hoodwinked, the whole value edifice comes crashing round our ears and it’s the salesperson or agent who’s right in the firing line.
So, why don’t we seem to like estate agents?
Buying and/or selling a house is incredibly complicated and involves all manner of third parties – mortgage lenders, solicitors, local authorities and surveyors – surely having someone to hold your hand, who understands the local market and can calmly advise and assist would be welcome in these muddy waters? The problem is we can’t SEE what they do, things aren’t transparent, communication is bad, many staff are poorly trained in customer service, perhaps lack the ‘life-experience’ of those they are working for and fail to recognize the intense stress buyers/sellers are under. They see houses as commodities to earn commission, not as the old or new homes of people who have invested years in building their value. And, despite the fact that estate agents fees are described in terms of the percentage of the purchase price – the UK average is 1.3% – that equates to over £3,000 a sale (based on the average UK house price of around £245k). It’s paid at the end of the deal, so it’s very visible, and often when the most important part of the transaction (getting from sale to contract exchange) has proved truncated and difficult, leaving many people suffering from what Purple Brick’s advertising brilliantly describes as ‘commisery’.
In car buying too, many customers are left feeling uneasy about the ‘deal’ they have done, nervous about the smile on the face of the sales person as the order is signed. There’s just too much going on behind the scenes that makes us question the integrity of those we’re dealing with – ‘caveat emptor’ rings in our ears like a warning bell.
Disrupting the Customer Experience
New disruptors in both car sales and estate agency are looking to take advantage of our dislike and distrust of the traditional ways of working. The aforementioned Purple Bricks is looking to revolutionise estate agency by putting customers in control, making extensive use of technology without a physical ‘store’ and switching to a flat fee upfront with ‘additional extras’ to reduce the overall cost. Conventional agencies have responded with a ‘hybrid’ solution – mixing virtual and physical to offer a different range of services at either a fixed price or percentage of the sale rates depending on the customer’s choice. One of the big arguments made in favour of traditional estate agencies – who still make up 90% of the UK market in sales transactions – is that their commission is only payable on completion of the sale, so they will (or should in theory) always act in the best interest of the seller – their best return is if they can sell at the highest price. Both ways would seem to have merit, but neither seems to command the respect or trust of the British public, although when you do find an individual in either estate agency or the auto sector, many people will follow those individuals anywhere, regardless of the brand they are selling or the company they work for. As neuroscience makes clear, people buy from people after all.
When I first started in business, my Dad told me to immediately employ an accountant because ‘they will make you more money than you’ll ever pay them’, but this maxim simply doesn’t seem to extend to estate agents or car sales people. Why has no-one yet disrupted these two market sectors completely – why don’t the majority of us yet buy cars online or sell our houses ourselves?
The answer of course is that we haven’t yet stumbled across the right way to do it, despite millions of pounds of research asking people what’s wrong with the current models and what they want. Surely there’s a clever bunch of computer scientists working on a website that, by aggregating all the past, present and future values of houses in your area and valuing nearby assets like schools, shops, transport links and green spaces, can give you a house price valuation that they instantly match that with buyers it has recruited with the exact requirements and so guarantee a quick sale (there is). Or a car manufacturer who will sell us (or loan, lease or hire us) fixed price cars to fixed specifications straight off a website that are brought to our home/work for a test drive and then delivered where we want and when we want.
CX research and design
All these things are possible now, but there’s a huge risk for any disruptor or traditional business looking to understand how things will change. Without knowledge, solid research and actionable findings how will any board or investor know what to back and what not to? What’s needed is evidence. The kind of evidence that only a forensic investigation of these two market sectors can provide and then followed by a programme created to deliver the improvements identified. This has already been done in the auto sector, where an innovative solution based on biometrics and behavioural economic experimentation in the area of customer and employee experience gave rise to a 30% hike in new car sales AND a 16% improvement in customer satisfaction. The estate agency sector is poised for change, but a similar kind of solution can only come from a better understanding of the current experience in terms of the people that take part in it (both customers and staff); the impact of the place where the experience occurs (be that online, on the phone, via an app on a smartphone, or face-to-face at a valuation, viewing or instore); and the process that’s being utilised to bring the parties together (including the use of technology). These insights can be delivered by the application of new scientific methods and smart experiments to uncover the moments in the current experience where things go wrong – the Tripping Points® – and how these can best be addressed.
With house prices stalling, the number of transactions falling, new legislation restricting letting agent fees soon to come into force and property analysts predicting that up to 20% of UK estate agencies could soon go out of business, it’s surely time for the industry to take stock of how it can best flex and adapt to survive in these uncertain, Brexit-fearful times.
Behavioural science demonstrates that humans are prepared to pay, and pay well, for a service that is supplied with honesty and transparency by people and organisations that inspire trust. Estate agencies haven’t yet earned the right to that trust, but the use of scientific methods to gain a detailed appreciation of the functional, motivational and emotional elements of their relationships with their clients, offers a lifeline to the sector in the current economic climate that would pull them much, much higher up that league table of trusted professions.
CX Lab is pioneering the use of biometrics and the science of experience to allow businesses to understand and improve their customer and employee experience through innovative research techniques and evidence-based design.
It was recently announced that both Hyundai and Toyota are investing in a Perceptive Automata, a company dedicated to helping autonomous vehicles to understand humans better. While this of course is a very worthwhile aim (and the resulting software could revolutionise driverless cars), I couldn’t help but feel that it highlighted how much more we, as humans, should be focusing on using innovative technology and data to understand our fellow humans better!
Biometric research methods
In our recent paper, we provided an overview of the available biometric research methods to investigate customer and employee experiences, but I wanted here to explain briefly how and why such methods can help in a direct, practical way to further our understanding of the real drivers of customer experience and how these might be positively influenced
So, let’s focus on two of the key measures of human physiological response to experiences and external stimuli: heart rate (HR) and electrodermal activity (EDA).
We all know that if we get excited our heart rate speeds up. This excitation, or arousal as scientists call it (no sniggering at the back, please!), is based on the body requiring more oxygen in its aroused state and so the heart responds to pump more oxygenated blood for whatever is needed, whether that be to react to a threat, the physical exertion of exercise, receiving some good news, seeing your lover, etc. Unless you are unwell, your HR changes in response to an event. As it’s the most studied organ in the human body, we know an awful lot about our heart, its rhythm, why it speeds up and slows down, how it responds to exercise, to trauma and stress. The latest devices for measuring HR are incredibly accurate and sophisticated, allowing us to monitor heart rate, its variability (a crucial indicator of heart wellness) and extrapolate lots more data based on years and years of scientific investigation and clinical trials.
Electrodermal activity (EDA)
Electrodermal activity is less well-known to the public, but is also a very well-established measure of arousal. EDA is literally monitored by how much you sweat and is measured by passing a tiny electric current between two points, typically and reliably, on the palm of your hand, the soles of your feet, or at your wrist. The more you sweat, the more current is conducted and this can be measured, even if the change is infinitesimally small. A greater electrodermal response is also associated with arousal, but unlike HR, it is less likely to be influenced by movement and is more closely linked to emotional states. As such it is becoming an increasingly important measure in psychological science.
Of course it’s all very well to measure these things, but several potential issues might immediately spring to your minds:
1. How easy are the devices to fit and doesn’t wearing them influence the person in some way?
2. How reliable are the measures?
3. What can they really tell us about experiences?
All of these are hugely important questions, so let’s tackle them head on…
The very latest devices are wrist-mounted wearables, in effect a kind of ‘super’, medical grade Apple watch, that measure HR, EDA, skin temperature, heart rate variability and incorporate 3-way accelerometers to understand the impact of movement. With real-time visualization via Bluetooth and onboard recording, they can be simply strapped on and the subject is ready to go. It doesn’t take long for the device to be forgotten, so much so that one of our main concerns is to ensure we get them back at the end of the experiment!
The measures are reliable having been developed to monitor patients to help prevent ‘Sudden Epileptic Death Syndrome’. Although we’re not using them in a lab situation here and there are many more variables in the real world than we could ever control for, what we are looking for is moments of significant change in the physiological response. And then, by looking to aggregate these across common events for multiple subjects in a customer or employee journey, to identify the causes of such arousal.
On its own this physiological data is pretty meaningless unless we can couple them with video, audio and/or observation of the subject in question so we can contextualize it against what is actually happening. If entry to your car showroom makes your customers’ panic, we’ll see it; if queuing to pay is stressful, we’ll know by how much; if using your app or website makes hearts pound in frustration, we can tell you when and what triggered it.
Biometric research matters
All this matters because people simply aren’t able to tell you accurately – either after or even during an event – what causes their response and so drives their behaviour. That’s because the reason for the unconscious, physiological change is often misattributed by our post-rationalising, conscious mind.
Using biometric research and behavioural science, we can identify the ‘tripping points’ when experiences go wrong and also help to build and evaluate alternatives that iron out the errors. Used properly in ‘smart’ experiments, physiological measurement tools can help us to apply the science of experience and provide the evidence base customer and employee experience professionals need to convince their Boards to redesign and implement better commercial experiences that positively impact the bottom line in both B2B and B2C.
CX Lab can help you uncover your customers’ behaviour and design and implement solutions to grow your business. For more information please get in touch
This week we were lucky enough to be invited to the Lush showcase event in Manchester. Primarily focused on engaging Lush employees, they invite every manager from every store across the world to a spectacular event celebrating everything lush about Lush.
It’s a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. And, as with everything Lush this was not your usual internal event, this was a multi sensory assault of the highest order. The experience was amazing.
Giant fun houses, mood rooms with enormous rain showers, floating balloons to ride in, gender neutral toilets, amazing demos, talks on everything from the environment to technology and even a few semi-naked people in bright Lush body paint running around. Everything coordinated to enhance and reflect the Lush brand. A brand born with purpose – not created by consultants – but lived through its people and their actions.
For two middle-aged men, dressed in middle-of-the-road (even boring) clothes, this was enlightening and invigorating. And we now smell great too!
Most brands would gather all their staff for the usual conference of uninspiring Powerpoint presentations by senior execs – Lush are not your usual brand. Instead they put on something that immerses every one of their people in the brand. Your staff don’t want to sit in boring lecture theatres hearing about how the business is doing, they want something to be a part of and to believe in. There’s a reason that Lush people love Lush so much.
If you want to see a brand experience delivered by passionate people then look no further. There is genuine belief in the brand, its purpose and creating wonderful experiences for customers. Every business that wants to engage their people should look at Lush. No matter what your sector you can learn something from them. Lush epitomises what Ronan Dunne – CEO of O2 meant when he said: “If you want to make fans of your customers you have to make fans of your people.”
Employee experience = customer experience
We recently carried out a study on the retail experience at Lush. Using biometric devices to understand the unconscious, physiological response of its customers to the real-time experience. What we witnessed was arguably the best retail and sales experience on the high street and our research evidenced this. The overall positive arousal level for customers was twice that of their competitors. Their multi-sensory customer experience, combined with amazing people passionate about the brand, delivers real commercial results. Perhaps this is why their marketing budget is £0 and their staff don’t seem to mind taking their clothes off?
Last week saw the publication of our first co-authored paper reviewing physiological and neuroscientific methods for investigating customer research and employee research. In this article, I’d like to reflect on how these exciting methods can be used to help businesses better understand their customers and staff and how that insight should be used to improve experiences and deliver a genuine return on any investment.
As the famous adman, David Ogilvy so eruditely commented way back in the 1970s, the problem with conventional market research is that:
‘people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.’
Although lots of us instinctively suspect this is true – and modern neuroscience certainly backs that belief – we haven’t before had ready access to the tools necessary to objectively measure in the real world and in real time how people are actually feeling, thinking and doing. Nor have we had a framework for understanding how such measurement might allow us to improve experiences to deliver more sales, more profit and greater customer and staff satisfaction.
The latest customer research tools
The argument made in the current paper is that biometric customer research now offers the tools to benchmark customer experiences and employee experiences from the perspective of psychology, physiology and neurology (mind, body and brain). Through the measurement of heart rate, skin conductance, pupil dilation, eye gaze, electrical activity in the brain and the like, we can identify the moments where an experience is at odds with a customer or employees expectation of that experience. These so-called ‘Tripping Points®’ can be negative or positive, and allow us to: a) categorise their causes; b) understand their relative importance to the overall experience and crucially; c) how to mitigate their impact. This means changing the experience to either eliminate tripping points, to soften their affect or, where they can’t be avoided, to compensate for them. A great example of the latter is ‘Black Friday’, where an incredibly stressful shopping experience is endured by customers and staff in return for very low prices and rapid stock turnover!
Understanding tripping points and their causes allows businesses to design better experiences: how they’re delivered; who (or what) does that delivery; where the experience takes place; and how customers are ‘managed’ before, during and after the experience. Biometrics and techniques from behavioural economics (e.g. game theory) can then be used to test these new designs with ‘smart experiments’ (i.e. prototypes, pilots, trials, virtual and physical, on and offline). This allows the new, enhanced experience to be honed and refined before being rolled out to the wider world. Following this implementation it is imperative to keep measuring the experience objectively, using the original benchmark to gauge relative success and introducing further refinements as and when necessary.
Better than customer surveys alone
You might be questioning how any of this is different from, and indeed better than, what you get from your current (conventional) customer research? Well, I would use the analogy of the forensic science of criminal investigation. No detective (or court) would try to convict someone based on hearsay alone. Eyewitness accounts need to be backed up by scientific evidence that avoids the conscious filter of subjective reflection, the vagaries of human memory and the issue of being asked to evaluate things that are individual components of a whole, holistic experience. Only by comparing and contrasting both the biometric and the self-report can we hope to get an accurate understanding of the experience and how it influences behaviour. And it is this that will ultimately allow us to reshape such experiences to make them better for the customer, the employee and the bottom line.
Our Best Western, Honda and Virgin Atlantic case studies demonstrate the significant return on investment that biometric measurement can bring to the research, design and implementation of CX initiatives. Our programmes have delivered improved sales and profit; higher customer satisfaction, loyalty and repurchase; larger spend by customer and greater frequency of purchase. We also see improvements in staff satisfaction measures, reduced sickness absence, higher productivity and lower staff turnover.
Champion science in customer research
The principles of our scientific approach are applicable across all products and services – both B2B and B2C – as our latest diverse projects highlight. For example: testing different store formats for a discount supermarket; the review of an automated, instore sales process for a high street electronics retailer; the design of new mass passenger transport seating; quantifying the commercial impact of a differentiated CX for a global construction company; and implementing a new integrated customer and employee experience for one of the UK’s leading housing associations.
On the flipside of course, no-one ever got fired for doing a customer survey and most people feel confident in presenting a business improvement to their board with some reassuring ‘numbers’ backing it up – perhaps because a healthy percentage of respondents ‘said’ they would buy such a product or service, or rated it highly on average on a scale of 1 to 10. Conventional customer research is also fairly cheap, although if it leads you down a path of activity that’s in the opposite direction to customers’ real behaviour, I’d argue it will cost you an awful lot more in the long run. What we’re championing here is the use of science – and by that I mean the scientific method – to provide solid, substantiated and objective evidence for the business decisions you take. Don’t guess or rely on hearsay, but build a case for change, improvement or transformation based on a hypothesis tested and proven through experimentation and you will see a significant return on your investment.
Over the coming few weeks, we’ll be reviewing the various physiological and neuroscientific methods for understanding customer and employee behaviour and suggesting practical ways they can be used to help improve experiences and deliver significant commercial returns.