Read time: 8 minutes
Every day we make around 35,000 decisions.
Most are made subconsciously; we’re not even aware of them. Some are minor: which pair of shoes to wear in the morning; whether to listen to the news or a podcast. Others are more important: the toss-up between watching Game of Thrones live or risking the spoilers and waiting until a more sociable hour. And some have the ability to change your life: whether it’s worth increasing pension contributions or investing money.
But making decisions is becoming a lost art. We’re under a continuous barrage of distractions. And in today’s digital world, it’s only getting worse. Our attention spans, on average, are about 14 minutes long (dropping to ten minutes for meetings or conversations about finance).
So, how can you expect your customers to take in important information and make critical decisions, when their minds are wandering? Whether it’s the pull of checking notifications on their phones or thinking about what to have for dinner – there’s a lot to compete with.
Well, at Boring Money’s Fin-k Tank last week, we heard Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina, founder of Consciously Digital, discuss the dangers of digital distraction. And here are some of her top tips to help your customers make better decisions.
Pay attention to the design of your journey
Great user experience can be the difference between a client staying with your business or leaving feeling frustrated. Holly Mackay of Boring Money explained the importance of a smooth journey. The team documented a group of consumers as they went through an online investment journey. At the start, people described themselves as interested, intrigued, positive and upbeat. They wanted to learn how to invest and how to make their money work better. However, by the end of the journey, the group were disappointed, apprehensive, annoyed and let down.
The demand is there and people want to get involved. But the digital journeys are putting them off.
From the research Boring Money carried out, Holly had three key elements to include in any online experience:
- Signposts: People need help with the journey. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing next. Give people clear directions of what’s coming next using specific calls to action and directions.
- Expectations: Set expectations early. Show people how much they can expect to make or save. Tell people how long the experience will take and how many sections they have to complete.
- Balance: Get across the right level of technical detail, without bombarding people with complex language. Name products and portfolios in a transparent way. And don’t get overzealous with risk warnings.
Use clear, simple language
The next step is remembering who your audience is. You need to engage and educate them – and to do that, you need their attention. Using jargon-heavy language that requires a PhD to understand isn’t going to get you results. Best case scenario, people will switch off and walk away. Worst case scenario, people will misunderstand and make the wrong decisions.
Boring Money asked a group of consumers what would make them more inclined to invest. Was it guaranteed returns of 15% a year? Or talking in simple, plain English? 26% of people said the returns would cinch it – versus 42% saying it’s clear language.
As Holly pointed out at the Fin-k Tank: you could take a patronising stance and say that people need educating about returns and investment. Or you can accept that people want peace of mind about what the industry is doing with their money.
It’s important to remember that people aren’t reading your content in lab environments. They’re skimming through it on their commute. Reading it during their lunch. Browsing while they’re on the phone. They’re having to contend with a multitude of distractions. So you need to make it easy for them to choose you over anything else.
There’s an easy way to see if you’re doing this right: work out the reading age of your content. You can use readability tools online or Word’s built-in version. The lower the age, the more likely you are to keep someone’s attention and communicate the key messages effectively and correctly. For comparison:
- The Sun has a reading age of 8
- Harry Potter has a reading age of 11-12
- The BBC news website has a reading age of 14-15
- The Financial Times has a reading age of 15-16
- The Harvard Law Review has a reading age of 18-19
And consider this: the average reading age of adults in the UK is 11.
Lowering your reading age doesn’t just mean over-simplifying your content. Nor does it mean dumbing-down your language. You can increase readability by:
- Cutting down the length of your sentences
- Replacing jargon, industry terms and acronyms with plain English
- Using the active voice
- Breaking down complex points
- Structuring your content into bullet points and short paragraphs
You can read more about the importance of language in engaging and educating consumers in this blog.
Design for people – not psychology
Once you’ve got a well-signposted journey and clear content, you can help people make the right decisions. This starts with your notifications.
Dr Anastasia explained that our brains get addicted to technology because of variable reward: sometimes you get rewarded for checking your device; sometimes you don’t. You’re more likely to check back if you aren’t rewarded every time, as proven by B. F. Skinner and his pigeons. So, when you pick up your phone and there’s no notification, it makes you more likely to check back again.
This phenomenon is used by the majority of businesses to capture and keep their users’ attention. However, it breeds bad habits. Dr Anastasia discussed how notifications put people in a constant state of alert: they represent a threat or an opportunity which triggers a flight or fight reaction. In this state of mind, people can’t think creatively or strategically.
Many companies have capitalised on this psychological effect. They keep people on tenterhooks with their notifications. They build their websites and apps for psychology and behaviourism – rather than for people.
To help people make better decisions, analyse how you use notifications. Are they genuinely useful? Do they add real value to your customer’s life? Or are they a trick to keep people coming back to your site or app?
Notifications are an unhelpful distraction for people trying to make important decisions. You can’t have distractions if you need to focus for a long time, to think creatively, to problem solve or to feel empathy.
So, while notifications keep people coming back to your website, they aren’t kind. And they don’t encourage the right kind of thinking that financial decisions require.
Encourage the right kind of thinking
Dr Anastasia went into detail about the two systems our cognitive processes are divided into. This is based on the work of Daniel Kahneman, who you might know from Thinking, Fast and Slow.
- Responsible for most of our daily actions
- Quick and fast
- Subconscious, intuitive reactions
- Efficient and requires little effort or energy
- Responsible for deliberate thinking
- Analytical and precise
- Slow and wise
- Focused and uses a lot of energy
To make the best decisions, you need to use system two. However, distractions and modern life tends to keep people in system one. It’s important to be aware of this and understand that people may make quick, irrational and biased decisions when dealing with their finances.
Ideally, you should put your consumers into system two. To do this, cut out distractions (like notifications and irrelevant pop-ups) and give people time to make important decisions.
Reduce the amount of choice
While it might sound counterintuitive, giving consumers too much choice is a bad thing. Dr Anastasia explained how more choice can either lead to bad decisions or to consumers dropping out.
She talked about how participation rates tend to drop when people are given too much choice. Making a decision uses up energy. And because our brains are lazy, they like to pick the easiest answer. When more choices are brought into the equation, it takes a lot of energy to work out what to do.
This explains low participation and engagement rates, as people put the task off rather than dealing with choice. And it explains why people make the wrong decision: they choose too quickly and make rash choices.
Our brain is already overloaded by insignificant choices – like whether to check our phones or not – and this depletes our problem-solving skills. If you can minimise the number of decisions a consumer has to make, you’ll help them make the right one when it matters. You could do this through a simple, easy journey that doesn’t include many choices. Or through reducing the options that people have to choose when making a decision.
Personalise options and information
Another way to help your customers make better decisions is through personalisation. This gives your users more control and more information. You can cut through the deluge of choice and show them the most relevant products or services to their situation.
It might seem tricky to add personalisation into your services, but there is an easy way to do it. You can read about it in our eBook: Improving Customer Experience with Personalisation.
Some helpful hints and tips – for you
If you want to improve your own decision-making, Dr Anastasia recommends:
- Disable the notifications on your phone
- Delay checking your devices
- Limit multitasking
- Clean up your phone – remove apps you don’t use
- Start your mornings phone-free – don’t check emails, the news or social media first
- Keep your phone or tablet in another room if you’re reading or working