The Psychology of Customer Experience


Ever wonder why you spent so much on that item, or why you even bought it at all? Frankly, most sales people don’t know why you did either.  Psychological theory: meet advertising and marketing. Together, you create psychologically compelling forces that are hard to resist.

In other issues we’ve covered how advertisers manipulate and then appear to satisfy our fundamental needs.  In the following two issues, you’ll become armed with the knowledge of the influences that encourage buying decisions. That way,  as a consumer you can become more aware of your buying habits, and as a sales person you can reorient their thinking away from what they have to sell, and get into the minds of their customers. Here are three of several ways you can influence buying decisions:

1. Create Resistance and Decision Fatigue. Decision making requires a high degree of mental energy. Brains are cognitive misers and avoid conscious decisions when they can. Willpower and decision-making ability deteriorate with the number and complexity of decisions. After a period of time of making even the smallest decisions, normal caution will decrease and decisions will more impulsive. If someone invites you to make a decision when you are decision-fatigued, chances are you will acquiesce more easily. Decision fatigue is operating when you give in to demands as soon as you walk in the door when you get home from work. Asked to make a decision, you will reply, “whatever you want is OK.”

Impulse items are placed at grocery checkouts for a good reason; by the time you have reached checkout, decision fatigue has set in, and you will grab items impulsively.  Some auto showrooms plan this effect in their buying process by deliberating stalling the delivery time of your new vehicle by a couple of hours.  By the time you are in the accountant’s office, and being pressured to keep the $495 security system they have installed, decision fatigue and time exhaustion will take you down. 

Time decisions carefully. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister found that those who resisted M&Ms or cookies were less able to resist binging later on in the day. Because spending energy to control behavior depletes the ability to control behavior later on, depriving yourself all day will decrease your resistance to binging at night.

2. Expose to aprestige brand beyond your customer’s means to predict a splurge on upcoming purchase(s). The hypothesis was that exposure to a Lamborghini parked in front of Starbucks would increase spending inside the store. True enough, controlling for location and time of day, significantly more sales were racked up after customers were exposed to the high-end car. Position higher end items before the item you really want to sell. The higher priced alternative increases the purchase of the more moderate. Warehouse stores display the highest priced TV screens at the front to reduce resistance to the less expensive ones in the back.

Context matters. You are more likely to buy a $30 bottle of wine if it’s next to a $130 bottle than if it’s next to a $20 bottle. Even telling people that they “should expect to pay more for this item” works as verbal anchoring and increases sales. Fast food restaurants’ extreme food sizes such as a 9-patty burger increases sales of the 5-patty burger compared to the 3-patty. At 3,000 calories, 200 grams of fat and 6,000 grams of sodium, Dunkin’ Donuts' 360-calorie bacon doughnut breakfast sandwich sounds downright healthy. 

3. Reduce the pain of paying. Create psychological distance between the purchase point and the need to part with funds. This is the idea behind credit cards, layaway plans, no payments for 3 months, money back guarantees, rewards of frequent flyer miles, or points. The offers are not designed to be thoughtful, they are designed to get you to buy.

Experiment with some of these forces yourself . Send your experiences to me

*from my program The Psychology of Customer Loyalty.