At the Customer Experience Lab opened at the VCU School of Business in April, Brian Brown, Ph.D., sits in an adjacent room reading a document using eye-tracking equipment, while Jodie Ferguson, Ph.D. (left), shows her colleagues exactly where Brown is looking on the document.
Jodie Ferguson, Ph.D., hopes the Customer Experience Lab launched this year by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business will help researchers understand what consumers experience and the outcomes those experiences produce.
“In experiential marketing, we talk about the five senses, so, as a consumer is experiencing things, whether they’re seeing things, smelling things, tasting things, how is that impacting outcome?” said Ferguson, associate professor of marketing in the School of Business. “Are they going to the store and buying? Are they spreading positive word of mouth? Are they using the product? Things like that.”
The CEL, a behavioral research lab, supports initiatives in research, learning and community engagement across multiple areas of customer experience, such as customer service, retailing, experiential marketing, consumer behavior and consumer well-being. The lab is equipped with hardware and software, including data collection and analysis software and physiological instruments such as eye-tracking equipment, which record and track objective and subjective measures of behavior related to consumer experience. Overseeing the lab with Ferguson is Haeran Jae, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing.
Funding comes from a combined $50,000 research grant from The Kornblau Institute, the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund and the VCU School of Business. Ferguson received the support for her research of the “Use of Heuristics in Consumer Judgments of Offer Fairness in Evaluating Mortgage Documents.”
Ferguson conducted her research using eye-tracking methodology to understand how consumers use visual information on mortgage documents to evaluate loan offers. The “Consumer Judgments” project centers around the new loan estimate form implemented in 2015 that replaced the “good-faith estimate” for people getting mortgage information from different financial organizations.
Heuristics involves a short cut in analyzing information to make decisions.
“Some people are going to spend the time really looking at the fine print and thinking about things and taking their time looking at the terms of the loan,” Ferguson said. “‘Is it a fixed or variable rate?’ and that kind of thing. … Heuristics for a loan estimate would be things like, ‘What’s the monthly payment? If I can make the monthly payment, I’m going to do it.’ [It’s] short and sweet if there’s a piece of information that makes it easy for me to cut out all the clutter and make the decision well.
“Thinking about consumer welfare, we want consumers to take the time to understand their loan so they don’t get themselves into a situation where they can’t afford the loan.”
With the technology in the Customer Experience Lab, researchers can bring in consumers and track how they look at a document and where their eyes go on that document. What are they fixating on? How long are they looking at something? In what order do they view items in the document?