“The customer’s perception is your reality.” – Kate Zabriskie
I’ve been working in customer service in one form or another for about a decade. Whether I was showing people to their tables, passing out drinks and apps, or bagging groceries, my work life always revolved around servicing customers.
It’s a popular thought that this kind of experience sets you up for any career in life and that, at some level, all work boils down to customer service.
Although my local bar doesn’t count my current work as part of the service industry – at least not enough to get a discount on industry night – I still deal in customer service every single day as a content writer.
Working closely with customers and their customers (customer inception), I have seen that the lessons I learned in the service industry can in fact be applied to copywriting and web design, namely to the improvement of user experience (UX).
First and Last Impressions
When I was working as a crew member at Trader Joe’s, we focused a lot of our attention to detail on greeting customers and on what we called the “Grand Finale.” In non-Hawaiian-shirt-wearing people’s terms, this is the checkout process.
By making sure that these two points of contact were sincere and problem-solving, this company believed that we would be creating a lasting positive impression on our customers, and they weren’t wrong.
TJ’s monthly flyer publishes tons of letters from customers describing the great impression that they formed upon arrival or in the checkout line at stores across the country.
Taking a look at any of my many waitressing jobs since 2006, I see we took a similar approach to customer service.
Making sure the first interaction with a table is positive typically sets you up for success. Of course, customers don’t want you to disappear in the middle of the meal or forget refills, but if you start off on the right foot, they’re more likely to forgive if you’re insanely busy and can’t be as attentive.
Dropping off the check quickly, separating bills correctly, thanking them and wishing them back again are all ways to leave a nice last impression.
Consider this: If you’ve had an excellent waitress that was polite, fun and hardworking from beginning to end, do you even remember that she forgot your water refill for 10 minutes on a Saturday night during rush hour? Probably not.
The Serial Position Effect
The first-and-last-impression customer service approach didn’t form out of thin air. Psychology has been looking at the ways that our brains remember and catalogue things long before TGI Friday’s was a popular dinner destination.
In psychology, The Serial Position Effect shows that “when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few words and are more likely to forget those in the middle of the list.”
Experiments conducted under this theory have shown that this mental positioning applies to more than lists of words. People often remember the first and last thing that happened to them better than they remember the events in the middle.
Because of this, a customer service approach to creating wonderful first and last impressions is likely to stay with customers longer than one that spends more time on middle interactions.
Now, this is not to say that you can make a great first and last impression, but just stop trying in the middle. That won’t work.
But, what this theory does do is give those of us in any service industry a way to think about dividing our resources so that we can create the best customer experience with what we’ve got.
Tying This to Site Design, Copywriting and UX
So, how do these customer service lessons tie in with my current work?
Dealing largely in UX, my goal is help my team create sites that make great impressions on our customers’ customers.
Applying the theory of serial positioning to how end users interact with websites could be greatly beneficial in understanding where to focus resources so that they take away the best impression of not only the site itself, but the company.
Thinking in this way allows us a fresh perspective on which points of contact are the most important by asking ourselves, “What is the first web page customers see or site interaction they have and what is the last?”
By using tools like Google Analytics, marketers and business owners can detect exact routes of traffic, determining the most popular first and last interactions that their viewers have with their site.
There will be several routes as no one customer’s user experience is alike. Some may go to the homepage first and then on to a landing page. Some may first enter the site on a blog page, while others may enter into a product description page.
To successfully apply serial positioning to design and content and get the most out of each customer interaction, you must consider all routes that your site visitors take. Once you have these labeled, you can dedicate more of your resources to the entry and exit points than to the middle steps.
Remember, you’re not neglecting the middle steps. You’re simply using this theory as a tool to detect how best to divvy up available resources so that end users get the most out of their experience.
Let’s take a look at how we would apply this to an example.
- Larry’s Lawn Mowing & Landscaping Services
Popular Site Traffic Route: Order of Pages Visited by Users
- Blog Page
- Landing Page
- Checkout Page
- Confirmation Thank You Page
Things We Know:
- From looking into the client’s Google Analytics, I see that the above site route carries a lot of user traffic.
- I know that that the client has a goal of increasing conversions from the blog pages, but has a small budget for a redesign.
- They create intriguing blog content, but the blog pages don’t provide any hierarchy, utilize images or have any stand-out CTAs.
- Their checkout process isn’t gorgeous, but it is simple and it works.
- The landing pages’ content is not comprehensive and leaves out some pertinent info.
- Although the orders go through, their Thank You Page results in a 404 Error for the user.
Applying Serial Positioning: Better UX and Higher Conversions
- In this example, I would explain to the client that I believed their money would best be spent by focusing on the blog pages and the thank you pages (the first and last impressions).
- I would suggest redesigning their blog pages to highlight their amazing content and keep readers on the page. I would also recommend that we incorporate several CTAs throughout the page so that readers better understand where to click to get the product featured.
- I would also recommend that we redesign the thank you page so that it not only works, but confirms the purchase, thanks the client, provides a purchase status update, and links to other products or blogs of similar interest.
- In this example, I would leave the simple checkout process alone for now since the customer has a smaller budget. While I would suggest putting a little money toward creating new copy for the landing page, I would also keep this work to a minimum, focusing a majority of the budget on fixing the first page and the last page that their customers see.
You can think of serial positioning as a road map rather than a rule book. Every project and every client is different so you should never approach them in the exact same way.
By considering psychological theories like this one when making marketing decisions, you will be more successful getting into the end users’ minds, allowing you to create for them. This, in turn, will optimize their customer experience, increasing the likelihood that your clients meet their business goals.
Questions to Ponder:
- Have you applied serial positioning to any of your design, development or marketing work?
- Do you think this approach makes sense?
- Pros and cons?
- How could you apply serial positioning to other areas of marketing?
- Email marketing?
- Social media?
- Video marketing?
- What other areas of psychology do you believe we can apply to end user experience when it comes to marketing and site design?