One ’80s flick is practically overflowing with fabulous lessons in behavioral science: “The Princess Bride.”

I’ve been a fan of the movie since it hit theaters in 1987. When I was a preteen, it was delightful quote-bait, especially anything that came out of the mouth of Mandy Patinkin’s character Inigo Montoya.

As I get older, “The Princess Bride” holds a safe, warm, nostalgic spot for me, and it struck me recently as also brilliantly spot-on with showing and predicting natural human reactions (even if it is a stylized version).

That’s behavioral science in a nutshell. Quite simply, it’s the study of how people will react (not how we want people to react or how we hope they will react but how they will actually react). Despite the fact that we’re all human, when we get into groups that are socialized or culture-siloed, we tend to forget our normal human reactions and believe, instead, that people are motivated along that siloed thinking.

Companies have, traditionally, been very bad at sinking into siloed thinking and ignoring behavioral science (utilities, too). That is slowly changing. We are pondering more and more about the customer and not just how we want the customer to respond but what motivations are required to create those responses—what nudges, what carrots, what comparisons.

Whether you’re putting together a marketing push or a demand response program that relies on residential participation, you need good info on just how your consumers will react. Here are our top three lessons on behavior from “The Princess Bride” (TPB) that you can apply to your program planning and marketing strategy today:

  1. Keep it simple: summarize and advise.

After my favorite TPB character, Inigo, saves our hero from death, our hero remembers nothing of the previous story. Inigo replies, “Let me explain …. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And he does. And they go on to win the battle, save the princess and conquer the day.

Utilities, you get way too caught up in explaining. You know you do. I have this battle with engineers every day who want to put every number, every dot and every dash into the details. But, with the exception of that engineer mentality, most people don’t want to know every single dull and dreary moment of their power delivery and use. They want the executive overview, the important highlights, the major points. They want the Cliff’s Notes version of their problem, and then they want an answer to it. So, summarize your data points and then jump off from those data points with helpful hints: Turn your AC up two degrees. Run your pool pump at 2 am. Check your refrigerator for efficiency.

This is how you become your customer’s trusted energy advisor—the place and space every utility wants to inhabit in the future. It’s not from dumping details in the customers’ laps and letting them sort things out. (That’s a way to create a lot of lesson #2.)

Being a trusted energy advisor comes from making sense of those numbers for your customers and then helping them find a solution. It’s from you doing the heavy lifting, not them.

  1. Remember: anger is, unfortunately, a really, really great motivator.

We continue this short list with more Inigo examples. He’s spent 20 years tracking down his father’s killer. He’s dedicated his life to this anger. He’s got speeches ready. He’s got sword-fighting techniques in hand. He’s prepared.

Now, your unhappy utility customers—whether annoyed at an outage or confused about billing practices—aren’t going to dedicate their lives to destroying you. Luckily, you’re not dealing with quite that level of upset. But, you have to keep in mind that one unhappy customer will badmouth you more often (and for a longer period of time) than a happy one. Humans like happy, but we tend to dismiss it quickly. Problems and anger fester and settle and make us think more, which makes us touch that moment again and again and again in our minds.

True, no matter what you do, you can never be perfect. You’ll always have some negative reactions to deal with, but remember these things when faced with angry consumers:  approach calmly and sympathize. (And we mean truly sympathize. Get into your customer’s head; feel his pain.) Solve the pain point quickly (and do not pass this problem along the chain). Be honest if there’s a problem, and, in the end, talk to that customer like a person and not a number. Finally: apologize.

Customer communications is a two-way relationship and an ongoing conversation. Trusted energy advisors know when to say they’re sorry.

  1. On the positive side: true love never dies.

This brings us to the basic plotline of TPB. It’s a love story—one that overcomes odds and clears hurdles from Greenland-native giants to a battle of wits (to the death). That enduring love-conquers-all may be the fairytale inside the book, but the frame of the movie (where the grandfather is reading the story to his sick grandson) is the real lesson, and the real love, in the movie: deep, honored, interconnected and with a long history. (It’s no coincidence that the grandfather says “as you wish” to the grandson when he asks to be read the story again tomorrow, a phrase we learn from the start of the storybook means “I love you.”)

This is the love you’re looking for from customers. It’s what all the brand-building is all about, and you can see it with retail customers most clearly: buyers who prefer Nike shoes. Drinkers who opt for Jim Beam. The worldwide adoption of Swatch watches at one time. If you get the love right (and keep the love going), you can become not just a part of the customer’s daily life but a part of how they see themselves.

That takes constant work and constant attention, but it can be done. You can become that trusted energy advisor to your customer. Just remember to say to them, constantly: as you wish.

By the way find more of my writing on the Oracle Utilities blog here.