ESP: The secret art of reading your customers’ minds

ESP: The secret art of reading your customers’ minds

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get into the minds of your customers, to really know why they make the decisions they do?

Well today is the day. I’m about to share a powerful framework that will give you customer ESP.


No, not Extra Sensory Perception. The E.S.P. I’m talking about stands for the three ways you need to look at customer behaviour in order to better influence it: Environment, Social and Personal contexts.  Here’s how and why it will make a difference to your conversions.

Environment: How we are unknowingly influenced by our surrounds

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by their environment. This includes what your website looks like and where they are searching for you. It also includes what your shop looks, smells and sounds like.

Research indicates, for example, that voting preferences can be impacted by where the vote is held, we think we are eating fewer calories if we’re sitting in a ‘healthy’ fast food outlet even if we’re not, the music playing in a bottle shop can change the preference for regional wine, we eat more if the plate is larger, and the placement of meeting room chairs in a circle can effect likelihood of a consensus decision.

The interesting thing is if you ask people whether these environmental conditions impacted their behaviour they would likely say no. It all happens subconsciously, beneath the surface.

Social: How we are influenced by others

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by other people; who they see you dealing with, how you appear, the availability of testimonials and the number of social media followers you have.

We are attracted to bestselling items and flock to popular cafes, we dress like others with whom we identify, and we seek to be included rather than excluded.

The interesting thing about the social context is while others influence us, we tend to downplay this impact on our decision-making because we want to maintain our sense of uniqueness. 

A favourite example of mine is the purchase of a luxury vehicle. If asked, we might cite performance and safety but discount the impact of seeing what cars our neighbours drive. No one likes to own up to the fact that they are “keeping up with the Joneses’”. Again, it’s all happening beneath the surface.

Personal: how we make decisions before we realise we are

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by deep-seated behavioural biases and rules of thumb (heuristics) that would impact them even if they were living alone in a bubble. The interesting thing is that although I call them “personal”, we all have these biases – your customer, you, your staff, me…

We roam around on autopilot, relying on habits and mental short cuts, we often prefer to leave things as they are rather than change, we want good stuff now and leave bad stuff to a future version of ourselves and we are attuned to information that supports rather than contradicts our world view. And, you guessed it, this is all happening beneath the surface.

How to apply ESP

So now we’ve laid out the foundation for carving up a way to better understand your customers: ESP. Our next step is to dive deeper on each so that I can illustrate how you can tweak your business to gain advantage.

We’ll start next week on shaping your customer’s environment. In the meantime, if you have any questions just get in touch at [email protected].

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

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