Shutting the door on the decision can help customer satisfaction

Choosing is hard. Even once a decision has been reached there can be that annoying little niggle in your brain that questions whether you’ve really made the right choice.

Before you know it, the bloom is off the rose and you feel slightly less excited about your new purchase. As a business, that’s not what you want your customers to go through, so here’s how to close the door on post-choice regret. 

Helping customers choose means overcoming anxiety

Leading your customers through the choice process is key to what you do.  First it’s the choice between doing nothing and doing something. Then the choice between product A and B. 

But choice is a psychologically demanding process, loaded with anxiety about what there is to lose vs gain and fear of regret. Customers hate to think they are bad decision-makers, so try to avoid circumstances where they think it might backfire. 

This not only happens before purchase but after purchase too. It’s where your customers reflect on their decision and continue to wonder ‘what-if’ I chose B over A rather than A over B?

And researchers have recently found that people are more likely to revisit their decision the more difficult it is (for instance, when the number of options is large). 

The problem for you is that this post-purchase reflection can evoke regret, which in turn lowers the customer’s satisfaction. Before you know it, you’ve gone from hero to villain and the glowing review you were hoping for has evaporated.

Now, before I go on, I want to point out that the study I am talking about by Gu, Botti and Faro (“Turning the Page: The Impact of Choice Closure on Satisfaction”) falls outside of behavioural economics because it is focused on reports of satisfaction rather than observed behaviour. However, I think it helps us better conceptualise our role in helping customers through the decision-making process as ‘architects of choice’.

Help them shut the door

As Gu, Botti and Faro discovered, the secret to managing post-purchase reflection lies in ‘choice closure’. No doubt you’ve heard of psychological ‘closure’ – being able to move on by making sure it is concluded. Same goes for difficult decisions.

What was interesting about the research is that they used physical cues like placing a lid back on a tray of chocolates or closing a menu to signal that the choice was ‘closed’. When subjects who closed off their choice were compared with others who had not, the researchers found that their satisfaction levels were higher.

They also found that it is important who does the closing. For the act of closure to be successful, it is the decision-maker who has to complete the act. In other words, they need to close the menu or replace the lid rather than you do it for them. 

It also needs to happen after the choice is made rather than before (for example, selecting a biscuit and then placing a transparent lid on the tray rather than placing the transparent lid on the tray, then making a selection).

Key lessons to apply

Helpfully the researchers have suggested tactics to reduce the likelihood of decision reflection such as having your customer turn their back on options that are rejected or moving the preferred option to a separate location, and structuring your website to remove other options from the array of choices. 

E-commerce sites like Amazon do this well by stripping away any distracting alternatives once you are in payment mode, whereas many other sites I have visited continue to bombard the visitor with options right at the point you want your visitor focused on completing the transaction.

A summary of key lessons from the research: 

  • The more difficult the decision, the more likely your customer will reflect on it;
  •  Post-decision reflections can reduce satisfaction;
  •  An act of closure can mitigate the likelihood of post-decision reflections;
  • To be effective, the act of closure needs to be performed by the decision-maker rather than someone else and needs to happen after the choice is made, not before; and
  • The act of closure must be related to the decision, not something else.

So when next talking to your customer about their options, remember that you can make them feel better about their decision by helping them to close it off. For further pointers or to talk about choice architecture just drop me a line.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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