A signalling trick that is an absolute treat

Hey, here’s an idea. Why not get little kids to knock on the doors of strangers and ask them for free stuff? Welcome to the strangeness of Halloween, where knocking on a stranger’s door and having a stranger knock on your door is meant to be okay.

Thankfully, some clever folk have designed a simple and effective behavioural strategy to reduce the awkwardness of trick or treating.

You may have had something similar delivered to your letterbox over the last few days? A short note accompanied by a balloon and piece of ribbon inviting you to signal whether you are willing to let little gremlins ask you for sweets.

haloween jpeg

Help people signal their intentions

What I love about this Halloween initiative is its simplicity. Giving households the ability to communicate their participation has eradicated anxiety for two groups of people: the children who fear having their request rejected and occupants who don’t want to be interrupted.

This is a great reminder that signals are an important device to smooth interactions – and a great reminder of what we should be doing in our businesses.

Some businesses do signalling well. For instance, allowing customers at the deli counter “take a number” is a way the customer can confirm their desire for service and also remove the risk of people cutting the queue.

Online, the ability to request a call back or send an enquiry form are two obvious mechanisms businesses can apply.

But not everyone gets it right. For example, there’s a large retailer that has a very frustrating experience in their shoe department. Customers don’t know where to stand to get the attention of customer service representatives, leaving them to wander around looking lost, clutching onto one golden slipper.

All this department store need do is designate a zone for customers with signage along the lines of “request shoes”. It would create a better experience for the customer, and better for their harassed staff.

The question for you is: how are you letting your customers signal their interest?

Opt in vs. opt out

These Halloween organisers have also shown us the importance of the distinction between opt-in and opt-out. In this case households are presumed not to participate, having to “opt in” if they wish to be involved. While reducing the number of possible “leads”, an opt-in policy at least means the leads received are highly qualified. The kiddies can proceed with confidence of conversion.

For your business, you may wish to consider giving your customers the opportunity to opt-in to your planned initiative, rather than forcing them to opt-out. While it may feel you are reducing your pool of prospects, you are actually being more efficient in identifying your hottest customers.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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