Three ways to influence customer decision-making

Article 3 of 4: Behavioural Design Series

Apply the psychology of decision-making to your design process to inspire customer loyalty and increase conversions.

By Alessia Romano

Customers make choices all the time, from picking products and using services, to downloading apps and buying upgrades. An understanding of what drives decision-making enables you to adapt your design process and encourage more people to choose your brand. Here are the key decision influencers and how to apply them to your design:

1. Logic and emotions

Decisions are guided by logic and emotions to varying degrees. The amount of conscious effort (i.e. the logic side) depends on the perceived importance of the decision. Bigger decisions like buying an expensive product or selecting a bank account will require more logical thought. More simplistic decisions, like choosing between similar websites, are mostly guided by emotions and unconscious snap judgements.

How to apply this to your design:

  • Use design to influence your customers both consciously and unconsciously
  • Give your customers the tools to make rational choices, especially when deciding about an expensive purchase or a long-term commitment
  • Use design to convey positive emotions and shape the path you want your customers to follow
  • Don’t overwhelm and confuse customers with too many choices – prioritise and streamline vigilantly

2. Heuristics and biases

As discussed in the first article of this series, our brain filters out certain information to be able to function in this over-complicated world. Another trick it uses is heuristics. These are mental shortcuts that allow us to make snap decisions and judgements based on what we already know about the world. For example, people have a tendency to choose recognisable brands and believe expensive products are better quality. Despite being essential, this over-simplification may lead to systematic errors that can affect decisions. For example, an over reliance on limited information, or a tendency to spend more on multiple small items rather than one larger purchase*.

How to apply this to your design:

  • Design for snap judgements. Before even considering a new product, people will unconsciously scan in search of familiar information and known characteristics they can trust. They will form quick judgements based on their beliefs, prejudice and experience. For example, a tech website is supposed to look fresh, professional and appealing
  • Don’t underestimate the power of first impressions and gut feelings. Make sure the first message you convey is the right one
  • Don’t overestimate the time people will spend making decisions about your service. Win their hearts quickly or lose them forever

3. Social influence

Society plays a huge role in the decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, we’re all influenced by societal expectations – even if our decision is to go against the norm. Every day we put great effort into preserving a consistent image of ourselves. We tend to be influenced by other people’s decisions and try to behave in a way that makes an impression and lets us stand out.

How to apply this to your design:

  • Consider trends along with best and most familiar practices
  • Discover the norm – what do your competitors do? What do people like and react to? Find out what works and don’t stray too far from that
  • If your product or service allows, make customers feel special and exclusive

A final note – prepare for the unpredictable

Humans are just that – human. We’re can’t be programmed and our decisions are not always predictable. We can react completely differently to the same situation from one day to the next. It all depends on how we’re feeling at any given time or if anything has triggered certain memories or past experiences.

What can you do about it?
In truth, not much. After all, no one can predict the unpredictable, but there are a few things that will help.

  • Do your research – some behaviours are more recurring than other, rules of thumb and heuristics will work in a good percentage of cases, but not in all
  • Don’t be bossy – telling people how you want them to behave is a no-go. It doesn’t work and can be counter-productive. Instead, play on emotions and be persuasive rather than prescriptive
  • Observe how your design functions in the wild – track how it’s doing, and make sure there is an opportunity to revisit and redesign later on

Find out more:

*How a razor revolutionised the way we pay for stuff

Watch out for the rest of the articles in this series:

Part 1 – How to use Cognitive Psychology to improve you UX
Part 2 – Four ways memory can influence and improve Design
Part 4 – Get emotional about your design

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