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Why We Compromise. Are Your Customers Expected To?

by Colin Shaw on June 22, 2018

When I need work done at the house, I always get three quotes. I never go with the highest or the lowest, but instead, I choose the one in the middle. This shortcut, called Extremeness Aversion, helps me make an important decision—and it helps your customers make buying decisions, too.

We discussed Extremeness Aversion on our podcast earlier this month. Extremeness Aversion describes how we shun the radicals of choice and choose a compromise in the middle.

Now, I know I do this, particularly with the house quotes, but people do not always know they are avoiding the extremes. People do it subconsciously and somewhat predictably, but with a caveat: people avoid extremes when they don’t have strong feelings going into the choice.

The Predictability of Choosing the Middle

Consider when you order fast food. When the employee asks what size drink you want, how many of you say, “the medium one?” I’d wager it is a lot of you. Now, for some of you, it could be you choose it because you prefer the actual medium amount, meaning you have strong feelings about it. However, for the majority of us, the medium sounds pretty good, e.g., not too big, not too small. But can any of you tell me, off the top of your head (i.e., without Googling), how many ounces are in a McDonald’s medium drink? Burger King’s? Or any of the drink sizes at these restaurants?

My guess is not many of you can because it isn’t something about which you feel strongly. A drink at a fast food restaurant isn’t worth your time and energy to optimize. Instead, you use the principles behind Extremeness Aversion (avoiding the radical poles and retreating to the middle) to choose your drink.

Now, if you are watching your weight or need a boost of caffeine or are heading to an area without convenient bathrooms, you could have strong feelings about the outcome of your drink decision. In that case, you might make a different choice!

Of course, to be fair, many of us get a medium drink at the restaurants I mentioned because it’s part of the ‘value meal deal’. However, you still have the option to go large, and many of you do not because it is too extreme. After all, you might think, it is already bad enough you are eating this way, you had better not make it worse by ‘going large’! The retreat to the middle stands as a way to avoid having too much or too little—not to mention that it has the word value right in the title.

By the way, the medium drink cup at McDonald’s holds 21 oz., and the medium at Burger King holds 30 oz. Incidentally, the large at McDonald’s is 32 oz., only two more oz. than the medium at Burger King. I know these amounts not because I have strong feelings about drink sizes but because I Googled it.

Getting Your Customer to Choose Your Option

Psychological concepts like the Extremeness Aversion help us understand why our customers do what they do. Understanding these concepts also helps us predict what our customers might do next. But, perhaps most importantly, understanding them helps us design our experiences in such a way that the psychological motivations drive our customers to the products that we want to sell.

Let’s say that you have a product or service that is fantastic for your organization. Maybe it has a lot of margin in it. Maybe it is easy to produce. Maybe it is the product that best presents all you have to offer to your customers and leads to more return business. Whatever the reason it is the best, you want to ensure that your customers buy more of it. To design your experience to result in more sales of it, ensure that this product or service avoids the extremes. An example might be a premium service you want to sell that ticks all the boxes. It has all the features and benefits that will surprise and delight your customer. Most of the people who buy this service become loyal customers. You want everyone that buys from you to choose this premium service (and become loyal customers, ostensibly).

The problem is this example product violates the Extremeness Aversion concept. After all, it is the “premium” service, after all, and, presumably, it is called “premium” because there are services below it that do not have all the same features.

To boost the sales of the premium service, you should introduce a “Super-Premium” service. It will have even more bells and whistles than the premium service and will be priced appropriately (read: more). Of course, you won’t sell many of these Super-Premium services, but you could drive up the sales of the premium service because it is now one of the middle choices.

Does this work every time? Of course not. Unfortunately for all of us, Customer Experiences and customer behavior are complex and adding a super-premium option into the mix isn’t a panacea for your sales growth. It wouldn’t work if the customer did not think that the product and price you offer were valuable. It wouldn’t work if the service is a commodity and you could get the same thing for less money (like a utility). It wouldn’t work if your customers have strong feelings about what you offer or if they have a lot of expertise about your line of products and services and have preconceived notions about what they want and what they want to pay for it.

However, it will work in certain situations, and it’s up to you to figure out which ones those are.

We all avoid extremes sometimes as customers. We choose a compromise option, usually in the middle of two extreme choices to help us make a decision when we don’t have strong feelings about it. Presenting your options in a way that avoids extremes is one way to win the business of customers employing Extremeness Aversion. While it won’t work in every situation, it will work in some. When it does, you will feel extremely pleased.

Are you aware of compromising frequently? Do you expect your customers to compromise? Let us know in the comments below.

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

How We Make Decisions—Prospect Theory

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.

Colin ShawWhy We Compromise. Are Your Customers Expected To?