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Mirror, Mirror Customer Service is No Fairytale Its Science!

September 17, 2019

Brian Wolff

Last month, I wrote about how “thought, word, deed” and the alignment of all three lead to a great customer experience when paired with “authentic concern.” This month we’re going to ratchet up the science just a bit to explain WHY it’s so important. 


I’m going to take you on a journey deep into the brain to help you see that when you invest in delivering a great customer experience with authentic concern, you compel your customers to come back again and again in an expression of a concept called mirroring. For this, you can thank neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD and his colleagues at the University of Parma for their discovery of mirror neurons in macaque monkeys in the early 1990s. 


“Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action.” In a nutshell, we as humans respond in kind, in good ways and bad, when exposed to an action. However, it goes even deeper than that.


What does research on monkeys and mirror neurons have to do with customer experience and your ability to attract repeat customers? EVERTYHING. We know that excellent customer service drives repeat business and that bad service does just the opposite. 


Now, I can explain it with specialized neurons deep in our brains. While the early researchers didn’t prove definitively that humans, like monkeys, have mirror neurons, it did lead other researchers to go further and study if humans had similar mirroring mechanisms AND if humans could understand the intent behind another’s actions. 


Send me a note if you’d like to read a fascinating study performed with 23 college students that showed humans’ uncanny ability to use context and mirroring to judge intention. The study showed that when we see an action, we don’t just imitate that action, we instantly conjure, in our minds, the intent of the action. The study demonstrated that because we can relate to the action that we see we can also infer WHY the original action was taken. 


Let me give you an example: one of the best ways to know if you are dehydrated is to watch someone drinking water. If you feel thirst, then you need water, too. Your brain sees the action of drinking, infers their action to quench thirst, and then triggers thirst in your own brain. That’s the magic of mirror neurons. Here’s the payoff around the customer experience.


If your customer pulls into your garage and it’s poorly lit, poorly marked, dirty, with unkempt or unhelpful and inattentive staff, they might question your intention to deliver a great customer experience, or whether you care about their business at all. 


You see, your actions, or lack thereof, are inviting them not to care about your business because they perceive that you don’t care about them – it’s simple, but powerful mirroring.


Let’s explore the up side to exerting extraordinary effort (because that’s what it will take), and why it will be worth the investment. If it’s true that customers can judge your intent, then it’s incumbent on all of us to create obvious signs that we care for our parking customers. 


When we demonstrate that we care about our customers, their mirror neurons kick-in and they will, in turn, care about our business. Don’t believe me? Would you say that Apple goes to extraordinary lengths to deliver a great customer experience? It’s well known that Apple takes extreme measures to protect its brand and reputation and its customers (including me) respond by paying $1,000 for a phone. 


That kind of fanatic focus on customer experience has propelled Apple’s market cap to a trillion (with a T) dollars! Apple cares, and its customers care right back… mirroring.


How do I know that someone cares about my parking experience when I drive into a garage? It’s clean, the equipment is well marked, the parking staff is sharp and attentive, signs tell me if there are available spaces and where they are located, and then finally, if I need help, it is readily available either in person or behind the “help” button.


So, there you have it – delivering customer experience and “authentic concern” is not rocket science, but in fact, it is brain science. If you want your customers to love your business, invest in loving them first! 


That “love” will trigger signals deep inside your customers’ brains to mirror and return your care for them with their loyalty and repeat business. Failure to do so will invite the opposite, and in turn they will reward your competitors.



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