As a writer and researcher interested in human behavior, I’m always fascinated by the latest discoveries in neuroscience and psychology. And when it comes to understanding consumer behavior, there’s no doubt that neuroscience can offer valuable insights. That’s why I’m excited to talk about the latest research on the neuroscience of customer satisfaction.
Traditionally, customer satisfaction has been measured by asking customers to rate their experience or indicate whether they would recommend a product or service to others. But as it turns out, this only captures one aspect of the consumer’s mind. Recent research in neuroscience and neuromarketing has revealed that there are actually two key concepts at play: wanting and liking.
The New Coke Fiasco: A Lesson in a Simple Use of Customer Satisfaction
Before we dig into the brain science of customer satisfaction, let’s remind ourselves why it is relevant to talk about in the first place. One of the most famous cases of a discrepancy between customer satisfaction and customer behavior can be seen in the introduction of New Coke in 1985. At the time, Coca-Cola was facing increased competition from Pepsi, and market research indicated that consumers preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi in blind taste tests.
In response, Coca-Cola decided to change the formula for their flagship product and introduced New Coke, which was sweeter than the original Coca-Cola. The company conducted extensive taste tests and surveys that indicated consumers would prefer the new taste, and so New Coke was launched to much fanfare.
Initially, the response was positive, with consumers stating that they enjoyed the new taste of Coke. However, the company soon began receiving complaints from loyal customers who were upset that their favorite drink had been changed. Despite the positive survey results, sales of Coca-Cola plummeted and Pepsi gained market share.
The company eventually realized that their market research had failed to take into account the emotional attachment that customers had to the original formula and the connection it had to the brand. By changing their formula, they had actually diluted the brand value, becoming more like Pepsi instead of standing their ground. Although customers may have stated that they were satisfied with the new taste in a survey, their actual behavior showed that they preferred the original formula, as evidenced by the steep drop in sales.
In response, Coca-Cola reintroduced the original formula, now called Coca-Cola Classic, and sales rebounded. The episode remains a cautionary tale about the limitations of traditional market research in relying solely on stated customer satisfaction — aka “liking” — and the importance of understanding the emotional connections that customers have to products and brands.
The Neuroscience of Customer Satisfaction
Now, let’s turn back to the neuroscience of wanting and liking. Wanting is an unconscious drive to obtain or avoid something while liking is the conscious hedonic experience. These two systems are interconnected in the brain, but they are mediated by different neural pathways. Wanting is associated with brain activity in deep brain structures such as the basal ganglia, while liking is associated with activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.
To better understand the neuroscience of customer satisfaction, researchers like Kent Berridge and Morten Kringelbach have been working together to study the interplay between these two systems. What they’ve found is that wanting is actually the primary driver of consumer choice, while liking is more of an after-the-fact experience.
The neuroscience of wanting and liking is relatively easy to explain but relies on a complex and interconnected system of brain structures and functions. Wanting relates to activity primarily in the ventral striatum (orange) and the caudate nucleus (cyan), and likely also the amygdala (green). Contrary to this, liking is related to the engagement of the orbitofrontal cortex (purple). Copyright © 2023, TZ Ramsøy.
The Business Side of Wanting & Liking
So, what does this mean for businesses that want to improve customer satisfaction? First and foremost, it means that measuring customer satisfaction through explicit responses may not be enough. While liking can be measured through surveys and other feedback mechanisms, wanting is a more implicit process that requires deeper understanding.
One way to tap into customers’ implicit needs and wants is to analyze their behavior. By tracking how customers interact with your product or service, you can gain insights into what they really want and need. For example, if you notice that customers tend to gravitate towards a certain feature or function, you can focus on enhancing that feature to improve satisfaction. Interestingly, wanting is also associated with faster responses, stronger and more powerful responses, more repetition, as well as a higher likelihood of mental preoccupation and more visual attention towards the item of desire. So you can observe wanting through carefully monitoring actions such as response time, response strength, and the likes.
Another way to improve customer satisfaction is to create a sense of anticipation and excitement around your product or service. By tapping into customers’ wanting system, you can create a sense of desire that goes beyond mere satisfaction. This might involve using marketing techniques that appeal to customers’ emotions or offering exclusive deals and promotions that make customers feel like they’re part of a special group.
Can We Measure Wanting and Liking?
Measuring customer satisfaction, especially with a focus on wanting responses, requires a deep understanding of the underlying neuroscience of wanting. Here are some examples of how different measurement methods can be used to tap into these two systems and improve customer satisfaction:
- Brain Scanning: Neuroscience methods such as EEG can be used to measure brain activity and identify patterns that are associated with wanting and liking. For example, if you’re running an ad campaign, you can use EEG to track customers’ brain activity as they view the ad. This can help you understand which elements of the ad are driving wanting (e.g. excitement or anticipation) and which are driving liking (e.g. positive emotions). Here, one thing called frontal asymmetry is strongly associated with purchasing behavior, even in virtual environments.
- Eye-Tracking: Eye-tracking can be used to measure customers’ visual attention and identify which aspects of your product or service are most appealing. By analyzing eye-tracking data, you can gain insights into customers’ implicit wants and needs, such as which features or benefits they are most drawn to. For example, desire and wanting is related to longer viewing times.
- Implicit measures: Measures of implicit engagement and associations (including the so-called IAT) is a collection of psychological tests that can be used to measure implicit biases and preferences. It can also be used to measure implicit wants, associations, and needs in customer satisfaction. For example, if you’re testing a new product, you can use implicit measures to measure customers’ unconscious associations between the product and positive motivations and emotions.
Turning Science Into Commercial Success
Once you have a better understanding of customers’ implicit wants and needs, you can use this knowledge to improve both wanting and liking in customer satisfaction. For example:
- Enhancing the features or benefits that customers are most drawn to (based on eye-tracking data, as well as solutions such as Neurons Predict) can increase wanting and improve customer satisfaction.
- Using marketing techniques that appeal to customers’ emotions (for example, based on implicit data or EEG data) can create a sense of anticipation and excitement, which can improve wanting and liking alike.
- Addressing customers’ implicit biases or preferences (based on IAT data) can help you create a more personalized and tailored experience, which can improve liking and ultimately drive more customer loyalty.
Measuring customer satisfaction requires a multi-faceted approach that taps into both wanting and liking. By using different measurement methods and analyzing implicit as well as explicit responses, businesses can gain deeper insights into what drives customer satisfaction and how to improve it.
Ultimately, the neuroscience of customer satisfaction tells us that businesses need to focus on both the conscious and unconscious aspects of the consumer’s mind. By understanding how wanting and liking interact, and by using that knowledge to shape customer experiences, businesses can create more satisfied and loyal customers.