We talk a lot about the difference between the two ways our brains think about things to make decisions, e.g., the Intuitive System and the Rational System. These two systems work together and tradeoff tasks between them.
We talked about the two systems in a recent podcast and how they interact in your customers’ minds when they are deciding to buy your product or service. If your customers are making decisions intuitively, then that’s better than customers thinking about it. However, that doesn’t mean thinking about it is wrong.
Professor Daniel Kahneman came up with the two systems and wrote a book about them called Thinking Fast and Slow. However, in his book, he calls them System 1 and System 2. We renamed them the Intuitive System and the Rational System for our book, The Intuitive Customer.
The two serve as two decision-making systems. The Intuitive System makes instant judgments on things and is always running. You aren’t aware you are using the Intuitive System. The Rational System concentrates on thinking about something and is called into service when needed. You are always aware you are using your Rational System.
The two systems are quite different, as you can see. Often, the two systems can conflict with each other.
You can hear which system people are using by the things they say. For the Intuitive System, they might say things like, “That’s obvious,” or “My gut tells me this is the right thing.” In other words, they imply that they don’t even have to think about it. With the Rational System, they might say, “I need to think about that,” or “Let me sleep on it.” Or they might not say anything in particular, but you can hear the gears grinding in their heads, like mine when I do algebra problems.
Two-Systems of Thinking
Have you ever driven home at 9 pm and you pull into your front drive and think, how did I get here? That’s because you let the Intuitive System drive you home.
The Intuitive System is invisible to us. So, even though it’s part of our mind, we don’t have direct access to it, and, when it operates, we don’t feel it, see it or think about it. It happens automatically and in the background. The Intuitive System is a parallel processor, which means it can do many things at the same time without a reduction in quality. It is fast and automatic. It doesn’t consume a lot of resources, and it is not under our direct conscious control.
It’s a bit like the pancreas. You can’t concentrate on your pancreas and make it work better or faster. Same goes with the Intuitive System. You only see the outputs of it, the solutions and evaluations it produces.
The Rational System is the part of your thinking that’s self-aware. It’s what you think of when you think of your mind. It’s slow, in relative terms to the Intuitive System and it also takes effort. So, if you get tired thinking about something, that’s a sign that you’ve used your Rational System because it consumes resources.
The Rational System is useful for making rules and precise calculations. So, math is very much a product of the Rational System, as is poetry, ironically.
The Two Systems are not exclusive. It is not that you only use one or the other, although you can. You can also use both at the same time, and often do that. In other words, you can think about something using the Rational System, but the Intuitive System is doing things in the background. For example, while you are driving, you are not thinking about the mechanics of driving home. Instead, you are thinking about something else, maybe solving the world’s problems. (But more likely, let’s be real, you are thinking about your latest Netflix show.)
My regular readers (and podcast listeners) know that I love Apple. So, if an Apple product comes out, I buy it intuitively. I don’t have to think about it.
I also fly Delta most of the time. Usually, my automatic use of Delta is not a problem. However, I have an instance where my Intuitive System chose Delta, and it wasn’t the best choice.
I live in Sarasota, FL, and I had a meeting with a client up in Washington, D.C. Another team member, who lives up the road in Tampa, also came to the meeting. When we met up in D.C., he asked me, “Oh, did you come up with Southwest?” When I told him I came Delta on by way of Atlanta. He said, “Oh, well, Southwest is direct from Tampa to D.C.”
Now this story is excellent news for Delta because I didn’t even consider flying any other way to D.C. However, it was terrible news to me because I missed out on a better flight option through a competitive airline.
Now my automatic purchases here are the result of many years of trust and consistently excellent experiences with Apple and Delta. From a Customer Experience Management perspective, wouldn’t it be great for you if all of your customers were like that about your brand? What if they all chose you from this intuitive place of trust of positive expectations based on loads of previous experiences?
Not Everything is Intuitive, but Intuitive is in Everything
Some experiences are not inherently Intuitive. Some things we buy require a rational approach and should not be automatic.
We just had some landscaping done. We met with different people. We invited three of them to provide quotes and references. We reviewed the options and everything you should do when hiring contractors. In other words, we used a rational process to choose our landscaping contractor.
However, irrational things were happening during the process. For example, we eliminated the highest and the lowest quotes because of extremeness aversion, which is where we gravitate toward the moderate choice rather than those at either end of the spectrum.
That’s only one example of how the Intuitive System influenced our decision. We likely had other intuitive cues about which contractors we contacted based on their name or how their website looked. It might have been how a particular contractor shook our hand or made us feel that encouraged us to ask him for a formal quote.
The point is that when you are talking about decision making and the two systems of thinking, there are both rational and intuitive influences on any process. Even in an analytical method, there are intuitive influences. There are always many things at work and working together in different ways.
It is essential to remember that one system is not more important than the other. In this two-system science of thinking, the Intuitive System is “the news.” Most of us thought we were rational about things, especially as customers. Upon learning that people are not always logical, some people then over-interpret that concept. They assume the only thing that matters in Customer Experience design is the Intuitive System (System 1). That isn’t true. We still make rational decisions, too.
So, going back to my Delta example, which was an intuitive decision, I automatically go to Delta.com to buy airline tickets. I don’t even think about it. However, within that process, I still make rational choices and tradeoffs in the process of choosing a flight.
Becoming the Intuitive Brand for the Intuitive Customer
From an evolutionary perspective, our mind is looking to automate as much as it can. It is looking to switch rational processes and decisions over to automatic processes and decisions.
Take the driving example I shared before. We never decided to make driving a car an automatic activity. However, we drove a lot. The more we drove, the more routine it became. The more routine it was, the more the Intuitive System (System 1) took it over from the Rational System (System 2).
With my Delta example, I buy airline tickets a lot. Once I found a provider that consistently delivered an experience that was up to my expectations, my Intuitive System took over the process. Now, my automatic response to buying airline tickets is to go to Delta.com.
Why does the Intuitive System take processes from the Rational System? It is because we don’t want to spend the energy on it. When a decision is automatic, it takes less energy.
Saving energy is significant from an evolutionary perspective, because, in the old days, getting energy (i.e., finding food) was difficult. Therefore, we tried to save our energy by making things easier, so we didn’t have to worry about food as much.
Moreover, the Rational System can only do one thing at a time. So, the more stuff we automate and shift over to System 1, it frees up System 2 to do other things. Now, you can think about deep philosophical thoughts as you’re driving your car instead of concentrating on only driving your vehicle.
At some point, I realized I was having a satisfactory experience with the Delta interface and benefiting from it. Then, I developed a level of trust and comfort to the point where the Intuitive System realized, “Oh, we’re using this website more than others for booking airline travel.” Then, it transitioned those decisions to System 1 over time, because it was repetitive. To save time and effort, it became automatic for those reasons.
A funny thing about this example is that a few months ago, Delta redesigned its interface for booking travel on their website. I do not doubt that for people who were using the interface for the first time, it was great. However, things that I used to do with one click now required multiple clicks. It’s made the experience worse for me because I was used to the system before.
Customers don’t like change, even if ultimately it will be for the better. My wife Lorraine has a store she goes to frequently. She hates it when they change the store.
The funny thing is that there are two of the same chain of grocery stores near us, one that is 2 miles away and one that is 1.5 miles away. We don’t like the store that is two miles away; we only like the other one. They sell the same product, and we don’t notice a big difference in the service levels. However, we prefer the one that is 1.5 miles away because we are “used to” it.
If you are excited about two system processes and The Intuitive System and Rational System model, excellent. However, please don’t think that all customer decision-making is intuitive because it isn’t. The concept here is that people have these two systems, and they interact, so they both matter.
Now, there are certain circumstances where one matters more than the other. But if you find yourself retreating from a rational appeal to your customer because you know that people are intuitive, stop. You should make plans for both systems in different circumstances.
Ideally, you also want people to make automatic and intuitive decisions to buy from you. By definition, they’re going to go through a rational process with you first to get to this point. Therefore, you should understand both systems and when it is more important to people.
If you deal with customers in repetitive tasks, you must make it as easy as possible for them, so they’re automatically going with you. Look for ways to educate the customer and streamline things for them. By that same token, you should also recognize that if you’ve got a repetitive experience, you’ve trained your customers how to deal with you. When you change how you do it, that can cause issues, and you must manage that change process properly.
Moreover, there will be occasions or products or services that will never be intuitive, like landscaping. However, there are parts of that rational experiences that are influenced by the intuitive. It would be best to recognize these moments and optimize them for customers, so they choose you over the competition.
To hear more about Intuitive and Rational Thinking in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX