Six website wins and fails: Learn how other businesses are influencing their customers

As you may know, I love using websites to illustrate behavioural principles because they are perfect microcosms of behavioural influence.

Judging by the stats, many businesses spend a lot of time and money getting people to their sites only to botch the experience once they are there. Not everyone gets it wrong though, so let’s look at a fresh batch of six wins and fails from the digital world.

1. Don’t invite feedback if you don’t make it easy (fail)

An airline I recently flew with sent me a nice email apologising for a delay we had experienced the day prior and asking me for my feedback. Great, I thought, they actually want to hear from me.

But then I clicked to the form. I’ve represented it here in landscape but it actually runs the length of 2-3 pages, requiring 16 fields be completed before the customer is actually given the space to provide their feedback.

Bri Williams website 1

Source: Supplied

Aside from length, other issues with this form include:

• The questions asking for information the customer may not have to hand, like their booking number. I understand it’s great for the airline to know but it’s a big barrier for the customer. If they sent me an email about the affected flight they should have pre-populated the form with this information;

• Burying the comments field. When addressing a customer’s feelings about an issue, the form should let them vent first by including the “what’s on your mind” text field up front. Once they’ve said what they have to say, then ask them for how you can contact them.  By re-sequencing in this manner, you’ll increase the odds customers will bother to fill out the rest of the annoying fields because they have already sunk their time into a response and will want to see it through to completion; and

• Providing a generic form for a specific issue. After bothering to email an apology, the airline dumped their customers on a generic feedback form page, completely undermining the intent of their customer service correspondence. 

2. Now what? Don’t leave me hanging (fail)

I’ve written before about “button anxiety”, where customers get nervous about clicking if they don’t know what happens when they do. So let me introduce you to button anxiety’s brother: button-less.

Button-less is a particularly frustrating issue for customers who want to take an action but don’t know how. Figure 2 illustrates an example of an unsubscribe experience I tried to have recently. The landing page gave me no way of executing the command. In my exasperation I tried then to reply to the offending newsletter only to be confronted with a “noreply” email address. This organisation is quickly making an enemy of me.



Bri Williams website 2

Source: Supplied

3. Onward means right-on (fail)

The utility provider in Figure 3 shows us how not to sequence actions for customer login. It all starts sensibly, with user name on the left and password on the right, but then they do something strange and include the “Sign In” call-to-action (CTA) button back on the left. Too late, their customer has naturally clicked the button on the right-hand side, which unfortunately is to Register Now.

Bri Willians website 3

Source: Supplied

The lesson is to work left-to-right wherever possible because this accords with the Western notion of progress. We read books left to right, use left for “past” and right for “future”, and are psychologically primed for this sequencing on websites too.

Further, the colour scheme used makes the CTA buttons very difficult to see. If they cannot change the sequence, at the very least they should make the Sign In button the most vivid element on the page to attract user attention.

4. Did they really mean to price that way? (points for trying)

The industry publication in Figure 4 is doing something interesting with its pricing. A subscription to ‘Print only’ is $42 per month, ‘Print and Digital’ is $47 and ‘Premium’ (print, digital and other perks) is also $47. Huh?  

Bri Williams website 4

Source: Supplied

There was an experiment run a number of years ago in which behavioural economist Dan Ariely played around with subscription prices. The upshot was that when a third option was introduced with the same price as the most expensive option but offering less value, it bolstered sales of the most expensive/better value one.

In this case, the behavioural theory is that more people will opt for the ‘Premium’ package because it offers much more than print and digital at the same price.

The problem I have with this example is simply how it has been communicated. The impact of the surprise pricing is lost by all the bits and pieces included in the design. By contrast, presenting the options in a horizontal table format would have enabled the impact of ‘Premium’ to stand out.

Bri Williams website 4

Source: Supplied

In this mockup you’ll notice I have also:

• Used a “best value” tag to highlight this message;

• Dropped the decimals from the pricing to make the numbers seem smaller; and

• Moved the dollar sign to the text box to create psychological distance between cost and pain of payment. 

5. How to make it about them (win)

Customers care about their problem, not you. The role of your homepage and value proposition is to therefore communicate how you understand their world. This scheduling company in Figure 6 does it well, tapping into the frustration their customers have playing diary-tag.

They then provide a single, clear, contrasting call-to-action so the customer is in no doubt what the best action to take is, while providing assurances to allay button anxiety (“no credit card or commitments”). To finish off — and all this is happening above the fold in nano seconds — they have even included a short testimonial, using social norms to provide even greater confidence that they can be trusted. Nicely done.

Bri Williams website 6

Source: Supplied

6. Salience and momentum (win)

Our final example in Figure 7 is from one of Australia’s best-selling authors. When you are on his site, say reading a blog, your eye gets attracted to a little message sign in the top right. What could this be? You’re on his site not yours, so why is there a message? This is an example of drawing attention through salience: including a page element that is unusual or unexpected.

Bri Williams website 7

Source: Supplied

Once you click, a pop-up invitation to join the weekly newsletter appears. What do you notice now? Your form is already 50% complete! What? All I did was click the message icon.

This is a clever use of completion bias where people are more likely to complete an action once given momentum. It also makes it harder to walk away because there has been a perceived exchange of effort. Instead of the customer feeling like they’re starting from scratch, they feel that all they need do is fill out two fields, click and they’re in. What a different experience compared with the airline form at the start of this discussion.

Summary of key principles

I hope you’ll agree that websites are a treasure trove of insights into behavioural influence. Of course, once you know the principles at play you can apply them across all forms of customer interaction. Those we’ve covered in these examples include:

Completion bias. Give your customer a sense of momentum if you want them to continue. Where possible, pre-populate information. Where not possible, make them think they are further progressed than they may actually be;

Social norms. Build trust in you through testimonials and support choice with tags like “most popular”;

Processing fluency. If something is easy for your customer to process, then they’ll think it’s easier to do. Make sure your forms look and are easy to use;

Choice architecture. Present options in a way that maximises the outcome for you and your customer, and this may mean including options whose role is to make others look good;

Numbers psychology. Ditch decimals and separate dollar signs to reduce negative associations with money; and

Salience. Make sure the most vivid elements on your page attract attention to the right action. 

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