A few years back my daughter attended a pre-school nursery. Both the nursery and the staff were great and my girl loved her time there. There was just one problem. The alleyway used to access the nursery seemed to consistently attract fly-tippers.
Quiet, and situated just off a main road, the nursery entrance was perfect for people wishing to quickly off-load their household rubbish and unwanted items. Rarely was the alley to be seen without a pile of black bin bags or a broken washing machine.
At last the nursery decided to do something about the problem and erected a sign "Please do not dump your rubbish here". Weeks later a new sign was put up "Rubbish dumpers will be prosecuted". Eventually the sign was changed to "Don't dump rubbish, children play in this area". Despite asking politely, threatening and lastly using moral blackmail all the signs were totally ineffective.
In a final gasp of desperation we put up a new sign "How to get to the dump" and included a simple map showing how to get to the Refuse Reclamation Centre. In the three years since this sign went up we have had only a couple of problems.
And the lessons?
If you want to encourage a particular type of behaviour, customer or otherwise, timing is of primary importance. My local paper is constantly reminding me of 'how to get to the dump', but when I'm reading the paper it is unlikely I need to get rid of my rubbish.
Behavioural psychology recognises that there are six key times when a person is more likely to comply with a request.
- When you are in a good mood
- When your world view no longer makes sense
- When you can take action immediately
- When you feel indebted because of a favour
- Immediately after you have made a mistake
- Immediately after you have been denied a request
The trick is not just to recognise the occasions when these opportunities present themselves but also to actively open these Persuasion Windows by constructing customer interactions that manufacture these occasions.
See Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do by BJ Fogg for more on this subject.