How one call center uses anchoring in its customer service

One airline (that shall remain nameless) told us recently that they “caught” some of their best reps using similar techniques to avoid dust-ups with customers over canceled flights.

For instance, imagine your 11:00 AM flight is canceled and you need to be in Cleveland tomorrow morning. There’s an evening flight that’s open. Where most reps would simply say “I can put you on a flight leaving at 9:00pm” other reps, knowing full well the 9:00 PM flight was available but seeking to manipulate the customer’s reaction, might say “well, I know I can put you on the 7:00 AM flight tomorrow, but let me see what I can do to put you on the earlier flight, which is at 9:00 PM tonight.” This technique of experience engineering is more commonly called anchoring. A less-desirable option creates a mental anchor, making the best alternative seem more acceptable. Rather than be irritated that the 11:00 AM was canceled, you’d probably be pleased that the rep has secured a seat for you on the evening flight.

Another way to think about this tactic is from a framing position. The customer service representative has shifted your reference point from 11 a.m. today to 7 a.m. tomorrow. From the first vantage point, 9 p.m. is a loss; from the second vantage point, it’s a gain.

From HBR article, “How Call Centers Use Behavioral Economics to Sway Customers.” Hat tip: Martin Bishop.

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  • Jack Springman

    The more mundane name for this is managing expectations. The quality of an experience is as much a function of what we expect as what we get. Take staying in a four star hotel – if someone was expecting three star service they will be delighted, but if someone else was expecting five star service they will be disappointed. The service has remained the same but the experience is very different.

    The airline example is at least the opposite of what normally occurs. In a desperation to close the deal, expectations are mismanaged by sales reps – over-promising so under-delivering is guaranteed – leaving those in the service team to pick up the pieces.

  • Jack Springman

    The more mundane name for this is managing expectations. The quality of an experience is as much a function of what we expect as what we get. Take staying in a four star hotel – if someone was expecting three star service they will be delighted, but if someone else was expecting five star service they will be disappointed. The service has remained the same but the experience is very different. rnrnThe airline example is at least the opposite of what normally occurs. In a desperation to close the deal, expectations are mismanaged by sales reps – over-promising so under-delivering is guaranteed – leaving those in the service team to pick up the pieces.

  • Jack Springman

    The more mundane name for this is managing expectations. The quality of an experience is as much a function of what we expect as what we get. Take staying in a four star hotel – if someone was expecting three star service they will be delighted, but if someone else was expecting five star service they will be disappointed. The service has remained the same but the experience is very different.

    The airline example is at least the opposite of what normally occurs. In a desperation to close the deal, expectations are mismanaged by sales reps – over-promising so under-delivering is guaranteed – leaving those in the service team to pick up the pieces.