Effective customer service requires understanding and responding to a customer’s motives and needs. When a need is met, the customer feels positive emotion. When a need is not met, negative feelings may result.
Reversal Theory is a psychological framework that provides a new customer service best practice model. The theory proposes that there are eight core motivational states, and that we “reverse” between states depending on the meaning we attach to a situation. If the need is met or the meaning is positive, we feel positive emotions. If the need is not met, or the meaning is negative, we feel negative emotions.
The Eight Core Motivational States in Reversal Theory
- Motivated by achieving goals: A customer in this state is goal focused and is aware of the consequences if a need is not met. 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 by 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, to break away from the status quo. Help this customer by highlighting the most innovative product, or by 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 — either 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 for 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, and not 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 by discovering who that “other” is, and helping meet those needs.
Effective customer service involves “reading” the motivational states of others and responding to those needs. Reversal Theory is a powerful structural model for quickly reading the needs of others and offering solutions that match.