Two techniques to address customer apathy

In my last article I covered pain points as a strategy to engage customers. This week I’m going to touch on two other things you can do.

1. Make it easy

When the effort you are asking of your customer is greater than the reward on offer, your customer won’t take action. I call this the Effort:Reward equation, where for behaviour to happen reward must exceed effort (R>E=B).

While it is natural to focus on the benefits of what you offer, rewards have to be effectively double the effort in order to bump people out of their inertia.

That means you have two levers to pull – increase the reward (which can be very costly) or, instead of over engineering what you provide, reduce the effort by making it easier to do business with you.

That’s what Red Tomato pizza in Dubai has done. Select customers receive a fridge magnet that contains a computer chip loaded with their favourite pizza and payment details. Customers simply push a button on the magnet and their choice of pizza is delivered to their door. Easy? You betcha! In four weeks and with a budget of only $9,000, Red Tomato increased deliveries by 500% and generated over $8 million in free media.

Another example comes to us by way of the cutlery drawer. Managers of the staff cafeteria at the London Borough of Hounslow were getting frustrated that employees weren’t returning utensils. After running an awareness campaign across the 2,000 staff, and even offering a cutlery amnesty, they eventually struck on the idea of just making it easier to return the silverware. Staff can now deposit their utensils in a container provided in each break room. Easy.

The lesson from both examples is that eliminating points of friction from your process that do not add value to the customer can end up adding value to you. Make it easy.

2. Make it difficult (The Egg Theory)

At the risk of flipping things on their head after we’ve just been talking about making things easy for your customer, sometimes it’s even better to make it more difficult. Let me explain.

Where ‘making it easy’ is about eliminating points of friction that don’t add any value to the process, ‘making it difficult’ is a strategy to use when you need to deliberately interrupt the customer’s System 1 auto-pilot to get them to pay attention.

Imagine you have promised yourself that you will cycle rather than drive to work but every morning you find yourself in the car before you’ve even remembered your promise. So engrained is your commuting habit that your System 1 auto-pilot needs to be given a severe bump to remind you to get on your bike.

Enter the clever folk at Pleasurabletroublemakers who created a special key hook for just this scenario. When you grab your car keys from their hook, the hook holding the bike keys also opens, dropping them to the floor. As you stoop down to scoop up the keys you are reminded of your promise and have a chance to re-evaluate your decision to drive. By deliberately adding friction into the process – by making it difficult – they are helping their customers adhere to their desired behaviour.

The secret here is something called disfluency. Not only does interrupting a customer’s flow give them an opportunity to reset and choose their intended (non-habitual) path, making it difficult can also increase levels of commitment through having ‘skin in the game’.

Take cake mix for instance. Sales of pre-packaged cake mix were sluggish in the 1950s until the savvy marketers at Betty Crocker made the cakes more difficult to bake. How? They removed the dehydrated egg from the mix and instead made customers crack and whisk their own egg.  Where before home cooks didn’t feel they had work sufficiently hard to present the cake as their own, they had now contributed sufficient effort to justify their baking credentials. The Egg Theory was hatched.

Effort needs to be valued

Making things easier or more difficult doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition in your business. It may make sense to do both. Remember that adding friction has to result in effort that is valued by your customer. Simply making it harder will create frustration and they are likely to take their business elsewhere.

These strategies plus five more are covered in my upcoming book, “Behavioural Economics for Business”. Find out more.

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


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