Article week 14 – 2024

The Dunning-Kruger Effect as a Girdle for Effective Customer Experience Strategies

25 years ago, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger from Cornell University published study results*1 on the perception of skills and knowledge – or rather the understanding of knowledge – or unawareness.

In experimental studies, Dunning & Kruger explored the ability of self-assessment in real-world measurable performance. To this end, the two US scientists had various people carry out different performance tests. The test subjects were then asked to assess both their own results and the performance of others. In 4 studies, Dunning & Kruger discovered that people whose test results were in the lower quartile significantly overestimated their test performance. At the same time, people tended to misjudge the superior abilities of others. Diametrically opposed to this, Dunning & Kruger also found that more competent people (i.e. subjects with high test results in the upper quartile) estimated their results to be somewhat lower than they actually were. Dunning & Kruger deduced that their own level of incompetence – accompanied by a lack of awareness of their own mistakes or knowledge gaps – can be attributed to a lack of metacognitive skills*2. The test subjects do not appear to be aware of their overestimation of their own abilities. In related studies, an improvement in metacognitive skills led to an increase in cognitive skills*3 , which in turn helped to recognize the limits of one’s own abilities.

In essence, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a widespread cognitive Bias in which people overestimate their own competence-based abilities and underestimate the abilities, knowledge and skills of others. The effect became famous and well-known because it was included in numerous popular science texts, where it is interpreted in a variety of ways (often in a negative way, talking about overestimated, incompetent people with exaggerated self-confidence and a distorted self-image). However, the two scientists emphasize that a lack of metacognitive skills is the cause of the imbalance between overestimation and ignorance of skills. The authors state from further considerations that an improvement in metacognitive skills could mitigate the effect.

Even though the effect is often challenged and controversially discussed in the academic literature, it provides interesting implications regarding behavioral aspects as well as consequences with regard to what is perceived.

In this context, significant indications for an effective CX strategy can indeed be derived from the description of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

What general findings can be deduced from the Dunning-Kruger effect?

  1. at its core, the effect is not based on a lack of information, but rather on an excess of misinformation.
  2. we are all predisposed to cognitive biases. The effect describes quite clearly how susceptible everyone is to the tendency to overestimate performance. And every form of cognitive bias influences the ability to make decisions and judgments.
  3. skills can be learned and developed. Training requires certain action processes, knowledge and previously acquired skills, experience and practice processes. If one or more variables are missing from the equation, the risk of not being able to objectively assess one’s own competencies increases.
  4. overestimation also has advantages: According to social psychologist Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Erb*4, people with a tendency to overestimate themselves easily take on tasks and challenges with confidence that they would not have tackled if they had realistically weighed up their own competence.

Literally, according to Wikipedia, a belt is something that pragmatically enables clothing to stay together and fit better or can also be used as accessories. Metaphorically speaking, the Dunning-Kruger effect can have a similar function or role in customer experience strategy.

As a kind of reference point, it makes us aware of our own blind spots and gives us the opportunity to adjust our self-perception. Because it represents the inherent conflict between self-assessment and competency validity (content congruence of measurement), it can help us make informed decisions in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambivalent business contexts when dibiased and put into perspective (i.e. skills assessed against objective measures). Decisions that have consequences for the planning, design and execution of moments of interaction with your customers.

The question now is: How can the effect be useful for a CX strategy?

The effectiveness, as a control measure of the degree of target achievement, of your customer experience strategy is of course dependent on a multitude of design-determining and design-giving factors. In view of this, the following tips should be seen as opportune food for thought.

Regardless of the touchpoints and the way you interact with your customers – be aware of your strengths and trust your abilities. However, in order not to be continuously blind in your self-assessment and judgment, it helps:

  • Recognize, name and, if necessary, adjust the process of thinking:
    • Improve your self-reflection with a critical and scrutinizing distance to your own abilities.
    • Reduce the negative effects of cognitive biases through training and/or by confronting them (e.g. becoming aware of their existence and sensitizing them to the consequences).
    • Strengthen their cognitive ability by allowing information processing and additive decisions to take place under conscious control.
    • The objective should be to support their thinking dispositions with knowledge about solutions and to perceive situational cues.
  • Learn from others:
    • Increase your willingness to develop yourself and take almost every opportunity to learn from others.
    • Get regular feedback and objectify your experience by comparing your subjective assessment with feedback from others.
  • Observe, listen, anticipate:
    • Seek advice from others who can evaluate your concerns from a different perspective and under an objective light.
    • Contrast your target image and sharpen your skills in how your company designs and optimizes its customer relationship management.
    • Reject exaggerated expectations of a single solution, instead remain mentally flexible and consult multiple sources of information.
  •  Critically scrutinize strategies and tactics:
    • Remain or be open to criticism in relation to current and future measures or activities.
    • Appreciate your strengths to an appropriate extent. Self-awareness increases with growing confidence in one’s own abilities.

It is possible that aspects of the Dunning-Kruger effect can also be found in your customer experience strategies. Few circumstances are as detrimental to business success as blind spots regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Stay reflective and seek an exchange of knowledge with us to objectify your strategy. Your junokai.

Melanie Bohrmann – Junior Consultant


*1 Kruger & Dunning (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (American Psychological Association)-Vol. 77, Iss: 6, pp 1121-1134.

*2 metacognitive skills = ability to reflect on your own thought processes and decisions.

*3 cognitive skills = all mental activities related to thinking, knowledge, recognition, memory and communication ((Cognition according to Myers (2014) Psychology)).

*4 Quelle:

*4 Source:

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