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"Breaking the Script" — How a Single Moment Can Change the Customer Experience

When a customer reaches out for support, what is it that they’re really expecting? Human beings are fascinating--and also predictable. That predictability and how you use the tenets of customer psychology can be a decided business advantage.

When encountering a particular situation repeatedly, the human mind is amazingly good at “scripting” portions of the behavior for use in the future. This process in apparent in physical activities (e.g., driving a standard transmission) as well as social interactions (e.g., introducing yourself to a stranger).

Why does this matter for support? Simple—people expect customer support to be bad. Very bad in most cases. You're currently reading a blog devoted to the idea of great customer support, but I assure you, if you weren't currently primed to think that support can be awesome, the mere idea of "support" would bring to mind the fury inspired by 20 minutes of smooth jazz hold music. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most people have dealt with enough of these terrible support experiences that most of their support interactions have become automated to some degree.

In a study intended to demonstrate the efficacy of a social influence tactic called the “Pique Technique,” (1) the authors do a great job demonstrating how “breaking the script” associated with a scripted behavior can have a profound influence on both perception and behavior.

The study suggests that panhandlers who ask for unusual amounts of change (i.e, “37 cents” rather than “a quarter”) have a higher likelihood of receiving a contribution. In the same vein, adding a unique twist to your customers’ support experience by adding “mindful persuasion” to the mix could very well be a game changer.

I’m not trying to suggest that you should try to use this technique to “influence” your customers in a negative way, but rather seize the opportunity to change the way customers perceive your customer support—because the support you provide differs from the “norm” they have come to expect.

There are certainly some easy ways you can try to “breaking the script.” Just remember, the aim is to be unique, so there’s no reason you can’t get a little creative in the process:

  • Follow up with a customer even when you’ve verified the problem is solved.
  • Ask a question unrelated to the support request.
  • Throw a wacky quote into your email signature.
  • Include a random picture from /r/aww. (If this resonates with you, we can likely be friends)

It’s not an exact science; it’s an intuitive one. By drawing on your own personal experiences as a customer, you can “break the script” and give your customers a new expectation about doing business with your brand.


1Santos, M., Leve C., & Pratkanis, A. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 755-764.

Photo by Kate Ter Haar

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