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Guest opinion: sales ‘Tripping Points’ and the psychology of the sale

Tim Routledge, chief experience officer, Experience Insight

During our work in the motor industry over the past 10 years, our specialist customer experience consultancy, Experience Insight, has developed a process which helps us to accurately profile customer experiences and the factors that influence decision making and purchasing.

Research which combines neuroscience, psychology, physiology and behavioural economics, has identified what we have called ‘tripping points’ – those moments that test a customer’s commitment to the purchase, and make them reconsider or even quit the process altogether.

Some tripping points may be obvious, such as rude or unhelpful staff; some may be far less so – whether a sales person offers a hot drink or not.  But all tripping points matter, each having the potential to derail the sales process.

The brain is hard-wired to seek congruence so tripping points occur whenever our expectations and reality don’t match.

Your potential customer will almost certainly have done some online research, they may have consulted with friends and they will all have been exposed to marketing campaigns. So, when they walk into a car showroom your potential customer will have a whole set of perceptions about how their experience is going to go. If those expectations aren’t met tripping points will occur.

The shift in attention triggered by tripping points activates an unavoidable cascade of physiological and neurological responses that your customer experiences as stress.

The natural, instinctive response to this is ‘fight or flight’, so at best this means an uncomfortable experience for your customer, and at worst they won’t buy from you if the stress reaches an unacceptable level.

The rapid advance of scientific knowledge about how humans make decisions means that we now have the ability to identify tripping points as they happen in real time, see how much stress they generate and determine what may be causing them.

The result of this process gives us a ‘Tripping Point Index’ – a scientific analysis of the customer’s experience,  providing objective measures of stress compared with data from customer journeys in that specific environment.

The Tripping Point Index can also calculate how much each tripping point matters to the overall customer experience – and therefore how likely it is to reduce the chances of making a sale.

Furthermore, the actual level of stress that a customer is willing to tolerate (either consciously or unconsciously) is dictated by how much they want and need that particular product. Put simply, you can ‘buy’ tripping point tolerance by presenting an irresistible offer.

But the converse is also true: the need for purchase inducement is reduced if the level of stress experienced by customers at each tripping point is minimised.

Tripping points can be caused by any aspect of the customer experience – the process, the environment or customer facing staff.

Employee development programmes offer the best starting point for optimising customer service as the Tripping Point Index highlights opportunities to enhance and improve sales staff performance.

Clearly not all staff are the same and not all may be causing tripping points – or indeed the same tripping points, so any training programme must be based on individual need.

Analysis of the emotional, motivational and functional intelligence of each customer-facing employee and their levels of resilience to stress should be used to inform the design and delivery of targeted training programmes.

Customer facing staff must be coached to better understand psychology and human behaviour, and also in developing their own emotional intelligence to help them determine why customers may be feeling or behaving in a certain way and how best to respond.

Some customers’ reactions may seem odd and what triggers them insignificant, but things are often not as they appear and if sales staff are to appreciate how tripping points work, they need to understand what’s causing them.

After providing the background to tripping points by explaining the science behind them, specific tripping points highlighted by the research can be introduced and customer facing staff coached to recognise and overcome them.

Helping sales staff to empathise better with customers (and colleagues) through the coaching of emotional, motivational and physiological intelligence skills make it more likely that tripping points will be avoided.

Over several years of research working with clients such as Honda UK and many motor dealerships, we have identified a wide range of tripping points. But whatever their nature, our evidence is clear: by finding and then fixing the tripping points in your business you will increase sales, profit, customer retention, staff retention and productivity.

Author: Tim Routledge, chief experience officer at specialist customer experience consultancy, Experience Insight

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