Digital Shoreditch’s Behavioural Design event last week was buzzing with new possibilities for applying psychology and behavioural economics to marketing and customer experience. For over a decade, horizon2 has been employing similar methods in a very specific context: the call centre.The Principles of Psychology

In this Q&A, Managing Director Duncan White talks about the role and ROI of psychology in improving conversations with customers.

Where did it begin?
One of our first projects was working with Powergen’s outbound acquisition team back in 2001. They wanted to understand why certain conversations resulted in sales and others didn’t, even though the script was the same. So we developed an analytical framework for breaking calls down into twelve different components. We found that skills like information adaptiveness – the ability to modify the script language according to the needs of the caller – made a tremendous difference to results. These insights became the basis for improved agent training and policies.

What ROI do these approaches yield?
Call centres emphasise measurement to a fault, so there is a really clear business argument for applying these kinds of methodologies. In sales the focus might be conversion rates. With AON and travel insurance sales, for example, we raised the conversion rate from 23% to 42%, generating a return of investment of 1:200. In another context, working for DirectLine customer services, the focus was call abandonment, which we reduced by 30% through optimising the IVR (i.e. the pre-call options, press one for X, press two for Y etc.)

When can measurement be ‘at fault’?
It’s a question of emphasis. One client was fervent about reducing the average handling time (AHT) to the degree that agents were rushing calls and becoming impatient with customers. We managed to convince them to focus on improving call quality instead. This actually still reduced AHT, their main goal, but also greatly improved the customer experience at the same time.

What role does framing and phrasing play?
Often it can be about clarity and communicative assurance – i.e. getting people to understand and believe what you’re saying. When we worked on 999 calls, we found that the language could be misleading. Saying that an officer will visit “as soon as possible” meant 2-3 days in police-speak, but was interpreted as a few hours by the public. Reframing the language set more accurate expectations, an essential component of building trust.

Which other psychological principles are important?
One of Daniel Kahneman’s classic insights is that people don’t remember experiences logically, but place disproportionate emphasis on their first and last experiences, as well peaks and troughs. Negative experiences are actually said to have nine times the impact of positive experiences.

We did a lot of analysis for National Rail, who used to open their conversations with “Which station are you travelling to?” despite the fact that many people were calling with other kinds of queries. Simply changing the call opening to “How can I help you?” greatly improved customers’ reported satisfaction as well as reducing the AHT once again.

Where does brand fit in?
The more the call centre can fulfil the brand promise, the better for both the customers and the company. An analysis we did for a major media and telecoms company found that ‘on-brand’ conversations were more than twice as likely to result in a sale, as the experience was both supported by and reinforced customer expectations.

Prime Decision and horizon2 have joined forces to deliver a behaviour-driven proposition for multichannel customer experience – helping companies to migrate customers to channels other than voice. Read our post 5 reasons to listen to customer calls and get in touch for more details.