How to Make Your Customers Do What You Want


Shama TV: Episode 39

Shama sits down with Matt Wallaert, Behavioral Scientist at Microsoft Ventures to discuss human behavior in relation to your company goals.


Click here for the full transcript!

Shama: Hey guys. Welcome to Shama TV. We’re shooting from the Dallas Digital Summit. I have with me right now, Matt Wallaert, who is a behavioral Scientist from Microsoft Ventures, so thanks so much for being with us, Matt.

Matt: Thanks for having me.

Shama: What is behavioral science? I mean I feel like I’ve heard this word more now. It’s become more buzzy. Obviously, those of us in marketing and business have a little more exposure to it, but what is behavioral science?

Matt: It can mean more than one thing. In my case I’m a social psychologist, and what a social psychologist does is we tend to study, so rather than like abnormal psychology, we tend to study every day people, and how do they interact with the world. I’m in a particular field called judgment and decision making, JDM. Behavioral science starts to get at a field of professionals who are really looking at why people act in the world the way that they do. It’s not about beliefs or perceptions as much. Only to the extent that they translate to actual behaviors.

Shama: Is that a reasonable … Have you found that the answers are reasonable as to why people behave the way they do?

Matt: Well, I’m a huge fan of Dan Arieli who put out a book a few years ago, so Dan and I are friends. He put out a book which I think the title really, the sort of predictably irrational title, I think very neatly sums up the sort of space that we’re looking at. One of things you learn as a scientist is abandon reasonable. It’s not my job to judge people’s behavior. It’s my job to observe people’s behavior and understand it.

Shama: What applications does this have, sort of broadly speaking, in the business world?

Matt: Sure. I actually spend a bunch of time helping people understand how to do behavioral design, so a specific process that’s really about starting with the target behavior that you want to see in the world, and then working backwards towards interventions that change the pressures that produce those behaviors.

Shama: Got it, so if a company said hey, we want more customers, or we want more retention of these customers, then how do you kind of change that [valued 00:01:58] experience?

Matt: Even so, I even get more specific than that. Like we encourage people to write behavioral statements that are actually, rather than using fuzzy words like retention, but say exactly what it is you want someone to do. A great example is like let’s pretend you’re Uber, so if you’re Uber you want to say when people want to go from point A to point B, and they live in a city, they will take an Uber. That’s a great behavioral statement. It’s measurable, it identifies who we’re talking about, people in cities.

Shama: It changes a default, right, or a it kind of asks for a very specific outcome.

Matt: This is the way the world will look if I do my job like effectively.

Shama: Everyone will subscribe to Shama TV. Great, let’s do this one, Matt. How do we get everyone to subscribe? Let’s say that’s my default statement, right? How do you get people to subscribe because we have such awesome marketing, business information?

Matt: Once you have a behavioral statement, we encourage the use of something called the dual process model, or competing pressures model. Basically, they’re promoting pressures, reasons to do something, and inhibiting pressures, reasons not to do something. How can you get people to subscribe to your channel more? Well, great content is a reason to subscribe. It’s a promoting pressure.

Shama: Case in point, people.

Matt: Great point, but on the other side of that and one of the places people frequently forget is inhibiting pressures. How hard is it to subscribe? How hard is it to find your newsletter? How hard is it to join your site? Those inhibiting pressures often dominate our behaviors. The example I always use is M&M’s, right? M&M’s are delicious, and they’re beautiful, and you want to eat them, but you and I aren’t eating them right now. Why? Well, there’s none in the environment, right? Availability is a strong inhibiting pressure. Cost, right? They’re not free, so all these inhibiting pressures actually dominate our behaviors.

Shama: Got it. Okay, so essentially you would make 2 lists then, right? Of kind of promoting factors, and then inhibiting factors, and then look at how can you reduce inhibiting factors.

Matt: That’s exactly right.

Shama: In our case it would be that there’s a lot of competition for time, or there’s not a lot of video podcasts that do what we do, but yeah there is in terms of people can read blogs. They’ve got lots of course the limited time in how they spend.

Matt: Time is an inhibiting pressure for you, and you might say hey, on an intervention on time, we’re going to make sure that all of our content is as concise as possible. That’s going to be a really strong value…

Shama: On that note!

Matt: We’re going to do a half an hour long podcast. We’re going to do like here it is, and out.

Shama: Something short. That’s great, so this is such a fantastic way to approach, I think, any problem that someone might have in business to look at.

Matt: Yeah, and it’s not just business. We’ve actually done this kind of work with the government on smoking is one of my favorite examples, right? How do we attack smoking? Well, strong inhibiting pressures. Taxes, those sorts of things, but we also attack promoting pressures. We said you can’t advertise on TV. You can’t advertise in magazines. You can’t use cartoon characters…

Shama: Make it uncool, right? Yeah.

Matt: That’s right. Remove those reasons that people did it in the first place, and I think that by actually sitting down and drawing out these pressures, people can get to a place where they’re thinking about a little more deeply.

Shama: In all your research, Matt, have you found something surprising? Something that’s really caught you off guard that you didn’t expect, or maybe you had a different hypothesis and it went a different way?

Matt: I did. One of the things that’s tremendously humbling about being a scientist is that you find out just how wrong you …

Shama: All the time.

Matt: Really it’s a skill to learn from those mistakes, you know. I think as the start up community has really embraced that sort of fail fast mentality, and that’s trickling its way up in business, you find mistakes tell us as much as your successes do. I have a litany of experiments that didn’t work, and didn’t come out the way I thought, but they all taught me to go on to the next thing. This will happen, even when you think you have a really solid promoting pressure. You really think you have a good intervention. You put it out in the field and it doesn’t work, but that just encourages you to go look at it again.

Shama: So, the importance of being able to just pivot, right, and test, even if you’ve got these factors and you kind of know what you’re going after. You still have to be able to pivot to see what’s working, amplify that to less of what’s not.

Matt: Absolutely, and one of the great things about looking at a competing pressures model is you know, hey, we have this pressure. Let’s say time.

Shama: Right.

Matt: We’re going to do more than one thing about time. We’re going to make them short, and we’re going to encourage people to look at them at a particular time of day. We’re going to do a bunch of things around time. Well, if 2 or 3 of those fail, it might say, hey, time is not as big of a pressure as we thought it was.

Shama: Interesting.

Matt: One of the nice things about having a theoretical underpinning, saying there’s a pressure that underlies our intervention, is that when a couple of interventions work, you don’t have to go to the next intervention. You can go, hey, maybe that pressure isn’t the way that I thought.

Shama: Very interesting. Thank you so much, Matt. This is fantastic.

Matt: Thanks.

Shama: We try to keep these short, taking your advice. Guys, be sure to subscribe for Matt’s recommendation, even, so you can get lots of more good stuff. We’ll have links to Matt’s work below. Subscribe, tune in. See you soon. Thanks again, Matt.

Matt: Thank you.


–Episode Links–

Microsoft Ventures


–Episode Tweetables–

Key to Influencing People = promoting pressures + inhibiting pressures. @Shama @MattWallaert Click To Tweet Mistakes teach you as much as your successes do. @Shama @MattWallaert Click To Tweet A social psychologist shares how to get your customers to do what you want. @Shama @MattWallaert Click To Tweet


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