Conquering your customer’s hidden fears

Conquering your customer’s hidden fears

I’ve feared for my life three times.

Once in the Kobe earthquake of 1995 that killed over 6000 people.

Once when I fell to my knees while running from an elephant in Botswana.

And once when I was working in the corporate sector. While there was no incident in this case, I did come to fear for my life. Or at least, what I wanted it to be.


Is fear holding you or your customers back?


Fear is a powerful emotion, and impacts us more than we realise. Sure, there are times when we are genuinely frightened – my legs buckling when I heard the elephant’s trumpet, for instance – but most of the time our fear gets pushed to the background, wallpapered over with rationalisations, justifications…and wine.

I’ll never find a job with the flexibility I have here.

I’ll never be able to ask for extended holidays.

I’ll have to prove myself all over again.

Loss Aversion, the fear of what we stand to lose, is what is holding us back.

Fear of financial loss. Fear of what people will say. Fear of failure.

And funnily enough it’s that same fear that is:

  • Stopping your customer from clicking that button
  • Stopping your client from moving their business over to you
  • Stopping your stakeholder from signing your business case, and
  • Stopping you from making or breaking a habit


Addressing fear


To overcome fear of what you (or your customer) have to lose you need to employ two techniques: “nothing to fear” and “something to fear”.

Nothing to fear is how we mitigate the sense of loss.

I happened to read Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week just when I was starting to think about leaving the corporate sector, and in it he provides a very simple exercise to overcome fear. Write down your worst-case scenario and then what you would do if that were to happen. You’ll find that fear evaporates when you realise that nearly everything has a solution, and beyond death, nothing is permanent. (I cover Tim’s technique in more detail here.)

In business you can give customers nothing to fear by offering money back guarantees and assurances. Booking a hotel room knowing you can cancel is much more attractive than having to pay regardless, for example.

Something to fear is how we can diminish fear by introducing an even more significant one. In other words, it’ll be worse if you don’t change.

If you’ve ever been on an accommodation booking site that tells you there are “only 2 rooms left!”, you know what this feels like. They are reminding you that losing out on your booking is worse than any fear you have of proceeding.

And as far as staying in the corporate sector went for me, the fear of continuing in that environment exceeded my fear of starting People Patterns (now four years and a lifetime ago).

So if you want to change behaviour – your own or someone else’s – now is the time to conquer fear. What’s the worst that can happen?

Here’s more on how I conquered my fear of cold calling.

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


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