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Are You Making Intuitive or Rational Decisions?

by Colin Shaw on December 20, 2018

How many words a minute can you type? 40? 60? 90? Now, if the letters, numbers, and symbols were not printed on the keys, how many would you be able to write on the correct key? 100%, right?

Maybe not.

You probably don’t know the answer to the second question for sure. However, participants at a study at Vanderbilt University do. The participants typed from 72 to 94 words a minute. When they were handed a blank keyboard printed on a sheet of paper and were asked to write the letters on the appropriate keys in 80 seconds, the participants got less than 60% of them correct. What’s more, the typists left 20% of the keys blank; they couldn’t even guess what went there.

Now, why would people who can type so well perform so poorly at placing the appropriate character on a facsimile keyboard? The answer was the subject of a recent podcast about the two systems of thinking we use. These ways of thinking have significant implications regarding how customers behave in your Customer Experience.

The Intuitive System and the Rational System

Our brains have information, knowledge, and skills that we don’t have access to, at least not in the conscious parts of our mind. The typing experiment described is an example. The participants know where all those keys are when they aren’t thinking about it. But when they were forced to call upon that knowledge with their conscious mind, it wasn’t there. The locations of the keys were held in the part of the brain to which the conscious mind doesn’t have access.

Have you ever driven home from somewhere and when you pull into your driveway realize you don’t remember driving home? I do this all the time.

Now before you call the authorities and have my license revoked, please understand my brain knows where I am driving. My mind knows where to turn and what to do to get home. However, I have driven the route enough that my actions are automatic, and I don’t have to think about it.

This type of thinking is Intuitive System thinking. The Intuitive System thinking is automatic and often unconscious. It also takes less energy and is fast; sometimes it is so fast it is instant. Intuitive thinking can multi-task. It also associates ideas together and is considered by experts to be responsible for forming memories. Intuitive thinking is based on perception and emotion.

I can tell when people are using the Intuitive System for their thinking when they say things like:

●      “It’s clear that I will…”

●      “Obviously, I should…”

●      “My gut tells me that I want…”

●      “This feels right to me….”

The other type of thinking occurs with the Rational System. The Rational System is methodical and mindful. It takes more energy and is slow; it requires you to pause and deliberate. It cannot multi-task and can get overwhelmed. It is skilled at making rules and precise calculations. It is also self-aware, meaning you are conscious of the Rational System when you use it.

From my layman’s perspective, I hear the Rational System is in use when a person says things like:

●      “I have been thinking…”

●      “I slept on it and decided…”

●      “You raise a good point…”

●      “Probably…”

You know the Rational System has been in use when you sat at your desk working and didn’t get any exercise, but then drive home and feel exhausted from a hard day’s work. You didn’t DO anything but think. The Rational System makes you tired because it uses a lot of energy.

Human behavior reflects the influences of these two systems. If you get a quick decision from someone, it’s likely based in the Intuitive System’s thinking. When you have to be patient, it’s probably Rational System thinking.

We also see it in babies. Let me explain.

The Rational System trains the Intuitive System to take over things we do a lot, like the drive home that I mentioned earlier. Another example is walking. If you were to try using your Rational System to walk, it would be, in a word, awkward. You don’t think about walking anymore—unless you have had a few too many.

Babies are thinking about walking, however, because they are still learning how. Once they have it down, they will stop thinking about it, just like you. But until then, when they are toddling about, say their name. You’ll see they fall right down on their bums.

(I have been trying this concept out on my granddaughter. It works every time. Incidentally, I am in a bit of hot water with my daughter right now.)

There are two more significant insights we should not overlook from the Two-Systems thinking concept:

1. We can train Intuitive Systems to do things automatically.

In many ways, this training by the Rational System to the Intuitive System is what we want people to do with our Customer Experiences. We want them to learn our product, and it’s benefits and then automatically come back and rebuy it. In essence, we want to convince our customers’ Rational Systems to train the Intuitive System to choose our product. When your Customer Experience isn’t easy, however, it is more difficult for this to occur. This reason, among others, is why you should design a Customer Experience that is easy for customers.

2. We have different response modes that affect the outcome.

One of the things we must bear in mind is what system of thinking the customer is likely to use in their interaction with us. Are you customers calling you at the end of a long day? Is this decision one that has a significant impact on their lives? Either of these situations affects the response mode the customer will use. In the former, the Intuitive System will take it; in the latter, the Rational System will (or should) take the lead.

What Does It Mean to Your Customer Experience?

In our global Customer Experience consultancy, we believe it is fundamental that you know where your customers are in their thinking when they are interacting with you. We engage in Behavioral Journey Mapping to determine where people are concerning their thinking as they progress through your present Customer Experience, what we call the “As Is” experience.

How you should design your Customer Experience has much to do with how your customers think during it. You can either play into where people are naturally with these two systems of thinking with your experience design or try to move them where you want them to be.

In other words, you already present a mental model for how customers decide things in your experience. Understanding how they think at the different moments in your experience will help you design a mental model conducive to working with them where they are or moving customers where you need them to be to make working with your organization their automatic behavior. Whatever you choose will be the foundation of your “To Be” experience, which is what we call the Customer Experience you want to deliver to your customers.

Our brains and how they work are fascinating and mysterious. The Intuitive System and the Rational System are the ways we think for different situations. Sometimes we know we are using them, like when we use the Rational System, and sometimes we don’t, like many of the times we use the Intuitive System.

These two ways of thinking often work together to make decisions, particular habitual or automatic activities. Understanding how your customers are thinking during your experience can help you design a Customer Experience that makes customers pick your experience automatically. Rationally speaking, that is the idea behind the Intuitive Customer.

You know, someone should write a book about that…or maybe a podcast?

If you want to benchmark your organization’s performance in the new world of behavioral economics against other companies, take our short questionnaire. Once you submit, we compare your answers against what we know about the market and send you a free personalized report about where your organization is today.

Hear the rest of the conversation on “Are You Making Intuitive or Rational Decisions?” on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawAre You Making Intuitive or Rational Decisions?