Insights on Beer, Vinegar and Customer Experience

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beerI have come to believe that we are all spinning our wheels in our efforts to change until we learn to understand and embrace our irrationality.  I watched anotherDan Ariely talk this weekend and he shared an analogy that really helps illustrate why we are so irrational about understanding our irrationality.  Humans by nature are irrational beings, so how can we become rational about our irrationality?  He speaks about a study where they provide two types of beer and ask the participants for their preference.   One group is told they are tasting one beer with vinegar added and another beer without; in this case the participants all prefer the one without.  Then they offer the same two beers to a second group only this time they don’t share that one has vinegar in it; and in this case the participants prefer the one with vinegar.  Turns out that vinegar enhances the taste of beer but our preconceived notions of what vinegar would do to beer trump how we experience it.  In other words, our preconceptions shape our experiences and trump reality.  Which highlights that we don’t even have a clue when we are being irrational.

So how can companies design products and services that account for what we are unaware of?  And how can we advocate change when we are neurologically wired by our preconceptions that inhibit us from embracing what we really would otherwise prefer.

I think it is fair to say that most companies are finally focusing on Customer Experience as a key imperative.  But they are doing this with little to no regard for how we human beings actually experience products and services.  These days data and rational strategies are typically the drivers behind most Customer Experience initiatives, with high rewards.  But with this approach we are only scratching the surface of the opportunity to maximize the value and returns of our efforts.  If we layer in mechanisms to interrupt or disguise our preconceptions that block us from a positive experience than I believe we can exponentially impact outcomes both for our customers and financial stakeholders.

Ariely gives a powerful example of this in context of social conflict.  An example I see time and again in business is when companies deliver a new message, or create a new product or service that they are certain is of great value for their customer.  Yet it gets received with reluctance, caution or even rejection.  Typically the response to this is to either push harder, re-engineer, or to abandon the change altogether.  When really what is needed is to better understand the preconceived beliefs that are in our way.  To complicate this challenge further, our own personal preconceived beliefs about what our customers needs are may be in our way too.  Bottom line is that we need to invest in a sophisticated understanding of human behaviour.  This awareness needs to begin academically, and once we begin to understand the nuances of it we will see, hear, and experience everything differently.  Only then can we really begin to expand on the rewards of designing meaningful experiences for our customers.

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