The Pavlovian Nature of CX


There are many potential touch points between customer and brand that result from a customer’s awareness, advocacy, and eventual purchase or use of a product.

Each of these interactions is an opportunity for a company to “condition” the customer’s reaction to the brand, similar to the classical conditioning used by Pavlov on his dogs. The practice of conditioning is eliciting a desired response from customers who are reacting to stimuli presented within the framework of a brand’s customer experience. By conditioning for a positive emotional reaction, a company can accomplish a number of company goals, especially as they relate to marketing.

Classical Conditioning: Explained
Everyone who has taken a Psychology 101 class has heard about Pavlov’s experiment training dogs to create a conditioned response. Pavlov would ring a bell to signal dinner for his dogs. After this conditioned stimulus (the bell ringing) was introduced, it created an unconditioned response from the dogs of salivation. From that point on, any time Pavlov rang the bell, it caused the dogs to salivate.

Classical conditioning involves learning to associate an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response, with a new stimulus so that the new stimulus brings about the same initial response.

How Conditioning Responses Can Improve Customer Experience
Seth Godin, a well-known author and marketer defines the formula for building a brand as:

Brand = a*b

a= Prediction of what to expect
b = Emotional power of that expectation

In layman’s terms, he’s suggesting that the expectations customers have after previous experiences with a brand can greatly influence emotional attachment.
With that in mind, it’s very important to consider what’s going on in the customer’s heads as they interact with your brand. MarketingProfs writer Michael DiFrisco mentions two major factors in conditioning responses for customer experience, consistency and follow through.

Think about these factors as they relate to Pavlov’s experiment. When a dog was exposed to the ringing bell consistently, the dog would follow through and perform the conditioned response (salivation). How can this apply to the customer experience?.

MarketingProfs urges brands to create a self-reinforcing loop, where the brand is defined incrementally across every customer touch point. By being consistent, your brand is reinforcing a conditioned response (or feeling) of trust, and trust is a powerful sales tool.

In Pavlov’s experiment, the reward is food. When dealing with customer experience issues, the reward is a positive experience and a solved problem. In order to enjoy the conditioned response of trust from customers, you must anchor it by following through with their anticipated reward. For example, when offering an account credit to fix a situation, follow through is essential!

It is not sufficient to simply replicate how other brands are providing a positive customer experience. In order to be successful with conditioning customer experience situations, your company must be professional in the way they handle issues, and also achieve a satisfying solution. BaubleBar is an excellent example of a company that takes customer experience seriously. They offer free shipping and returns, fast and satisfying customer service when problems occur, and the ability to video chat with a stylist before completing a purchase. By using the principles of experience conditioning, BaubleBar removes doubt in customers and makes more sales.

Brands must ensure that any employees involved in customer experience functions are on the same page, especially with regards to consistency, follow through, and uniqueness.

A company must be clear about expectations with Customer Experience reps (so they don’t make any major mistakes on a customer service call). Before any calls, make sure everyone involved is aware of expectations for Customer Experience. Also take time to discuss the importance of their role so they can own their involvement and don’t ignore important policies. Finally, check in with reps and managers and critique the process on a regular basis

A Successful Example of Customer Experience and Conditioning: Apple
Stephen Zoeller’s Marketing Blog discusses the topic of how Apple uses customer behavior marketing to influence marketing and product design decisions.

Most customers would agree that the Apple logo is synonymous with eye-catching and simple design. From the user’s point of view, it’s generally considered very easy to use and intuitive technology. Apple’s original logo was ultimately redesigned to position the company as forward-thinking, and some individuals claim that the company gives them the creative spark to think out of the box while using Apple products.

Apple also boasts a tight, vertically-integrated ecosystem that sends incredibly useful data on customer behavior back to the company. This ecosystem includes Apple iTunes, and how purchases and downloads work with with the device that supports them.

Because of all the things the company stands for, Apple has a fiercely-loyal customer base and a “cool” factor that makes everyone want to purchase from them, regardless of how expensive devices are compared to competitors. Achieving this kind of universal buy-in is a key example of conditioning in practice.

When using Apple products, customers are conditioned to be more creative, constantly provide useful feedback to the brand, and new customers are influenced/conditioned by other users who already have a deep relationship with the brand. The positive brand association is cemented by experience conditioning the results from interactions customers have when first purchasing products from Apple’s website or sleek stores and interacting with Genius Bar technicians if things go wrong after purchase.

As a company, Apple is a perfect example of the Golden Circle Theory (originally introduced in Simon Sinek’s TED talk). The Golden Circle Theory states that people do not buy what a company does, they buy why they do it (and how that makes them feel). Apple acts on these intense emotions to create the conditioned response from customers to keep buying new products, even if they have a previous version of the same device. And Apple always provides a rewarding feeling when the new product is in their customer’s hands: everything the user could want and more. Without this emotional connection, the unconditioned response would likely be a lack of purchase, or customers looking for the answer in a brand they felt a greater feeling of connection with.

The Future of Customer Experience and Conditioning
Two of the most important takeaways in regards to customer experience and conditioning relate to the emotional connection brands have with customers and the chance to receive and evaluate feedback to improve the process
Unlike Pavlov and his dogs, those behind brands and their customers are real people who act emotionally, but can also think logically. The future of customer experience and conditioning will include a balance of these two different but related elements.

Strategic companies of the future will find easy and effective ways to engage with their customers on multiple levels to uncover deeper insight than by only knowing them on one dimension.

By using the principles involved in Pavlov’s classical conditioning, brands can affect the customer experience in a way that subtly influences behavior. Key tenants of experience conditioning include consistency, follow through, and professionalism. For an idea of what’s working, look to the brands mentioned in this article, and others like them. If customers are sharing a positive brand experience, it’s likely that the elements of experience conditioning played a role.

How will your brand adapt the principles of experience conditioning?