Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Otis Elevator Guide to Preserving Your Customer's Sense of Control

Did you know that most “close door” buttons on elevators don’t work?

It’s true – they’re called placebo buttons.

They’ve been around since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed about twenty years ago. And according to the act’s homepage, the button is there for workers and emergency personnel to use, and it only works with a key.

Also, according to the Otis Elevator Company, most door close buttons can't override the minimum required amount of time doors can stay open. Whether or not you press the buttons, the doors will eventually close.

THE QUESTION IS: Why the dummy buttons?
I read a fascinating article on You Are Not So Smart that cleared things up:

“Non-functioning mechanisms like this are called placebo buttons, and they’re everywhere. If you do press the buttons, and later the doors close, a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future, even though any direct benefit from them is only imagined.”

WHICH MEANS: The buttons do work, just not for the elevators.

Their real function is to preserve people’s sense of control.

Here’s why that matters.

In the psychology manual, The Handbook of Competence and Motivation, their research proved that human beings operate out of a model to feel autonomous and in control of their environment and actions. Thus: The feeling of being in control is a basic human need.

And the minute you reinforce and preserve that control, your organization wins.

What’s your close door button? How are you preserving your customers’ sense of control?

Let’s look at five practices for doing so:

1. Allow customers to write their own ticket. My friend Mark runs weekend retreats for small business owners. At the end of his seminars, he literally passes around a hat and asks people to pay an amount commensurate with the value they received.

It’s a risky pricing model, but Mark has conducted over one hundred of these retreats, every year, for the past twenty years.

Lesson learned: Risky pricing lead to regular profits.

Your challenge is to enable your customers to take your price into their own hands. Yes, this practice requires tremendous self-trust and confidence in your own value.

And it’s not for everybody. But that’s the cool part about vulnerability: It doesn’t just enable profitability – but also builds long-term viability. Transfer control to the customer, transfer money to your bank account. Forever. What if your customers wrote your price tags?

2. Remember the customer of the customer. As a public speaker, I travel a lot. Naturally, I experience my share of airline delays. Fortunately, when my ride picks me up at the airport, she’s never uncertain about my flight status.

Why? Because she parks in the Cell Phone Lot. It’s a new feature offered at Lambert International that beautifully preserves customer control. Located a few blocks from the main terminal, it opens early and closes late.

And with a giant screen indicating flight statuses, airline records and other relevant information, picker-uppers can relax in their cars without worrying about when (or if) their loved ones are going to arrive.

The cool part is, this example doesn’t just focus on the customer – but the people closest to the customer.

Which, if you think about it, is a customer too. Your job is to figure out whom your customer needs to look good for. Whom they need to make happy. Whom they’re coming home to. Are you forgetting about the people who matter to the people who matter?

3. Asking activates control. First, ask people how they will be affected by the decision. Listen closely as they tell you how to serve them better. Second, ask people what they would like to see happen next. Odds are, their request will be reasonable.

Third, ask permission for everything. It can’t hurt. And it helps you avoid additional guesswork. Fourth, ask customers to do something to help facilitate the problem solving process.

By putting them at the center of the decision, you not only preserve control but also enable new solutions to surface that you otherwise would have missed.

Ultimately, these four examples of asking restore the balance. That’s your goal: To give people enough control so they don’t worry that their basic needs won’t be met, but not so much control that they’re wasting time and energy making unnecessary choices. Are you asking the same questions as your competitors?

4. Provide a virtual steering wheel. My friend Chris Johnson sells flat rate web jobs. One of the cool things about working with his company is the very moment your transaction is complete, you’re prompted with a video. It doubles as a thank-you note and multimedia tutorial:

“Thanks for your purchase,” says an enthusiastic voice on the screen. “This brief video will explain exactly how to use the program you just paid for. That way you can get the most out of our services.”

This is a perfect tool for preserving customer control for several reasons. First, it’s immediate. No waiting. No wondering. And no window between when you buy and when you start using.

Second, the video closes the execution gap. Instead customers just paying money and then fading into the ether, Chris equips them with step-by-step instructions to optimize their purchase.

Finally, the video assures that customers know exactly what they are buying. And that level of expectational clarity is priceless. How are you guiding your customers along the uncertain path?

5. Provide clear, consistent contact points for managing progress. As a lifelong control freak, I’m fortunate to have a web team whose amazing client service appeases my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Check this out: Every time I put in a request for a programming modification, they email me with a copy of my Support Ticket. It includes my original request, a status report and the name of the tech involved with my project.

Over the life of the project, I’m emailed with occasional, non-annoying updates that keep me posted on the ticket’s progress. Eventually, when the ticket is done, I can offer feedback on the process.

Lesson learned: The speed of the response is the response. Even if you’re not able to solve your customer’s problem right away, consistent assurance that you’re on the case preserves their sense of control. How are do you update your customers on their statuses?

REMEMBER: All customers are control freaks.

Whether you serve them online, offline, in the air or in person – make a conscious effort to preserve their sense of control.

Until then, I’ll see you in the elevator.

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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