Schemas from Customer-Service-Landia

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I admit it. Development is not my favorite Intro Psych chapter. That makes me extra thankful to Intro Psych textbook authors who put one of my favorite cognitive psych concepts in this chapter. Understanding schemas can help students get inside their own heads and realize that how they think the world works may not actually be how the world works. Also, and I have no evidence for this, understanding schemas may help students be more patient with others. “Oh! I can see what schema you’re working from. It’s wrong, but I can see it.”

The website Not Always Right gives those working in customer service an opportunity to share some of their more frustrating or baffling interactions with customers. Not Always Learning does the same for education with both those working in education and students sharing their experiences.

We have schemas for social interactions. We carry a set of assumptions for how different social interactions will go. Probably every barista has greeted a customer with “Good morning. How are you?” only to have the customer respond with “I’ll have a tall coffee” (I’m Feeling Pretty Coffee Myself Too). The customer’s schema for barista-interaction has the barista asking, “What can I get you?” (or, more  and more frequently, what Starbucks has brought us, “What can I get started for you?”), so that is the question that is answered. In a noisy coffee shop with a sleep-deprived and not-yet-caffeinated customer, the actual question, “How are you?” may not have even been heard, and if it was, not processed. The customer relies on his or her schema to drive the interaction.

We have schemas for how technology works. When a customer purchased a portable gaming system, the customer assumed that the system came with its own ability to connect to the Internet (Wireless, Clueless, Hopeless, Part 24). Through the interaction with the salesperson at the video game store, it becomes clear that the customer doesn’t have an accurate e schema for how the Internet works. While we’re not privy to the customer’s Internet experience, it’s reasonable to assume that the customer has a smartphone that doesn’t require anything special to connect to the Internet. It just does it. The customer’s schema for “connecting to the Internet” may include the idea that small electronics all come with an automatic ability to access the Internet.

We have schemas for something as simple as how to make copies. A library patron has something in print, perhaps pages from a book, and wants a physical copy of it (Sloppy Copy). For those of us who spent too much of our time in college and grad school in front of copiers, our schemas for how to get a physical copy of book pages includes taking the book to the copier and, well, copying it. For those who grew up in a digital age, they are very familiar with printing, but probably not so much with copying. This patron was trying to figure out how to scan the book and then print it, not recognizing that photocopying directly was a possibility. And then try explaining mimeographs.

As an out-of-class assignment or an in-class small group activity, send students to these websites, and ask them to find other examples of schemas gone awry.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.