The Four Horsemen of #CX

Customer Experience is a lot like marriage and in the study of marriage from institutes like Gottman in the U.S we can actually learn a great deal about CX.

As with marriage you need to maintain the relationship and avoid the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. So how can you tell if your relationship with your customer will sink or swim? There are a number of indicators, but at the core of a relationship is what Gottman calls ” The Four Horsemen” – These are the four things that indicate a relationship apocalypse could be on its way:


Complaints or negative feedback about a customers behaviour is fine in moderation. But criticism is more global — it attacks the customer, not their behavior. They didn’t go over their overdraft because they were sloppy and forgot to check, but because they’re a bad person. It’s a definitive no-no.


Belittling even the smallest of customer niggles (“I find it difficult to log-in” or “You had no sympathy with my complaint”) in whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys the emotion of disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem and move on when your customer is feeling that you’re disgusted with him or her.


Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your customer. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t us, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.


Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the customer from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.

Some thoughts

A lot of customer problems are perpetual. These problems don’t go away yet many companies and customers keep arguing about them week after week.

A lot of CX issues cannot be resolved. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values than those of the service provider. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming the relationship.

Good companies intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older. We may not love these problems, but we are able to cope with them, to avoid situations that worsen them, and to develop strategies and routines that help us deal with them.

Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book After the Honeymoon:

When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.

Really knowing each other is vital

Emotionally intelligent companies are intimately familiar with their customers world, which is made much easier by tapping into the wealth of collected data. They remember the major events in their customers history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their customers world change.

What’s the most powerful little exercise to improve a relationship? Simple – continuously reunite at regular intervals and talk about how the partnership is being shaped. The goal is to bleed off stress from the relationship so it can’t negatively affect your relationship later down the line.


Doctors have reported that an unhappy relationship can increase a persons chances of getting sick by roughly 35% and even shorten somebodies life by an average of four years. It’s of course referring to a spousal relationship, but there’s some truth in saying that customers also engage with brands in a lot of the same ways and causing the customer stress is worth avoiding at all costs.

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