Emotions rule your customers’ buying decisions. Sure, their rationality weighs in sometimes, too, but often, it’s the emotional side that drives customers to buy. These two parts of us, the emotional and the rational represent the two ways of thinking that serve as the foundation for understanding customer behavior. Knowing how these two systems of thinking work together and, in some cases, against each other to make decisions is vital to achieving customer-driven growth.
We discussed these two systems of thinking on a recent podcast. The two systems represent the fast and emotional system and the slow and deliberate system. These different ways of thinking have gone by several names over the years by various psychologists. Perhaps the most famous recent naming was by Nobel-prize-winning economist Professor Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. He called the two systems System One and System Two. In my recent book, The Intuitive Customer, my co-author and I called them the Intuitive System and the Rational System.
The way these two systems process information is critical to understand to optimize your Customer Experience Management. The Intuitive System is the fast and emotional system, which makes automatic decisions and governs areas like habits and “gut feelings.” The Rational System is the slow and deliberate system. It makes logical thinking and solutions to math problems possible.
We tend to default to the Intuitive System in many situations because its automated processes make pretty good decisions most of the time. Plus, it takes less energy, and we, as a species, like to conserve energy whenever we can. This conservationist preference dates back to ancient times when food (aka, energy) was harder to get. The Rational System is available; it just can’t be bothered to activate unless absolutely necessary or if it senses a problem with the Intuitive System’s emotional decision-making.
The Two Systems Work Together and Against Each Other
Both of these systems are crucial to understanding customer behavior. Each of them has a job to do and criteria that trigger it. Moreover, they also work together to make decisions or overrule one another, as the case may be. As Customer Experience managers, it’s critical to know how all of this works to respond appropriately to get customers to do what you want them to do.
Recently, I experienced a time when the two systems were working against each other on a buying decision. I bought a car I love 16 years ago that is now falling apart and needs to be replaced. I went to the website to check out the new models and learned about a subscription service where, for a monthly fee of about $1000, you can trade-in your car every few months for a new one.
My two systems had very different reactions to this service. My Rational System weighed in that this program, while attractive, wasn’t great for me as I split my time between the UK and the US throughout the year. There would be months where I couldn’t drive the car at all, even though I was still paying the fee. However, my Intuitive System didn’t care and just wanted to drive the shiny new cars. The Rational System won. Or, at least it has so far!
My car example shows you how the two systems work together or against each other to make decisions. Your customers have similar “conversations” going on as well. The result of these system interactions is the decisions you see play out in your experience every day. It is also why you should recognize how they work together and appeal to each of them in the appropriate moments of your experience to help customers make better decisions for themselves.
Another example of appealing to the two systems is the COVID Vaccine rollout. Some people need persuasion to get the vaccine. However, it would not be enough to make people feel good about it, which would appeal to the Intuitive System. It is also necessary to back up the good feelings with facts and figures that would appeal to the Rational System. Likewise, you can’t only give facts and figures; it is essential to recognize and address the feelings of reluctance some people have for the vaccine to make them feel secure.
Another critical element to understand about the two systems is that you can train the Intuitive system with your Customer Experience. Starbucks has done an excellent job with coffee ordering. After all, how many times have you gone into another coffee shop and ordered a Venti? Another example is the sheet music site I use to get guitar music. It’s challenging to navigate, but now I know how to do it, so I automatically employ my workarounds to get what I want. I bring this point up to explain that there is sometimes value in training your customers’ Intuitive Systems to navigate your complex Customer Experience. It becomes part of the process and being “in the know” becomes something your customers value.
However, having a challenging experience that your customers workaround can be a negative also. If you are going to try this tack, make sure it is deliberate and doesn’t create a feeling that your customers remember as a negative.
Anticipate Which System You Should Appeal To
Knowing that people have both systems at work in decision making, you can sometimes anticipate which approach is more important at any moment in your experience. For example, in Customer Segmentation, you may have customers that don’t care a lot about this purchase in your experience. That means these customers likely handle this automatically, which is governed by the Intuitive System. You can then respond by appealing to the Intuitive System with your design to make it as easy as possible for them to make a buying decision for your product or service. However, some people might care a great deal about this decision, so they might need more appeals to the Rational System to move forward.
Different segments might make this decision in a different setting, which can be distracting or occur when they have fewer resources to devote to the decision (like when they are tired). Appealing to the easy and automatic Intuitive System would be beneficial here also.
It is also essential to understand that you can meet customers where they are, like in my examples above, or move them to where you want them to be. You can design into your experience ways to accommodate for their predominant system at any given moment, or you can opt to change your process to look for a better time to move forward. You cannot ignore the customer’s state of being and charge ahead because that is what is best for you. If you are appealing to the rational and need more emotional appeals, or vice versa, you will fail.
So What Should You Do With This Information?
People all have both systems working during decision-making to different extents and with varying amounts of collaboration. Here are a few practical things you can do to improve your Customer Experience to influence customer behavior in your favor:
- Understand where your customers are coming from mentally. What process are customers bringing with them to the decision? If you are segmenting, consider whether your target customer is likely to be more rational or emotional in the setting you have. Can you move them to one or the other if necessary? Figuring out where customers are allows you to meet them where they are or move them where you want them to be.
- Design it into your experience. Once you understand where the customer is mentally, determine how they got there. Think about what happened right before this decisive moment. Is there any way you can modify that moment to make this moment easier for them?
- Ensure you understand the different customer segments. Will different segments need different prompts to get them in the proper environment for making a decision? Some customers might not think this decision is that important; others might feel the opposite. These feelings will affect which system of thinking they employ in the decision-making. Ensure that you have the right ones cued up for the varying types of customers you have to make it easy for more of them to do business with you.
Understanding how customers make a decision is a critical part of Customer Experience Management. Customer behavior is the result of interactions between the Intuitive System and the Rational System. Appealing to both of these systems in different ways is essential for your customers to make the decision you want them to, which is the kind that delivers customer-driven growth that makes both your Intuitive and Rational Systems happy.
To hear more about this idea in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
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