Decision Comfort: Turning Transactions Into Relationships
Here is a customer experience nightmare we all live with. You’re in a long line of passengers waiting for coffee, minutes before a flight. You don’t want coffee, you need it the way a gator needs a slow, fat bird. Yet as the line refuses to budge, one word is flashing through your caffeine-starved brain: leave. The airport coffee bar has abandoned you. Your flight is maybe seconds away from abandoning you. So you abandon the line. Just like millions of online consumers abandon their shopping carts every day.
Your decision to quit the line has nothing to do with your loyalty to the brand. You love Brand X Coffee. Just seeing the logo reminds you of rich, bold flavors and everything that is good about life. Too bad for you that everyone else in line had the same thought. And so you run for the gate and settle for a cup on the plane. It will be bland and watery. It will not be the coffee you wanted. But it will not make you miss your flight.
Brand loyalty did not fail. The transaction failed. And bad transactions kill relationships. But there’s a simple fix—one that has nothing to do with efficiency and everything to do with human psychology.
Closers Are For Coffee
Let’s go through that coffee line again... only this time, a barista is working the line with an iPad. The moment he or she asks, “What can I get started for you?” you feel an immediate surge of relief. You’re still miles from the counter—but you’re getting something started! This coffee is going to happen. Then again, you expect nothing less from good old Brand X coffee.
Isn’t this just a mind trick? Of course it is. It even has a name: Decision Comfort. It doesn’t bring your coffee any faster, but it allows you to imagine a happy ending to your coffee ordeal, so your expectations relax. Studies show that consumers are more comfortable with a decision once they’re able to visualize its outcome. By establishing that comfort, the barista with the iPad has changed nothing… except how you perceive your relationship to the brand.
Let’s Get Uber There
You’re marketing a new ride-hailing service like Uber and the boss wants to focus on “faster pickup and delivery” as a key benefit. Is this the right approach? In theory, yes: time = convenience, and shorter wait = lower abandonment. But in reality our sense of time is actually quite fluid. Fifteen minutes in line can feel like fifteen hours if you’re worried about missing your flight. On the other hand, if your order’s already been taken—or if you see a sign that reads, “Expected Wait From This Point: 20 Minutes” and it only takes fifteen—then it will start to feel like time is back on your side.
Uber has mastered the decision comfort game. It doesn’t get you a driver that much quicker than phoning for a cab used to, but it can show you a little icon of your driver coming your way. How long did it take? Exactly as long as Uber said it would.
The Short and Winding Road
There is nothing to be lost by speeding up a transaction… unless it costs you the chance to advance a relationship. Suppose that your retail site wants an add-on to help you reconnect with first-time customers. Which of these will do the job at the lowest risk of cart abandonment?
The first three options will not slow the transaction by more than a second, but they share a problem: they all force the customer to think into the unforeseeable future. Do I really want these people having my credit card number? Do I need another newsletter? How much am I going to want these other items that I didn’t plan to buy? It’s the equivalent of asking, “Would you like to pre-order coffee for your next flight?” or, “For a discounted fee, would you like to add two other destinations you didn’t plan on visiting?”
The fourth option (the survey discount) might seem like the least desirable. It adds time to the transaction and it costs you money. And yet it has a big advantage over the others. The customer knows exactly what they’re being asked for and what they’ll get in return. They don’t have to plan ahead or rethink an earlier decision. And what you’re getting in return—valuable information about your consumer and a reason to reconnect—is surely worth some discount. As with Geico’s “Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen per cent or more,” a clear choice is a strong motivator to action.
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