Customer Ecology 101

In the world of customer experience optimization, there seems to be a very dull experience that strikes a very sharp chord with consumers. You call a care rep to solve a problem. It’s a natural instinct;

we want to be able to communicate with someone when there is an issue that needs to be resolved.

  Doug416 reviewed Bank of America 1 out of 5 marks
Published on:, Feb 22nd 2012

Yet, in the midst of the conversation, you receive a cross-sell pitch. In fact, personal experience prompted this professional tweet during the Jan 30th Twitter chat of colleagues in customer experience optimization (#cxo, Mondays, Noon EST). There were enough RT’s (retweets) and replies to call for a blog post to examine this point of #customerecology. Here’s the takeaway:

There are four compelling reasons not to cross-sell in the midst of a customer’s crisis. It may not be a crisis to the enterprise, but to a customer it is.

1. Stressed brains freeze short-term memory.

This stress mode is distinctly different from positive-minded brains that are sweet to the endorphins. In fact, when reporting negative information, we can provide more detail. Noted brain researcher Robert M. Sapolsky has published significantly on the impact of chronic stress on memory – short-term memory, in particular.

Not only does a positive message get lost, it gets stored in a negative brain space. Also consider behavioral scientist Pavlov and his conditioned stimuli and response.  It’s hard to recall one without the other. Cognitive science confirms this linguistic-educational-psychological connection.

2. Cross-selling to stress is dismissive.

Distraction is an obvious technique for changing the subject and taking control of a conversation. Who hasn’t seen or been a parent using distraction to get the attention of a child in the throes of a tantrum. Yet, as an adult consumer who has initiated a call to a care center, the cross-sell often sounds like distraction, and so a form of assault or power-control. Cognitive science is rich in this area.

3. Care reps care; sales reps sell.

Using a the Gallup Strengths-Finder model, care reps are not adept sellers. The required engagement skills are reactive, not proactive. Highly-skilled problem solvers, their emotional intelligence lies in crisis management. Despite instruction and intention, the cross-sell message can sound exactly what it is, a message from a script. Here’s an example from


Since the banking failures, when I now go into BofA, they are annoyingly pleasant — totally phony, to the point where I just use the ATM.

CustomerCliff reviewed Bank of America 2 out of 5 marks
Published on Feb 27th 2012

4. Savvy consumers know better.

The distrust of consumers to large enterprises may be at an all-time high. Online Shoppers Are Rooting for the Little Guy Authors Stephanie Clifford and Clair Cain Miller examine how growing consumer wariness of e-commerce megaliths and feature thriving mom-and-pop, main street enterprises. The authors quote:

A large number of Americans have a general suspicion of bigness in the economic world —they equate bigness with power, monopoly.

—Michael Walden Professor Regional Economics North Carolina State University

Alternative: Solve now, cross-sell later.

If time-outs work for child care, they can work for your customer care enterprise. The two-step process may well be worth the cost. Following up at a later date (even within 24 hours) can provide just enough time to:

  1. Confirm that the problem was fully solved
  2. Avert any secondary problems that may have come up
  3. Confirm the quality of the conversation with a rep.

Kudos to computer and ISP care reps in this area. As a routine, these unnamed, unseen techies take control of a customers computer screen to solve a problem.  It’s the most obviously example of when not to pitch or cross-sell.

Instead, a post-care note frequently follows up a service session within 12 to 24 hours. In one form or another, the message reaches out to the customer, seeking to confirm (or not):

  1. a positive outcome to the session
  2. a positive experience during the session
  3. a professional demeanor on the part of the representative.

Apply caution in the age of empowered wariness

Empowered wariness is the attitude held by even the most loyal consumers these days. That’s why it’s essential to think twice about cross-selling during a sensitive, problem-based touchpoint.  Don’t risk turning sweetspots into sore points.

What is your management experience?

Post your comments here, bookmark this article, and share with a colleague.

  • Are there customers resistant to outbound, intentional cross-selling?
  • If so, has your organization been successful in reducing or eliminating resistance?

Best, E.