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Guest Blog – The Psychology of Effective Communication: Q&A with Dr. Stephen Kosslyn

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my colleague Megan Van Vlack spoke with Stephen M. Kosslyn about how psychological research can improve the way we communicate with our customers.  He provides some excellent tips from which we can benefit. – Shep Hyken You’ve probably heard the maxim “think like your customer” in both marketing and […]

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my colleague Megan Van Vlack spoke with Stephen M. Kosslyn about how psychological research can improve the way we communicate with our customers.  He provides some excellent tips from which we can benefit. – Shep Hyken

You’ve probably heard the maxim “think like your customer” in both marketing and service contexts; however the phrase takes on new meaning when psychological research is applied to how organizations communicate with their customers. But companies can (and should) take advantage of this research to improve customer experience, explains Stephen M. Kosslyn, former chair of the psychology department at Harvard University and founding dean at the Minerva Project. Recently, Kosslyn was interviewed by Inc. on how basic psychological principals can be used to improve sales presentations. Here, we speak with Kosslyn about how psychological research can also be applied to improve the way service professionals communicate with customers:

Is it more effective to show a customer how to solve a problem or to explain it step by step? 

Choosing whether it would be best to show the solution or explain it is going to depend on the problem itself. Showing is not always better than telling, but it can have several advantages. Showing a person a map, for example, will allow them to come up with multiple ways to get from point A to point B on their own. If you just hand a person a list of directions, it will really constrain and limit the outcome. It can also be overwhelming if, for example, the customer needs to do something very specific and the information they need isn’t on the list. Showing is a good way to give people more options.

When is an in-person interaction more effective than directing them to, say, the company website?  

This depends partially on the customer. People don’t always want an in-person interaction. In some ways, that might be more of a cognitive effort for them and they would prefer to just read something. On the other hand, when something isn’t working, not everyone knows how to solve the problem. The good thing about personal interaction is that it affords the opportunity for quick feedback. When you’re dealing with something that’s frozen, such as a map or a list of directions, they are only useful if they solve the exact problem. An in-person interaction gives the customer the ability to to draw out the information that they need from the service professional.

How can service professionals help customers who might not know exactly what they need? 

Depending on the problem, you would approach it different ways. One advantage of interacting in real-time is an instant feedback loop that allows you to converge on the problem quickly.

It’s important that the first thing a service professional does is make sure that they understand exactly what the problem is. One effective way to do that is to simply paraphrase what the customer has said. Repeating the issue back to the customer can also be a very focusing experience for the service professional, and it can help them solve the problem.

Another thing that service professionals should keep in mind is that people can hold a very limited amount of information in their mind at once. It’s surprising, but people can only hold three to four categories of information at a time. When imparting information to customers, keeping it simple is key.

Any advice to organizations that are developing their customer service channels? 

The main thing to remember is that people are different. It’s important for companies to give people the ability to help find the solution to their problem in a way that fits the way that they think and approach things. The key to all of this is to respect each individual customer’s differences.

Megan Van Vlack is a writer for SmartVan, where she covers technology and management tips in the field service industry. 

For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com

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