Changing Customers’ Habits

by Colin Shaw on August 20, 2015

Your brain makes up 3% of your total body weight. However that 3% of your body weight takes 20% of your body’s energy to run. As highly evolved humans, we are always looking for ways to preserve energy, and one of the ways we do this is relying on habit. It’s important for Marketers to understand customers’ habits when marketing to them.

We engage in habits every day. And we do these things automatically. Charles Duhigg wrote a book called, “The Power of Habit” exploring the habits we have as humans.

Here’s how habits work with Customers:

  •      First there is a cue. This term refers to the event that triggers behavior,
  •      Then there is a routine, or the activity occurring  on a regular basis.
  •      Finally, there is the reward, which represents the gift or satisfaction you feel from the routine.

But what is important to remember is this is easy. It’s automatic. It’s a habit. To put it another way, do you think about the particulars of cleaning your teeth? When you get dressed, do you consciously think about which items you put on first? Chances are, you didn’t think about either, you just did them. We do this to conserve energy in our brains.

Your lives are full of instances where you have habits. These things include the examples I gave like cleaning your teeth or doing your shoes up, but it can also be something like driving to work. How many times have you arrived at work and thought to yourself, “I don’t remember driving here! Did I get on the freeway or what?”

The answer is that clearly you did get on the freeway. The reason you don’t remember is because it was a habit.

The Evolution of Habits

Many of you reading this have gone to work today. You will sit there all day at your desk doing your work and when you go home at night you will feel tired. You won’t do any physical exercise to speak of, but you’ll feel tired nonetheless. You feel tired is because you used a lot of brain waves at work that day, and brain waves take a lot of energy.

Our brains evolved to do this. Our brains identified things we do on a repetitive basis, and learned to do them on a type of “auto pilot.” The autopilot mode of your brain takes far less energy.

So what does this have to do with managing people’s behavior? Everything.
Organizations doing an excellent job with people understand the brain wants to conserve energy whenever possible. They know people want things to be easy and don’t want to spend the energy thinking through things. So these organizations respond by supplying an option that occurs on autopilot.

When you want to manage what people do, you have to understand people’s habits. You need to know what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  The best leaders of organizations do this. They understand the cue, the routine, and the reward.

And they also understand to change Customers’ behavior you have to make an intervention to that cycle, usually to the routine.

Making an Intervention to Habitual Behavior
A great example of this is the airlines. I fly a lot and have for several years. I had my airport habits well set by the time the airlines introduced self-check in. So because self-check in wasn’t part of my habit, I skipped it. I wasn’t the only one; most people skipped it.

So the airlines intervened. They sent an agent to intercept habitually queued-up passengers such as myself and coaxed us out of our comfort zone and over to the kiosks. Then, the helpful agent guided me through the process. And guess what? I liked it! The reward was no more long, dull queue, so my routine changed almost immediately.

I predict this pattern with technology as well. Organizations want to digitize. Many are working to move Customers to an online environment. To be successful, understanding how they need to change a Customer habit will become key.

Great organizations with strong leadership see ways to make it easy for Customers to do what they want. They use the power of habit to create the behavior they want. The best part is, people are only all too willing to give them the behavior they want—automatically.

How are you using the power of habit to get the behavior you want?

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in the following blogs:

Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawChanging Customers’ Habits