Beware: Hidden Influences That Dictate Your Success
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Beware: Hidden Influences That Dictate Your Success
Home 5 Blogs 5 Beware: Hidden Influences That Dictate Your Success

As customers, each of us is under the influence all the time. Are we drunk? High? No and no. We are under the influence of our emotions, whether we are aware of it or not. Our irrational reactions to moments in any given experience can influence our behavior, often in ways we aren’t mindful of ourselves.

Dr. Ronald Milliman, the retired professor of Marketing at Western Kentucky University, shared an excellent example of this concept in action in a recent Freakonomics podcast rebroadcast. Dr. Milliman was blind so sound was important to him. He had worked at a radio station that also supplied background music for stores and professional offices. Dr. Milliman wondered how music affected our behavior. For his research, he worked with a manager of a grocery store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to see if the type of music they played affected the behavior of the shoppers.

He and his team played fast music (e.g., 94-96 beats per minute), slow music (e.g., 72-74 beats per minute), and no music to see how it affected shopper’s behavior. None of the music had any lyrics; it was strictly instrumental. Over the course of two months, researchers changed the music, made observations, and asked shoppers when they were leaving if they remember music playing in the store. What they discovered was that music did affect their behavior, in the following ways:

  • When fast music played, people went through the store more quickly.
  • When slow music played, people bought more.
  • When no music played, there was no statistical difference between either the fast or slow music behavior.

In dollar amounts, the results showed:

  • On fast-music days the store averaged around $12,000 per day.
  • On slow-music days the store averaged around $16,000 per day, a 33% increase over fast-music days.

So apparently, that means that the people knew they bought more on the slow music days, right? Not so fast. It turns out that when the research team asked shoppers if they remember hearing music, most of the shoppers didn’t remember it. Dr. Milliman and his team theorized that slow music caused people to slow down and see more items they needed in the store (like cookies, as a completely random and not at all personal example). Regardless of whether their theory about why was true, it was clear that music affected the shopper’s behavior—and the shoppers had no idea.

To read the full study, please click here.

This study was one of the first that looked closely at “atmospherics,” which addresses how sound and smell influence our behavior in commercial space design. It has implications for all types of experiences, too, including restaurants, surgery, and school and work environments to name a few.

Atmospherics is an example of how hidden influences affect our behavior as customers. It is one part of an overall Experience Psychology, which is a term we use to describe how the way we think affects our actions. The fact is there are numerous influences from our thinking on behavior, and few of them fall into the rational and logical realm.

Providing an excellent Customer Experience requires you first to accept that hidden influences not ruled by the rational mind affect how your customers behave. Once you embrace this concept, you have laid the foundation for success that today’s competitive market demands. Denying this fact and sticking to what you consider “tried and true” experience design based on the assumption we are rational as customers is a shaky foundation at best. In fact, you can expect a leak and then a flood in your basement with that kind of thinking.

We are all under the influence of our emotions as customers. Dr. Milliman and the study of atmospherics shows us one way our emotions rule our behavior, even when we think they don’t and often in ways we don’t notice. That’s a tune we all can hum as we design Customer Experiences that work with this fact instead of fighting it, experiences that will deliver value ($$$$) to our organizations that is music to our ears.

Are you aware of any ‘hidden influences’ that have affected your Customer Experience? Let us know in the comments below.

To learn more about customer irrationality and how it affects their behavior in your Customer Experience, watch international bestselling customer experience author, Colin Shaw as he discusses “Customers Are Irrational: Don’t Fight it—Embrace it!” To download, please click here.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy these:

Revolutionary Thinking on Customer Loyalty

Astonishing BIG Gains from Little Changes!

Act Now to Turn Customer Pain Points into Pleasurable Profits

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


Dubner, Stephen J. “Time to Take Back the Toilet.” 4 October 2017. Web. 16 October 2017. <>.