There is an important principle of human behaviour that we need to talk about - it is called mirrored behaviour. It seems that most of us are hardwired to mirror the behaviour that we receive. What this means is that if someone shouts at us we are inclined to shout back. Equally, if someone smiles at us, without thinking about it, we smile back.
Understanding mirroring behaviour is a key to delivering good customer experience. Customers are carrying all sorts of "baggage". They may have health issues. Things could be going wrong at home. Financial problems could be looming. There are dozens of things that could be going wrong in someone's life that cause them to use the wrong words, raise their voice, or just be downright nowty.
Let us share an example. One day recently we were taking a walk in the Derbyshire Dales when we passed a fishing lake that was right next to the footpath. There was no one at the lake except for one fisherman at the far corner. There were benches around the lake which looked very tempting as it was lunch time and we needed somewhere to sit and have our sandwiches. A sign very clearly said “fisherman only”. However, we felt that there could be no harm in us using one of the benches for half an hour so we sat ourselves down. No sooner had we done so we heard a shout - "Hey you". We looked around innocently and it was clear that the keeper of the fishpond had us in his sights. He marched up with his Staffordshire bull terrier and in no uncertain terms told us to ".... off".
Things didn’t go well from this point. We pulled a £20 note out of a pocket and waved it at him asking how much he charges for 30 minutes to sit on one of his benches. The discussion didn't get much better. He snapped back “I am fed up of people like you leaving litter behind which I have to clear up”. It would be very hard to find anyone more middle-class than us and we asked if we looked like yobs who did that sort of thing. As we were walking away, escorted by him and his dog, he said that maybe on this occasion he could make a concession and we could stay and eat our sandwiches. But now we were totally pissed off and told him under no circumstances would we want to put him to this trouble. We stalked away.
So what went wrong with this small example of customer experience? We believe the fault lay with us. The man was perfectly in his rights to ask us to leave but the manner in which he did so generated a mirrored response from us. His aggression resulted in our waving £20 under his nose which we knew was a taunt he couldn't accept. It was a childish attempt by us to get the moral high ground. We also made the huge mistake of ignoring his act of generosity when he said he could make an exception on this occasion. If we had graciously accepted we could all have had a pleasant conversation and repaired the situation. Instead we left disgruntled, calling him a miserable bastard and no doubt he returned to his lodge muttering something similar about us. It could have so easily have been different and it was within our power to make it so.
There is a very obvious moral in this tale. We are in the business of customer experience and yet there are occasions when our standards can slip. We may blame it on our tired legs or have some other excuse. There is no excuse. These situations can nearly always be defused. It was a hard and worthy lesson that we learned that day.