How to Un-Cloud Your Judgement When It Comes to Your Customers



Today I’m introducing a new feature into this blog called Psych Bite! In addition to business, I studied psychology at college and, fun fact: for many years, I actually had my heart set on becoming a therapist for kids. A number of things along the way pointed me in another direction (as life loves to do!) but I am still fascinated and totally blown away by how the human mind works. When you own a business, you’re also in the business of working with people, so understanding why they act the way they do is so important. I’m going to start incorporating little mini psych lessons into this blog that will help you to connect better with your customers. Sound good? First up: Correspondent Inference Theory.


Correspondent Inference Theory is a fancy term to describe how we explain behavior to ourselves. According to this idea, we tend to infer that other people’s actions are a result of their deep-seated personality. We call this using ‘global reasoning’ to explain their behavior. For example, say we have a customer who grumbles at the register that we’re charging too much for our services. We are likely¬†to attribute that to the person being cheap, pushy, downright rude, or a combination of all three.


On the other side of the coin, we tend to attribute our own actions to specific elements in the environment and use what’s called ‘situational reasoning’. So if we happen to be that grumpy customer at the register complaining about how much something costs, we justify our actions with the fact that we had an extra $500 of expenses this month and are stressed about money, or that the place always overcharges us, or we haven’t had our morning cup of coffee yet. We don’t think we are cheap or rude; we think we are generous and kind, but have a lot going on in our lives and are letting off a little steam.


See the difference? Correspondent Inference Theory happens because it’s our natural tendency to label and categorize people and things for storage in our brains. It would take a whole lotta brainpower and energy to try and come up with plausible explanations for every piece of behavior, so our brain takes shortcuts and files people away as ‘cheap’ or ‘rude’ instead.


Interestingly, the more unfamiliar we are with a person, the more likely Correspondent Inference Theory is to influence our judgments. So if you have a brand new customer in your store and they don’t apologize for spilling soda on your white carpet, you are way more likely to think they’re a selfish jerk than if one of your longtime customers did the same thing. Now the downside of this is that it can lead to snap judgements that can color your entire relationship with that customer.


The way to overcome this tendency is simple – just be aware of it. When you find yourself filing Mr. Smith away in your brain as a manipulative person, step back and take a minute to look at the situation through different eyes. Thinking about the struggles your customer could be facing and what could be causing them to act the way they do helps make your difficult customers more relatable, and will ultimately help you build a stronger relationship with them (and enjoy them more along the way!)


The moral of the story?



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© Whitney Ryan LLC

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