How to use social proof to enhance customer experiences

Social proof
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A common concern I see among customer experience is over customers who are making “bad” choices. Customers who aren’t making the best use of the company’s products or services. 

This problem exists across industries, both B2B and B2C. Some examples include:

• Business customers who underutilise their purchased software;
• Patients who don’t follow a recommended regimen known to improve their health;
• Gym members who don’t follow best practices to lose weight;
• Certification candidates who don’t follow the recommended methods to prepare for an exam.

These CX pros create communications to share the recommended approach, but they just can’t get customers to change. 

The problem might not be the message. Instead, it might be the messenger (you). 

Customers have every right to doubt your messaging. “Sure, our software provider wants us to use more features. Our renewal comes up soon, and they want to make sure we re-up.” “So what if my doctor says I have to eat better? He doesn’t know what it’s like for me.” 

Few companies have earned the right to tell their customers what to do. So, it’s no surprise that customers don’t follow the company’s “best practices.” So, what is a CX pro to do? 

We had a client who wasn’t winning as many sales as they expected, so we mapped their clients’ pre-sales journey. What we found was that the company was putting out their best practices, but prospective clients weren’t reading it. It wasn’t that they outwardly distrusted our client. It’s just that the client wasn’t considered a trusted authority.  

Our recommendation? Use social proof. 

Few companies have earned the right to tell their customers what to do.

The concept of social proof was popularised by Robert Cialdini, particularly in his book Influence, which I’ve written about before. He describes it by saying, “We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” 

People believe those they respect. Celebrities and authorities are two forms of social proof. I don’t know how many books Oprah actually reads, but her book club recommendations drove sales.  

Most of us can’t afford Oprah. That’s okay, because there’s another source of social proof even more persuasive: people like us. While nobody believes it, our peers have a huge influence over our behaviour. We don’t frequently know what “normal” is, so social proof helps us know what is expected.  

In his book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be PersuasiveCialdini wrote about a study in using social proof to increase the number of hotel guests who reused their towels. You can also view the write-up here. If you’ve spent any time in hotels, you’ve seen the card telling you to save the environment by reusing the towels (of course, while it does help the environment, it also saves money for the hotel). Cialdini and his co-authors replaced this message with one utilising social proof, telling guests that 75% of other guests reuse their towels. As a result, the percentage of those who reused their towels increased by 10%. 

This led to our advice for this software client: Stop having your leaders talk at conferences. Your prospective clients don’t want to hear from your leaders – they want to hear from their peers. The next time you have a conference, bring along a client to speak. Have him or her share their problems, to establish that they’re just like your prospective clients, and let them tell your story. That’s who these prospective clients want to hear – people like them. 

Utilities understand social proof. What’s at the top of your bill? A comparison between your energy use and your neighbors’. They know that most of those who are using less energy will continue to do so – but those using more will decrease their usage. And it works. 

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Last month neigbour comparison energy billl example

If customers aren’t using your CRM to its full extent, show them that 63% of your clients whose sales are increasing fill out a complete customer profile in the system, whereas only 30% of others do (or whatever your stats are). 

If you want to help gym members lose weight, don’t have a fit and trim 25-year-old lecture them – pair them with another middle-aged mom who recently lost 20 pounds. Delta does a great job on this. When they show the “purchase travel insurance” screen, they identify the number of people who recently purchased it. Buying insurance goes from being a waste of money to becoming normal. 

If you want to help gym members lose weight, don’t have a fit and trim 25-year-old lecture them.

Communicating with customers doesn’t often work. It’s just another message that gets lost in the mix. Customers don’t want to hear what you have to say. Instead, let them know what their peers do. 

It works for hotels, utilities, and software. If these people – who are just like you – can use it, I know that you can, too. 

About Jim Tincher

Jim Tincher, Mapper-In-Chief, Heart of the Customer

Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers.

With a lifelong passion for customer experience, Jim founded Heart of the Customer to help companies of all sizes increase customer engagement. Before launching the company, Jim led customer engagement initiatives at Best Buy, Gallup and UnitedHealth Group. In the process, he became an expert in using Voice of the Customer research to identify unmet needs, develop new products and improve customer service. His Heart of the Customer Journey Maps™ are a powerful tool designed with one simple goal: customer loyalty. Customers ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies use his processes to improve customer-focused results.

His fascination with customer experience led him to test himself by becoming a Certified Customer Experience Professional, only the second in the world to earn such a designation. He also has served as an adjunct instructor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He is an active member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), serving as one of their CX Experts, providing advice to members worldwide.

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