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The Opportunity in Uncertainty


There is nothing more uncomfortable than uncertainty. We hate it. Our aversion to uncertainty is so great that we often make less rational decisions by choosing the known outcome at the expense of the potentially better outcome. What’s more, the anxiety around uncertainty is often unconscious, so your customers can't even verbalize it. And therein lies the opportunity: your competition is blind to the upside in uncertainty because it doesn't show up as a survey response.


Often the stress of uncertainty shows up in wait time. We think we’re upset about a flight delay, but what’s more upsetting is not the delay itself, but the uncertainty of the departure time.


Uber believed the uncertainty was in the painful wait in the rain wondering if the cab will arrive. A James Bond movie inspired one of its founders to develop a UX to reduce that uncertainty.


Amazon recognized the uncertainty customers had with package deliveries. So now it sends text messages to indicate how many stops away your package is and a photo of where it was delivered.


A recent client had customer complaints with service requests. The problem was not in the efficacy of the service but in the uncertainty of the service team's arrival time and whether the problem was fixed when they left. As a result, our client purchased software, and is customizing it to provide uber-like communication around its maintenance services.


Disney also recognizes wait-time uncertainty in its theme parks and mitigates it in ingenious ways:

  • Changing the perception of the wait – Disney inflates wait times, so you end up getting to your ride faster than you expect. You’re less aware of your wait time because Disney provides in queue attractions that become part of the magical experience itself. Further, Disney designs its queues so guests can’t focus on the length of the line, starting them in the dark, zig-zagging them so guests only see who’s in front of them.

  • Enable line-cutting – through Early Entry, the Disney Genie, Lightening Lanes, Single Rider lanes, or hiring a VIP Tourguide. With Disney, line cutting not only reduces wait time, it also confers status.

Uncertainty is an unconscious bias, so where there's uncertainty, there’s opportunity.


Where is the uncertainty in your customer experience?

  • How could you mitigate it?

  • Do you have a wait-time? How could you mask it, use it to entertain your guests, manage expectations for it?

WATCH Rory Sutherland's fascinating talk on The Magic of Original Thinking. Fast forward to 16:45-18:30 to hear just his take on Uber & uncertainty.

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