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Customers Aren’t Rational — So Why Are We Designing Like They Are?

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 02/12/2016

D6BZSQ2NM2-1In my years as a CX professional, I’ve run into plenty of organizations with CX programs that worked wonderfully, and plenty that didn’t—and plenty that seemed like they should work, but didn’t. These can often be the hardest to change, because everything about them seems to make sense—so why does the journey break down?

As an example, let’s look at a hospital client of ours. We studied their outpatient radiology, including MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds, to better understand what it was like to be a patient. The hospital’s business problem was in patient loyalty—patients who needed multiple scans weren’t coming back for their next procedure.

We discovered a number of problems, but a major one was that over 10% of patients got lost in the hospital on the way to their appointment. Over 10%! There were many well-marked signs, and even a staff person to welcome incoming patients. (By the way, the lost patients would eventually find a doctor who would escort them to the right room, but I’m sure we can agree doctors probably have better things to do.)

The lost patients were on their way to a very stressful medical procedure. When you’re worried you might have cancer, of course you’re not rational. So designing systems based on a rational mindset doesn’t work. And that’s where it always seems to go awry – assuming your customers are rational.

How Does This Translate Elsewhere?

This same principle applies to business-to-business (B2B) situations, too. For example, we mapped how executives purchased support software. Our client assumed a logical sales process—the customer discovers a need, searches for companies that offer appropriate solutions, researches online for more information, and then make their decision based on that information. A perfectly rational sales process you can find in many journey maps.

Of course, it’s all a fiction.

In reality, customers were looking for the software to solve a real need. In this case, their sales were slowed down by terrible software, and they needed a better system. Solving this problem could mean a promotion – failing to solve it could mean they were fired.

With so much at stake, they didn’t trust relying on information on a vendor’s website. So instead of carrying out the research process my client assumed, they instead asked their peers what they used. It wasn’t a website that drove decision-making – it was a trusted colleague. So my client focused their energy and resources on the wrong items. Focusing on your website is a rational approach. But not one their customers—who were acting irrationally, because of their fear of being fired—cared about.

This happens all the time in CX. Because the people designing the systems are so accustomed to their business that they think rationally, they design for people like them, the same way, for example, health insurance professionals assume you know insurance terms just because they do.

When you design systems internally, this can often lead to assumptions that don’t align with the customer’s actual experience.

This is exactly why we do journey-mapping—to understand what your customer goes through as they interact with your company, and to learn to experience that interaction from your customer’s point of view.

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