Flickr CC: chintermeyer

Changing existing habits is hard, it’s a human condition. “There’s an app for that” to fix all that isn’t that far from the truth either. We can get reminded to wear the bike helmet, take back-ups, monitor our diet and exercise, and yet… no helmet, no back-up, that late night burger with extra fries and mayo… skipping the morning run.

I find the slide below from Internet Trends 2012, by the always #mustread Mary Meeker of KPCB, as a great example of how fast a whole new customer behavior can be createdNumber of app downloads overtook number of music downloads only three years after App Store launched.


The rise of app store has naturally much to do with timing, having cheap scalable digital infrastructure in place, secure online payments, and growing number of affordable mobile devices addressing the always accessible customer. So, now that we have all set for the perfect storm to create new customer facing businesses, how to catch the wave and win customers over?

Empathy Leads To Loyalty

Flickr CC: Paula Marttila

Changing customer behavior begins with empathy (who can say it better than Seth Godin), by understanding your customer and its pain.

  • Obsess over your customer like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Tony Hsiah of Zappos do. (Please watch, you’ll be better off.) So, why should you obsess?
  • Building relationships, trust and loyalty takes time. Build for long term. Loyalty and great customer service is hard to copy and less sensitive to price competition.
  • With public being the new default, build trust by never compromising your customers privacyFoursquare has been an exemplary service having never compromised my privacy by requiring more information in exchange to new functionality. I’ve written A LOT about that. (Please do check new Foursqare 5 for best places discovery experience.)
  • Engage with your customers, as they engage with you. Meaning, to truly understand and appreciate, that users in most services are the ones doing “all” the work: They’re creating and sharing content, spreading the word, recruiting new users, and providing you with feedback. In a win-win situation, everyone chips in. I often use audio sharing platform SoundCloud as good example of user engagement.

Flickr CC: opensourceway

With empathy comes transparency. Transparency builds trust. Having customers trusting you builds loyalty.

  • When things go south, as they occasionally will, act like another fellow human being. Regardless what you have stated on your Terms of Service (which should always be in customer’s favor and in plain vanilla), i.e.
  • Short and easy to understand Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. Especially when introducing whole new customer behavior. Bad news tweet fast.
  • Create emotional connection.Tell me who you are behind the service. Share your story.
  • Note: Would you be using charity as part of your value proposition, be extremely clear on the revenue sharing. People see through your attempts of making good just for your own profit.
Clear Value Proposition – The Aha Moment

Demonstrate real added value, give me the Aha moment.

  • Simplicity isn’t simple, whether it’s design, user experience, or customer offering. Finding one clear value proposition might seem impossible, but if you’re pursuing to have customers buying into your new thing, the less options and distractions, the better. Don’t make me think.
  • Demonstrate success use cases. AirBnB has since the trashed apartment done complete 180, now showcasing users whose lives the service has had deep impact on. Powerful messages to increase credibility, engagement, and loyalty of the service.
Don’t Build Hurdles – Let Me In!

Flickr CC: Phil Roeder

Again, don’t make me think. The easier you let me sing up for your service, the better. But,

  • Avoid the temptation to gather more data than you need, at any point! Many will argue against saying it’s not good customer experience, but guess what, people will happily provide more data when demonstrated the added value in doing so. See Foursquare.
  • Offer several login alternatives. Don’t get greedy and lazy with only Facebook login, just because it provides social graph and takes care of the spam for you.
  • Secrecy and invitation only might just not be the best way to win customers on your side. Short animated demo videos make world of difference. Even better, let me test your service before making a commitment. (Don’t worry, copy cats will find you anyway.)

Oh, were you waiting all along for me to mention gamification? Changing habits gets easier when we’re motivated and having fun, especially while doing anything slightly boring – why this entire post could’ve been about gamification. You can now even get certified in gamification. My take: It’s still very early, e.g. Quora has more questions than answers on gamification, but I believe it will be a strong component when applied in a context, not so much as a universal solution for changing customer behavior.

Lastly, A Dear Reminder

Leverage the uniqueness of every new channel and device to discover new revenue streams, while delighting your customers with greater user experience. Avoid the curse of digital media industry that has wasted precious years by trying to force existing behaviors and business models into new channels.

Always recommended reading on engagement and future of business: Brian Solis

Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. Rated as one of the very best startup mentors in Europe, she has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies on product, marketing and growth. Pick My Brain! is her fixed price service tailored to early stage startups, gender wage gap adjusted for female founders. Contact Paula for digital strategy work or book her as keynote speaker about #Startups #WomenInTech #GenderEquality #Entrepreneurship. Read more about her work and connect @Twitter, @LinkedIn. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen”Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital