The Role of Certainty

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How did the London Underground improve customer satisfaction, without improving its efficiency? In this Vlog, Grant explains how ‘certainty’ can change a customer’s perception.

Do you know the single solution that improved customer satisfaction on the London Underground more than anything else?

It wasn’t cleaner trains….

It wasn’t more trains running more often…

It was the dot matrix display.

Ironically, of course, the dot matrix display didn’t actually improve the running of the trains. But if you’ve got to the platform, even if it told you that it was eight minutes to the next train – which is unacceptably long on the London Underground – it took all the uncertainty out of waiting. There’s nothing worse than getting to the platform and just waiting and simply not knowing when the next train is arriving. The dot matrix display took any uncertainty out of that wait.

As human beings, we really don’t like uncertainty. This is one of the strengths of the Uber App. On the face of it, Uber is not that revolutionary. We’ve been calling taxis for years, but when you call a traditional taxi firm and they tell you your cab will be with you in about 15 minutes, you then just wait, unsure as to exactly when it’s going to, arrive. Contrast with Uber, you can go on the app and see exactly where the driver is and exactly the amount of minutes it’s going to take until they arrive. And taking that uncertainty out of that wait time really increases customer satisfaction.

So think about your business. Are there parts of customer interaction which leaves a client feeling a little uncertain and could you take that away?

Let me give you an example. I have a client and it took them 72 hours to deal with an inquiry and customer satisfaction was down because people didn’t like the wait. They were considering employing another person so they could deal with inquiries quicker. The problem for them was it would severely damage profit margins. I explained to them the problem wasn’t the 72 hours to deal with the inquiry. It was the waiting time that customers just didn’t know what was happening. All they needed to do was simply send an email, acknowledging the inquiry, and telling the customer that it would be dealt with within the next 72 hours. In this way, customer satisfaction went up and there was no need to employ another person.

So the next time you’re waiting for a bus or train and the dot matrix display is telling you how long it’s going to be, and you feel a little bit more relaxed. Just think about the role of certainty.


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    1. Author

      Thank you Shirley for your comment. I am glad that you liked the vlog.

  1. What a great insight and story. You’re so right Grant – people hate ‘being out of control’ and not knowing when you train/taxi/delivery is sheduled makes them feel powerless and they ‘resent’ source of that uncertainty

    1. Author

      Absolutely right Chris. In the behavioural models that we use, uncertainty is one of the key pillars to understanding persuasion, influence and making an impact.

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