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5 Psychological Principles That Fuel Great Customer Service

As a customer experience writer, I’m always on a look out for great customer service stories. Here is one of my favorites.

After a long day in Phoenix, AZ, I needed a quick pick-me-up. I found a place called Dutch-Bros, a popular west-coast coffee drive-through chain. 

The pick-me-up happened before I even got my coffee. A girl with bright blue hair came out and greeted me at the curb of the drive-through; there was no standard drive-through intercom in place.

She commented on the shirt I was wearing, asked me how my night was going and informed me that since it was my first time at the establishment my order would be free. Both she and the girl at the window, who handed me my coffee, were extremely pleasant, vibrantly personal, and cheerfully amazing.

As I drove away I knew that not only would be coming back for more coffee the next day, I would have to share my story. (Hence this little shout-out to Dutch-Bros Coffee Company).

How is it that two years after my visit I still love telling this story? 

The reason the experience was so memorable was because it made me feel really good. That is what great customer experiences do – they reach deeply into our emotions. The experiences we remember most have little to do with what others actually do, and everything to do with how it makes us feel.

Customer service that employs universal psychological principles will stand out because they positively touch customers on an emotional level. Exceptional customer experience makes customers feel good because it satisfies their deep emotional needs. 

In the world of stiff completion, positively standing out in customers’ memories is crucial. In this article, we’ll explore five psychological principles that’ll help your customer support staff do just that.

Principle #1: Self-actualization and Goal Support

Before the year 1976, few people even thought about having a personal computer. And before the early 2000s most people did not consider walking around with 1000 songs in their pockets. The first Apple computer and the introduction of the first iPod changed that. How did the Apple company’s products gain popularity so quickly? By using self-actualization, one of the most powerful psychological principles. 

apple computers
Apple I – first Apple computer was produced in 1976 and cost $666.


Dr. Linda Henman of Henman Performance group explains. 

“Steve Jobs didn’t wait for [people] to tell him what they needed in computers. He told us what we needed and then developed one of a kind approaches to technology. Most retailers don’t have to be that inventive. They just have to know their customers and then give them what they want, not what they want them to have. Companies with solid approaches to marketing help us realize our ideal selves, the people we wish we were. Help people get closer to their ideal selves and their ideal lives.

How can a customer support agent use the self-actualization principle to everyday interactions with customers? By asking questions like, “What are my customers’ goals?” “What does our ideal customer want and expect of us?”  “What is our unique contribution?” and  “Who would miss us if we went away?”. 

Self-actualization makes customers feel good by bringing them closer to their goals.

Principle #2: R.E.S.P.E.C.T. 

Respect is one of the deeper, more basic psychological principles. The need for respect is universal. 

Psychologist Dr. Guy Winch believes that feeling disrespected is the primary cause of customer attrition. Disrespect stalls customer service’s main goal of ensuring satisfaction and enhancing customer loyalty, he says. 

“Respect should be the cornerstone of customer service. It should be the one concept that is emphasized throughout corporate ranks from C level management all the way down to frontline employees. In fact, frontline employees who are treated with respect by their companies are far more likely to treat their customers with respect as well.” (Dr. Guy Winch, Psychology Today)

Winch cites three most common needs customers have when it comes to respect in customer service.

Respect for customer’s time. 

When it comes to time, we all do not have enough of it. 

Hyken's time
Early bird gets the worm!

Source: Shep Hyken

Customer experience expert Shep Hyken stresses the importance of not only being on time, but showing up early to prepare for customer interactions. He refers to the concept as “Lombardi time” in honor of Vince Lombarti. Lombardi’s demand for excellence from his teams included the requirement of showing up not just on time, but early. It scored him not only great games on the field, but a spot in history.

Related: Always Be Amazing: A Lesson in Lombardi Time with Shep Hyken

Long holds, lengthy processes, and late or delayed service are all examples of disrespect towards customers. We don’t need to go far to see real-life illustrations of this. 

To show more respect for customers’ time it’s important to implement infrastructure that supports quick, simple, and efficient customer service. Create a balance between automation and live chat support. Utilize tools that can help improve First Contact Resolution rates. Take measures to prevent customer service agent burnout. Invest in means to improve the speed of service without losing quality. Companies that build their customer service on one of the most important psychological principles – respect – win every time. 

Respect for customer’s dignity. 

Speaking to a customer in an impatient, rude, haughty, bored, or sarcastic manner will do the trick of showing disrespect. “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” The golden rule supports respect as one of the psychological principles essential in customer service. 

Related: 10 Golden Rules for Providing Successful Customer Service

Doug C. Brown, the CEO of Business Success Factors, believes that successful customer interactions entail trust between the customers and the brand. 

“Stop treating your customers like customers and treat them like people. People have wants, needs, fears, and desires; behind every business or corporate objective is a personal objective. All of your communications must be oriented to create high rapport and continuous “yes” states of mind. [T]he psychology of most buyers is that they want trust, respect, like, and confidence in and from the person and the company they are buying from.” (Doug Brown, Business Success Factors). 

Respect for customer’s intelligence

Customers are not dummies. If there is something fishy going on in their interactions with a brand they will know it. And they will get triggered. Because, again, respect is a basic psychological principle and a basic need. 

Customer experience expert, Adam Toporek introduced the 7 Service Triggers to the world when he published his book, “Be Your Customer’s Hero.” Being ignored, abandoned, and stereotyped are among these triggers that result in customer dissatisfaction because they insult customers’ intelligence. 

“Obviously, customers are human beings. Everybody has their own personal hot buttons. So, there’s a difference between personal triggers and common triggers. In the end, after working on it over time and thinking about it, I distilled it down to 7 that I found were really prominent…that really were common across industries, across B2B vs. B2C…you saw them pretty much everywhere.” (Adam Toporek)

Related: Triggered by the 7 Service Triggers: Know What Sets Your Customers Off

Recognizing common triggers that communicate disrespect to customers and working to avoid them in all interactions is key. 

Principle #3: Cocktail Party Effect and Personalization 

cocktail party effect of the psychological principles

Have you ever been in a meeting where you tuned out of a conversation as soon as you heard something that was not directly relevant to you? Or have you been in a loud gathering, yet was able to focus on a conversation, disregarding all the noise? Or, perhaps, got excited when you heard your name on a loudspeaker. These are examples of the cocktail party effect. 

Cocktail party effect is one of the psychological principles that explores human need for personal relevance in their interactions. 

In customer support, personalizing experience is the way to fulfil customers’ need of focusing on what’s important to them. 

Behavior change strategist, Jen Clinehens, believes getting to know the customer journey is key in creating true personalized experiences. Understanding customer wants and needs and then tailoring content, brand message, and marketing visuals are some good steps to take. Knowing and using customers’ names, their purchase history, and providing recommendations also positively contribute. (Jen Clinehens, Havas CX helia

Using tools to personalize everything, from the emails you send to up-sells to marketing materials is a winning strategy. Adding artificial intelligence to aid customer experience is a good tactic as well. Amazon serves as a great example of efficient personalization. The online conglomerate uses AI to offer recommendations and to up-sell to customers.  



On a smaller scale, small mom-and-pop shops practices showcase personal interactions owners have with customers. The small town business model shows that the general customer-first culture embedded in the employee experience really works. It creates a feel of personalization and plays on that cocktail party effect of personal relevance. 

Principle #4: Reciprocity

If someone sends you a holiday card or a gift, your natural reaction is probably to reciprocate. 

Humans are social animals. One of our natural psychological principles is the law of reciprocity. This law describes the universal tendency in human beings to reciprocate to an act of generosity or kindness. If someone is nice to us, we want to be nice back.

The law of reciprocity works wonders in the customer service world. In fact, according to Hubspot, it can dramatically increase customer loyalty. There are two types of reciprocity and both of them contribute to customer satisfaction. 

  • Surprise reciprocity is a surprise gift or gesture. An example of this would be when you send your customer free swag or tickets to a company event without warning. 

  • Trumpeted reciprocity is when the person giving or doing something beneficial does so in a way that reveals that they are going above and beyond. It doesn’t mean you document and put all the great things you do in a monthly report, but it is obvious to the customer that what you are doing is outside the normal scope of the working relationship. An example of this would be giving your customer early access to a new product or feature.

The concept of going above and beyond for each and every customer is on the top of the list when it comes to advice from customer experience experts. Chip Bell, for example, urges businesses to get as creative as possible and provide value-unique customer service that is unexpected, simple, and brand-fitting. 

Principle #5: Peak and End

Angie was a no-nonsense kind of personal trainer at my gym. She pushed everyone in her classes to the limit and she never, ever let you slack. But in addition to being a tough instructor she was also a smart business woman. She placed the toughest exercises at the end of the class. She explained that fitness enthusiasts, already exhausted in the last minutes of the work out, would push themselves even further. (With Angie’s firm encouragement, of course.) Then, when they completed the workout and went home they had the euphoric feeling of major accomplishment on their minds. So they remembered that and came back the next time. This is a great example of peak-and-end rule in action. 

The rule states that people judge events based on only two parts of their experience – the peak and the end, and not the entire experience as a whole. The peak refers to the moment when the experience had its strongest emotion (it can be positive or negative) and the end is simply how the experience ended. 

psychological principles: peak and end


To use this rule to ensure customer satisfaction, Kelechi Okeke of Customer Think recommends a three-step process. 

Step 1. Identify peaks by examining customer journey and discovering the emotional highs and lows of the experience. 

Step 2. Make emotional peaks positive. The easiest way to do that is by design, highlighting the peak’s positivity, ease, or other ways of delight. Applying essential customer service skills can help with this step. 

Step 3. Create a grand finale. Incorporate something extra at the end of the experience – a discount, a surprise message, or something as simple as a joke. Anything that could make the ending memorable. (I still feel those abs. Thanks, Angie)

Psychological Principles Make CX Better

Some things are universal to all humans. Like the need to feel respected, the desire to fulfil our goals, the tendency to be nice to people who are nice to us. We also remember things in the same ways, same negative actions trigger us, and we all want to tune in when we hear our name called. 

Every customer interaction is unique. Yet some things are common enough that when brands create customer experience they can build them in a way that engages the customers, delights them, and makes them feel good. These experiences will stay with the customers, will ensure customer loyalty, and perhaps even inspire some customer-led storytelling. Such experiences are built on universal psychological principles. 

Remember my pick-me-up at Dutch Bros.? The experience left me feeling good. It fulfilled my goal of having a delicious cup of coffee I was craving. The staff showed me respect by engaging with me, yet serving me quickly and efficiently. The servers personalized my experience by talking to me, asking me questions, and coming to my car to take the order. After waiting in line I didn’t really care how long it was. because the peak and the end of my experience were positive. And because everyone was so nice, I will never forget the experience and will never get tired of telling this story and spreading the good word.

So get in your customers heads and touch their hearts. Make their experience with you the one they will remember and your business the one they won’t forget. 

About The Author

Natalya Bucuy

Natalya Bucuy is a content marketer at LiveHelpNow. With expertise in customer service and marketing, she has written nu...

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