How Does Time of Day Affect How Much We Sell?

by Colin Shaw on October 4, 2018

Each of us has a time of day when we are at our best. Likewise, we have times when we are not at our best. These times affect how we behave, and that can have repercussions for your Customer Experience.

For example. I am a morning person. When I have something creative or complicated to do, I like to tackle it first thing.

However, in the late afternoon to evening, I am useless. Luckily, over the past few decades, I have enough self-awareness to realize this is the case. So, if it is a creative task or a complex project that requires a lot of energy-draining rational thought, I don’t do it later in the day.

I carry over this self-management strategy to my behavior as a customer. In other words, if I have to make a significant financial decision or sort through a complex buying process, I have the rule to sleep on it. I do not make these kinds of decisions at night because I am not at my best.

No matter what my mum told me, I am not unique. Your customers are like this, too. They have times of day when they behave differently than others. We discussed how the time of day that the experience occurs affects Customer Experience on our recent podcast. It turns out that how much you sell has a lot to do with what time of day it is and how much cognitive depletion your customer feels at the moment.

Hear the rest of the conversation on “How Does Time of Day Affect How Much We Sell?” 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.


Cognitive What?

Cognitive depletion is a concept we discussed in our book, The Intuitive Customer(Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It refers to how we behave when we are tired. We don’t make the decisions the same way when we are tired as we do when we have energy. When we are tired, we want an easy path, a choice that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. When we are energetic, we are far more open to a thought-provoking decision.

Cognitive depletion also explains why we are sometimes more successful at self-regulation. We are better at controlling ourselves when we have energy than when we are tired. For example, people on diets rarely go for the ice cream first thing in the morning. It is later in the day. Dieters dip into the pint after work or school or dealing with children or bosses or government committees. That’s when dieters say, “You know what? I DESERVE this ice cream after the day I had.”

How to Help Your Customers Suffering from Cognitive Depletion

Your customers have had days like that, too. Your experience could be the last stop before the pint, so to speak. They could have been the best possible prospect this morning, but this afternoon, you could be selling gold bricks for $5, and they couldn’t be less interested.

If the customer is more like my wife, who is a NOT a morning person, and you are working with them early in the day, they might not yet be ready for you. In either case, your customer is affected by time of day and the related cognitive depletion that occurs then.

So what can you do to respond to a customer’s lack of resources? How can you accommodate customers throughout the day?

As a global Customer Experience consultant, I encourage my clients to design accommodations for this effect in the Customer Experience. For example, in segmentation exercises, you could use morning person/night owl as criteria for categorizing a group of customers so you can address their needs appropriately depending on the time of day you work with them.

Now I can practically hear some of you sighing and saying, “How on earth am I supposed to know if a person is a morning person or a night owl?” My advice is to ask them. You can put it on a customer service survey or glean it from a customer quiz. You can even look back through your CRM and see what information you already have that could shed some light on the issue. As I have said many times and will say many times more, you have to have a deep understanding of your customers if you want to deliver an excellent Customer Experience.

One client we worked with was in the home improvement space. Part of their business model was to set up presentations on the product when all the decision-makers in the household were present. To do that in most families, it required meeting after work hours, when customers are likely suffering from cognitive depletion in at least some form. Often, this client would close a sale that night only to receive a phone call the following day where the customer would have second thoughts.

To combat this, we advised them to follow up the next morning with a summary of the benefits of the product along with any value messaging. Sending a reminder of all the reasons the products sounded fantastic the night before could help reassure some of the customers that were second-guessing their decision the next morning.

Another way you can adapt your Customer Experience to accommodate those customers who might be suffering from cognitive depletion is to simplify your process. When we are mentally tired, we are often drawn to the easiest possible solution.

For example, when you left in the morning, you had every intention of trying that chicken and vegetable stir-fry recipe your co-worker recommended. But after a day of meetings, emails, calls and chauffeuring your children around to sports practices, you might decide drive-thru food will do just fine. Why? It’s easier than cooking and faster to get your food.

And, in my experience, drive-thrus often have ice cream.

Does that mean you need to add a drive-thru to your experience? Maybe, if it would work. But if not, determine what is the equivalent of a “drive-thru-simplicity” for your experience and roll that option out to your cognitively-depleted customers.

All of us need to brush up on our emotional intelligence skills when it comes to our customers and their state of mind. We need to observe their behavior and determine what state they are in, energetic or cognitively depleted. If you think you have a bead on what is going on with your customer, be sure to adapt your experience to accommodate their state of mind, which might mean following up afterward or making it more manageable. Morning, noon or night, you want to create a loyal and happy customer that is happy with you 24/7, not one who won’t give you the time of day.

Hear the rest of the conversation on “How Does Time of Day Affect How Much We Sell?” 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 ShawHow Does Time of Day Affect How Much We Sell?