University of Southern California

A Road Map to Gaining Customer Trust
New Book Provides Insight into Increasing Service Satisfaction
December 24, 2013 • by News at Marshall

Anticipating your customer’s needs and emotions can go a long way to retaining their business, whether you’re providing healthcare, rental cars or popcorn.

According to a recent book authored by two USC Marshall professors, it pays to be thoughtful when devising strategies for building customer loyalty. In The Customer Service Solution: Managing Emotions, Trust and Control to Win Your Customer’s Business, Sriram Dasu, an associate professor of Data Sciences and Operations, and Richard Chase, professor emeritus, provide a guide to help businesses and other organizations understand their customers. Based on findings from decades of behavioral research, the book demonstrates how to integrate knowledge of customer emotions into developing successful service systems.

“This book is universally applicable,” said Dasu. “Our recommendations are about how to manage customer emotions and distill the right information in the right way. For instance, if an air traveler waiting at the terminal is kept informed about their plane’s delay and that people are working hard to solve the problem, this enhances the airline’s ability to mitigate their customers’ anger and stress. “

Giving customers a sense of control can also augment satisfaction. One simple example that Dasu and Chase highlight in The Customer Service Solution is that by allowing a patient to choose from which arm to draw blood often results in the patient feeling less pain than if not given the choice.

“If you can map out your customer’s emotions and then address them you can come up with interventions and strategies to accentuate the positive and mitigate negative emotions,” said Dasu.

Additionally, the notion that you can overwhelm your customer with too many choices (too many confusing options is one of the primary customer complaints surrounding the rollout of the Affordable Care Act) is not lost on the authors. Dasu and Chase prescribe striking a balance when giving your customers choices.

“You have to be careful about what choices you provide and what choices you guide your customer to,” said Dasu. “For instance, patients don’t want to make all of their care decisions but at the same time they don’t want their doctors to make all of the decisions either. “ What you want to do is give patients and customers in general control over those areas that do not require server expertise; e.g., visiting hours at the hospital, food, dining times, etc.

In the case of the Affordable Care rollout, Dasu suggested that officials take a more collaborative approach “with a trusted third party who can offer new enrollees some guidance as to which plan to choose.” Once a customer is enrolled in the new health care system, Dasu suggests that officials confirm the enrollment and then follow up to inform the customers of their next steps in the process. (For seniors especially, talking with people is often the best way to handle change.) This is not to say that that new technologies don’t have a valuable role in attitudes toward customer service, especially in mitigating negative customer perceptions that result from long wait times. For example, the major league baseball team the Arizona Diamondbacks allows their customers to order their popcorn and other snacks from their seats and send a text when it’s ready for pick up at the concession stand.

Even when technologies do fail, Dasu notes that severe technical glitches will not permanently alter customer perceptions, providing the server exhibits sincere effort. “People are more forgiving of technical mistakes than they are with a lack of motivation or caring. A big mistake that many service companies make here is having workers who are visible to the customer not working for the customer. An extreme case of this was encountered by Chase during an airline strike in the 1980’s where all airlines but one was closed. There were four lines fully engaged with passengers wanting tickets, but a fifth one was not staffed. The worker who was assigned to the empty counter spot for a fifth line was apparently on break sitting back with his feet on the desk eating an “odorific” hero sandwich! Needless to say, this cluelessness undid a lot of the positive feelings generated by the airline being available for service during a trying time. (And generated long-lasting avoidance of hero sandwiches by Chase.)

Overall, getting into the customer’s mind and figuring out how to build trust is key to enhancing loyalty. Dasu cited Hertz Rental Cars whose station rep in Kona Hawaii refunded a student’s prepaid amount for gas for the car since the student had decided to refill the car on his own before bringing it back. By Hertz not taking advantage of this situation, the student now trusts the company to be fair in all other aspects of the business and spreads the good word to others!

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.