Why providing certainty is a big deal

Anxiety is the biggest killer of conversion. If I’m too scared to take action, I won’t.

And the biggest reason for anxiety? Uncertainty.

If I don’t know what I get or what I need to do, then you’re not going to convince me to take action. I might hesitate. I might procrastinate.

So uncertainty is an important thing to tackle if you are seeking to influence behaviour. Two businesses doing just that came to my attention recently.

Funnily enough, both deal in gas.

Reducing bill shock

Gas and electricity provider Origin Energy launched a “Predictable Plan” to fix the amount customers get charged. Origin’s hoping this will appeal to those who prefer to pay a bit more for the comfort of knowing what their bill contains. It’s a bit like having a fixed rather than variable mortgage. You can read my thoughts on the broader energy consumption implications here.

Reducing the need to price watch

Around the same time, a petrol retailer sought to offer relief for consumers who get anxious about the best time to buy fuel. Petrol prices can fluctuate wildly within the span of a day or week, and because there is no obvious pattern, consumers are forced to speculate about whether to buy now or wait till later.

Enter the Fuel App by convenience chain 7-Eleven. Claimed to be a world-first, customers can lock-in the lowest petrol price today and redeem the petrol anytime within seven days. In so doing, customers get certainty not only of the price they will pay at a future time, but if prices drop, they will be guaranteed to pay the lowest price.

Why certainty is a big deal

So what’s the big deal about certainty?

It’s one of the big four elements of behavioural influence, along with tangibility, immediacy and self-worth.

Uncertainty means we hesitate. We get nervous. We doubt. And that means we delay.

In your personal life that might mean you:

  • Eat indulgent food because you are certain about how good it will taste right now, but less certain about what it’s impact will be years from now; and
  • You might buy those new shoes now because you are certain you love them, dismissing any thoughts of how your expenditure impacts your far-flung, ambiguous financial security in retirement.

In business, uncertainty means your customers:

  • Might blame your price when really they are just not certain about what they are getting;
  • Stick with their existing supplier because they have experienced the relationship, whereas you are an unknown quantity (better the devil they know); or
  • Prefer a solution that is more certain but less beneficial to one that has a bigger payoff but carriers greater risk.

How to provide certainty

The greater certainty around the outcome you can provide, the better*. In other words, “you will get x for y”.

Typically easier for products than services, getting your customer to picture the outcome will reduce uncertainty.

If the outcome is not certain (like strategy and most consulting work), you can reduce anxiety by detailing the process you will go through.

Guarantees and assurances help people feel certain they will be no worse off by dealing with you.

And never underestimate social proof in the form of testimonials and case studies as a way of providing certainty that others have trusted you.

* as long as the outcome is positive. We prefer to take a risk when the outcome is negative.

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


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