In today's fast-paced world, there is a huge emphasis placed on productivity and "efficiency" when it comes to the areas of sales and customer service.

Technology is certainly a great thing: I love being able to quickly handle problems by using streamlined software or having the ability to look at my recently ordered item as it's shipped around the country.

In this highly efficient tech-powered world, there are some inherent dangers that lurk in the midst of these seemingly win-win advances.

Research shows us that the amount of quality contact time with customers is still very significant in creating sustainable customer relationships.

(Even if those "customers" are criminals! More on that in a bit...)

Today we are going to look at the effect that contact time had on a very unusual set of customers, and I'll show you how these findings can impact YOUR business.

How to Build Trust & Loyalty With Your Customers

It would be nice if there was a "one size fits all" way to create loyal customers, right?

Of course!

But alas, no group of people is ever one size fits all, and that includes your customers.

Fortunately, outside of your own research & surveys with customers, there is a way to help understand just what your customers want from your business at a large scale (the downside of getting more customers is the inability to get to know them all personally).

The answer is to utilize rigorously tested social psychology research, and when it comes to identifying a nearly universal trait that creates loyal customers, the science tells us this:

When it comes to customer service, time is precious -
Click to Tweet

Learn from Convicted Felons: What Makes a Satisfied Customer?

One benefit of reading a lot of good psychology books is that you will often stumble across case studies that tend to make you re-think how things are normally done. That, or you'll find complimentary evidence that supports former findings.

In this case, it's definitely the latter: In a previous post, I reveal research that conclusively shows you that competent, knowledgeable and friendly customer service wipes the floor with "quick" service when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Recently, I came across another study that showcases just how much of an impact quality time has on a customer's evaluation of their experience.

This example takes things to the extreme, because the "customers" in this case are convicted felons!

In the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, the Brafman brothers (the authors) analyzed how convicted felons felt about the "fairness" of their trial, and what sorts of aspects has an impact on their evaluation.

Unsurprisingly, the length of the sentence was a major predictor of their fairness rating (in other news, the sun is still hot!).

What was surprising was that the time each felon spent with their lawyer was almost just as important!

Those felons who were able to procure more face-to-face time with their lawyers had unanimously rated the entire legal process as "fairer" in relation to their sentencing, compared with those felons who had a similar outcome but less time with their lawyer.

The Brafman brothers noted that:

"...Although the outcome might be exactly the same [in length of sentence], when we don't get to voice our concerns, we perceive the overall fairness of the experience quite differently."

Powerful stuff, right?

Right, but things get even stranger...

Why Customers Forgive Bad Service

Look, even businesses that truly love their customers are going to have some unsatisfied ones. Even if you take all the precautions of avoiding HUGE mistakes, are always sure that you take the time to properly thank your customers, and even go above-and-beyond to add elements of personalization into every service experience, you can't make everybody happy.

For businesses, this will likely be the result of faulty orders, delays that are out of your control, or the minor mistakes that we are all prone to.

What about serious errors though? Is there ever a time customers might forgive a massive oversight? If so, why would they?

This is an important question to ask, not because you should be planning on making huge mistakes, but because it's important to understand the thought process of a dissatisfied customer.

In Malcom Gladwell's Blink, he reveals data that shows that most people who suffer an injury due to doctor negligence don't actually sue their doctor.

According to research gathered from interviews of these injured patients, it turns out that there was a common factor that predicted which patients would be more likely to sue: those who felt like they didn't get enough quality time with their doctor.

Those who sued were far-and-away more likely to describe the interaction with their physician as "rushed, ignored, or poorly diagnosed." Anytime there was a hint that the patient didn't feel as if they had the doctor's full attention, they were very likely to sue after the injury.

The findings above have some incredible implications.

We know about stories like Derek Sivers & CDBaby, where Derek would purposefully tell customer service agents to spend MORE time with customers and get to know them (even while on the phone). We also have examples from companies like Rackspace who have ordered pizza for customers during marathon support sessions.

While the above are great examples of this quality time in action, don't you still find it shocking that this time spent with customers can have such an impact on trust and loyalty?

I know I do.

We've seen that when people feel like they are being given attentive, personalized time to address their issues, the satisfactory feeling can go as far to affect the way they rate their jail-time and impact their likelihood to sue for medical negligence.


The Implications of These Findings

Technology is a powerful ally in creating happy customers.

You can use it to respond much faster than before, measure your results to be sure that your service is actually having an impact, and even give customers solutions to solve problems themselves (when appropriate).

With all of the benefits, in light of these findings we still need to address the danger mentioned at the top of the article: don't let technology become a crutch, quality time with customers still counts.

While sending people to automated systems or a catch-all locations (ie, forums) for service may cut down costs & expenses in dealing with customers, it won't be nearly as effective as making the experience feel personal and creating a sense that the customer has your full attention (this is easiest to do through direct communication channels like email).

Always pay attention to your costs, but also create a work environment that promotes spending time with customers and always be sure to view customer goodwill (and word of mouth) as one of your strongest marketing channels.

After all...

Good service is just good business -
Click to Tweet

Want to find out how you can get started in spending "quality time" with your customers? Check out this free guide on 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers. Thanks for reading!

Gregory Ciotti

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is on the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.