Hygiene factors and the creation of customer experience magic

Industrial psychologist Frederick Herzberg proposed that we’re both motivated and demotivated by different things that he called hygiene factors and motivation factors.  How does that apply to customer experience?

What motivates customers?

Customer experience is a weird and sometimes slippery thing. How do you know what will delight and amaze customers?  How do you know what will chase them away?  We tend to think of customer happiness as a simple continuum:  do things well, customers will be happy, but do them poorly and they won’t.

People, however, aren’t so simple.  We’re motivated by a complex set of things, and every person’s motivations are unique to that person. Back in 1968, an American psychologist named Frederick Herzberg published a famous article in the Harvard Business Review titled “One More Time: How Do you Motivate Employees?”  In his article, Herzberg proposed the motivator-hygiene theory, also known as the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. According to his theory, two sets of factors influence people: hygiene factors and motivational factors. While Herzberg focused on employee motivation, his theory works well for customers too.

Hygiene factors and motivation factors are de-motivators and motivators respectively.

Hygiene factors

Hygiene factors will not motivate, but if they are not present they can lower motivation. We don’t necessarily pick a store based on clean bathrooms, nice carpet, good lighting, and pleasant staff, but those are hygienic factors that we subconsciously expect.  Dirty bathrooms, dingy carpet, flickering fluorescent lights, and abrasive people are all things that can lower motivation.  In the workplace, that reduces productivity; in the customer experience setting, it reduces customer loyalty and engagement.

Hygiene factors don’t have to be environmental things like office lighting and carpet cleanliness.  For instance, if I can choose between two vendors, but one of them consistently sends me invoices that looks like they are sixth-generation photocopies of photocopies, that low level of print quality makes me wonder what else might be going on at that business.  I’ll choose the one that sends me nice, clean invoices.

Motivational factors

Motivational factors are the active, positive things we do that increase workplace motivation or customer engagement.  We offer bonuses to employees or rebates to customers.  We create a superior product, or we consciously find ways to go above and beyond our customer’s expectations.  The presence of these factors improves the experience, but the absence of them doesn’t necessarily damage the experience. We tend to focus on these, but without good hygiene factors our efforts are wasted.

Which is more important?

Hygiene factors are a must; without them, you’re driving your customers away.  Most hygiene factors are maintenance factors; keep everything nice and clean and in good, working order and you’ve probably hit the target.

Bad hygiene factors can drive people away, but good hygiene factors aren’t what draw people in.  Motivational factors are what attract and retain your best customers, and motivational factors are truly open-ended, enabling you to find ways to separate yourself from the competition.

Magic creation priorities

So where do you focus your efforts?  First and foremost, you have to take care of the hygiene factors.  Fix that flickering light.  Clean the bugs out of that window sill.  Replace that fading carpet.  Fix the misspellings on your web site, and make sure your voicemail picks up after hours.  None of these things will attract new customers, but they sure will drive existing customers away.

Once the hygiene factors are firmly under control, design those motivational factors and draw your customers in.  This is where you have the chance to shine and be special.  This is where the magic happens.

Always, always, always remember to maintain the hygiene factors, because slow decay can really wreck them.  Today’s slightly faded wallpaper is tomorrow’s sign of neglect and decay, so stay ahead of the curve.

Work both sides of the equation

All the hygiene factors in the world won’t make you number one in your field.  All the motivational factors in the world won’t overcome bad hygiene factors.  Work both sides of the equation, and that will ensure you create an exceptional customer experience.

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