There’s a time and place for confusing your customers

There’s a time and place for confusing your customers

One of my key rules for behaviour change is what I call the Effort:Reward Equation. In short, when E > R, behaviour doesn’t happen. The task for businesses is to always ensure that whatever we ask of our customers – read, click, call, think, pay – is exceeded by what they receive.

Whoa! MONA

With this in mind let me talk you through my recent visit to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania. MONA is an amazing privately operated gallery that is earnestly provocative and deliberately designed to keep you off keel. The museum is built three stories down into a cliff, is dark with vaulted, exposed ceilings and home to a masterfully curated collection of works. You start your journey from the lowest floor clutching your map and MONA “oPod” and from there wind your way back to the promise of day light.

Unlike many galleries and museums I have visited, MONA is at pains to disorient you. Never sure you’ve explored every nook and groove you spend time retracing your footsteps and peering around corners. The A3 folded map is practically useless with tiny white and pink typeface set against a black background. When asked, staff admit that the layout of MONA (and presumably its map) is designed for this effect – they want you to relinquish control and instead explore the space wherever it leads you.

In essence, they have loaded up the effort side of the equation, banking on the experience providing justifiable reward.

A more prosaic example perhaps, but in their retail spaces IKEA likewise attempt to disorient their customers. Why? So that you give over to the journey rather than the destination.

System 2 reporting for duty

So there is at some level an argument for confusing your customers. In doing so you engage your customer’s System 2 thinking – the contemplative, attentive, pilot brain, rather than System 1, the everyday, habit based, more superficial part of us. But in doing so you also run a massive risk – the risk that your customers simply can’t be bothered.

You see MONA seem to have carried their desire to disorient through their website experience too.

Figure 1. MONA website

Black background, grey, tiny typeface and strange navigation means their site visitors really have to want to be there. Now given MONA’s notoriety and competitive differentiation (it’s either MONA or a tour of the Cadbury factory in Hobart) it may be able to get away with such a behaviourally ineffective website (for now) but the rest of us cannot.

MONA has failed here to distinguish the behavioural objective in booking versus experiencing the museum. Where disorientation in one setting may be appropriate, it is not in another. MONA would be better to reduce user effort on the website (where Reward is low) in order to secure the booking and leave disorientation to the gallery experience where reward is more evident. 

For most businesses, dicing with extra effort is done so at your peril. The reality is that customer confusion more often results in frustration, anger, unfavourable word of mouth and abandonment. In other words, E > R is a key reason you may not be converting your customers. For more on the Effort:Reward Equation as it relates to websites you can find more here and here.

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



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