Deliver Great Customer Service Using Reversal Theory

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Some have noticed a decrease in customer service over the last decade. Who or what is to blame for these all-to-common frustrating experiences with company representatives? Of course, there’s no easy answer to this question.


Instead of focusing on the causes of this dire situation, a smart business strategist can use this problem to make their organization stand apart from the rest by offering concierge-level customer service. But how can you achieve this feat when many businesses struggle to find enough employees?


Focus and education are vital for learning how to deliver excellent customer service. So let’s begin by introducing you to (or reminding you of) an important psychological theory – the reversal theory.

What is Reversal Theory?

A psychologist and psychiatrist initially developed the reversal theory in the mid-1970s. The root of the theory suggests that people move along a spectrum of two opposite emotional states. This theory challenged the previous view that people’s personalities are unmoving.


So, if our personalities are dynamic, what causes us to teeter between two opposite states?


Reversal theory studies how motivation and emotion affect the dynamic aspects of our personalities. A core message of the reversal theory is that it is possible for individuals to reverse the ways others are feeling by re-framing the situation.


While this oversimplifies a complex theory, here’s some additional clarification. To help you better understand, here are four sets of emotional states (also called somatic pairs). Individuals may find themselves at one extreme or another – depending on the situation.

Serious/Playful: Do you feel motivated by long-term goals? Or is your intent to enjoy the moment?

Conforming/Rebellious: Do you enjoy operating within rules and expectations? Or do you want to break free of the boundaries and seek freedom?

Mastery/Sympathy: Are you motivated by achieving power and control? Or are you inspired by offering care and compassion?

Self/Other: Are you motivated by your self-interests? Or are you motivated by the interests of others?

There are many practical applications to understanding these emotional states. For example, this knowledge is used in leadership and creativity training. Coaches use it to learn how to motivate their athletes better. Hundreds of studies have been published using ideas from this theory. But what does the reversal theory have to do with customer service?

Find Out What Reversal Theory Is and How Your Customers Benefit

Reversal theory has been used as a best practice model for customer service. Here’s why:


Effective customer service requires understanding and responding to customers’ motives and needs. When a need is met, the customer feels positive emotions. Conversely, when a need is not met, negative feelings may result.


If your customer service team is trained to understand your customer’s emotional needs, they can use that knowledge to ensure a positive interaction.

The Eight Core Motivational States in Reversal Theory

Train your customer service department to read their customers’ current state so that they can respond to those needs. Here are the eight core motivational states in reversal theory – as seen through the eyes of someone in customer service.

  • Motivated by achieving goals: A customer in this state is goal-focused and aware of the consequences if a need is unmet. Help this customer by learning the goal and helping the customer achieve it.
  • Motivated by having fun: A customer in this state wants to enjoy the moment. Help this customer experience an activity without fear and hassle. Find the fun in real time!
  • Motivated by conforming: A customer in this state is focused on doing something correctly, following the rules, or fitting in with others. Help this customer by teaching them how to use a new product properly or highlighting a service or product that aligns with current popular trends.
  • Motivated by rebelling: A customer in this state wants to be different or to break away from the status quo. Help this customer by highlighting the most innovative product or letting them do their own thing – even if it is unexpected.
  • Motivated by mastery: A customer in this state wants to build knowledge, skill, and power for themselves or others. Help this customer by highlighting how a service or product will make them — or someone else — stronger and smarter.
  • Motivated by sympathy: A customer in this state wants to care for themselves or others. Help this customer by showing them how a product or service will make them — or someone else — feel better and more supported.
  • Motivated by their own needs: A customer in this state is focused on their own needs instead of the needs of others. Help this customer by staying focused on what they want rather than on a gift or service for someone else.
  • Motivated by another’s needs: A customer in this state is focused on someone else. Help this customer discover who that “other” is and help meet those needs.

Effective customer service involves “reading” the motivational states of others and responding to those needs. As you can see, reversal theory is a powerful structural model for quickly reading the needs of others and offering solutions that match.

Fred Pryor Seminars Customer Service

Are you intrigued by using reversal theory to improve your organization’s customer service department? Then, take a deep dive into this and other best practices by enrolling in Fred Pryor Seminars on Customer Service.


Here are four of our best-selling courses that will help your organization’s customer service team stand apart from the rest.


How to Deliver Excellent Customer Service

Has your company received poor online reviews, or does your staff need help to stay positive while working with needy consumers? This course teaches employees effective ways to communicate during stressful interactions with customers AND offers ways to head off problems before they develop.


In this one-day seminar, your staff learns how to

  • Make your customers feel important and appreciated.
  • Become a master in the art of listening.
  • Say “no” and be firm without antagonism.

Anyone in contact with customers should sign up for this helpful Pryor customer service seminar. Choose from live online workshops or schedule an in-person training for your entire organization.

Dealing With Difficult Customers During COVID-19

The peak of the COVID-19 epidemic was a highly emotive time. Because of this, customer service organizations faced additional challenges. Pryor Learning quickly responded to this unique situation by developing a Fred Pryor Seminar to offer help during this extraordinary time.


Even though we are learning to cope with COVID-19 as a part of our everyday life, this seminar is relevant to any customer service organizations that must respond during times of crisis. This half-day seminar offers strategies and techniques to lead and empower your customer service team. Solutions are provided for the following common scenarios:

  • An angry customer upsets a representative, which causes your whole team to focus on that interaction instead of the tasks at hand.
  • A customer monopolizes your employees’ time with friendly chatter.
  • Your company representative loses their composure and yells at a customer.
  • A representative of your company interrupts your customers or finishes their sentences.

Keep your team morale high by giving your customer service department the knowledge and tools to respond positively during stressful situations.

How to Lead a Customer Service Team

Are you seeking training for your customer service managers, supervisors or sales professionals? This webinar helps individuals develop a top-notch customer service department for the organization. Learn how to focus on solutions – based on your customers’ current emotional needs. Your managers and sales professionals will also learn to encourage your team, keep morale high and respond positively when stress builds.


You can find solutions to your most troubling situations in a matter of minutes by simply downloading this course from the Pryor Learning website.

Effective Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Customers

Are your customer service employees constantly dealing with individuals with prickly personalities? It’s risky to have your employees represent your company – without the benefit of professional training.


This course can be purchased as a digital download, and it helps:

  • Make direct customer encounters more positive, productive and profitable.
  • Discover innovative ways to cope with client demands and complaints.
  • Utilize strategies that can help develop a rapport with all types of “prickly personalities.”
  • Resolve complaints quickly — and to everyone’s satisfaction.
  • Repair soured relationships with customers who otherwise would have been lost forever.

Learn Best Practices in Customer Service From Pryor Learning

Fred Pryor pioneered the one-day seminar in the 1970s. Since then, Pryor Learning has been the go-to source for customer service training. We stay current on what research shows are best customer relations practices and develop up-to-date training to make your customer service department shine.


In addition to offering training for your employees who interact with customers, Pryor Learning is your go-to training source. We offer live online and on demand courses with up-to-date strategies for your accounting, marketing and human resources departments.


Enroll in one of our live online seminars or schedule on-site training for your entire organization today.


Courses in Customer Service, Excel, HR, Leadership, OSHA and more. No credit card. No commitment. Individuals and teams.

Related Customer Service Articles


Courses in Customer Service, Excel, HR, Leadership, OSHA and more. No credit card. No commitment. Individuals and teams.