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The secrets behind customer behavior

Nir Eyal

Expert Where Behavior, Business & The Brain Meet

Lessons Learned

There is no magic number of days necessary to create a habit.

The more frequently a behavior occurs, the more likely it becomes a habit.

Get your customer to behave by providing sufficient motive, ability, and a trigger.


Lesson: Hooked with Nir Eyal

Step #6 Behavior: The secrets behind customer behavior

There are a lot of urban legends around how many days it takes to form a habit. Some people think it is 28 days, 30 days, 45 days. There is no magic number around how many times a person needs to do a behavior before it becomes a habit, but what we do know is that there are two rules that we've seen backed by scientific evidence. Which is, number one, the more frequently a behavior occurs, the more likely it is to create a habit. And second, there seems to be a precipitous drop-off in the likelihood of forming a habit if the behavior does not occur within a week's time or less. That seems to be the cutoff point, that if the behavior does not occur within a week's time or less, that’s where the product makers get in trouble. That’s where the behavior just does not occur frequently enough to become a habit.

Not impossible. There are products that create habits that aren’t used with the frequency of a week's time or less. It just becomes much more difficult. When we think about the most habit-forming technologies of our day, when we think about Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and Twitter, these products are used intra-day. All right? They are used multiple times a day. The ones that are used most frequently are the ones most likely to create these habits.

With today's technology, there’s really no excuse why not to do this kind of stuff. I mean between UserTesting videos, usertesting.com, there are lots of companies like that, but that’s a great product where you can actually watch the users using your products and listen to them as they are talking about what is going on in their minds as they’re using the product. We can also use analytics to figure out what’s happening, why people are not going to this next step of the process and of course do A/B testing around how we might be able to make the product easier to use.

Fogg gives us these six categories that we can look to, to try to make the behavior easier to do. So we can ask ourselves what is in the user's way. Does it take too much time? Does it require too much money? Is it too expensive? Does it require too much physical effort? Does it require too much cognitive load? Cognitive load is a big one, right? If something is difficult to understand, it’s less likely the user will do the behavior. Then there is social deviance. We become more likely to do a behavior based on what we see other people are doing. Finally, non-routine—if a behavior is too outside the norm, if it is too new, if we have never seen something like it before, if it does not fit our mental models, we don’t do the behavior, whereas, the more familiar the behavior becomes, the more likely we are to do that behavior in the future.

This of course is why habits are so important. Because the more we do a behavior, the easier they become and, therefore, the more likely we are to do it in the future. It’s practice. We can look at these six elements and ask ourselves what’s missing. What’s not here that would help the user do the action that you were intending for them to do? Fogg posits that for any human behavior, we need three elements: sufficient motivation, sufficient ability and a trigger must be present.

Motivation is defined as the energy for action according to Edward Deci, the father of self-determination theory. It is how much people want to do a certain behavior. Fogg puts that on the Y-axis, and on the X-axis of his grid is ability, how difficult or easy a behavior is to do. If the user has sufficient motivation and sufficient ability, they cross this threshold and if a trigger is present, the behavior occurs.

As designers, as product people, we can ask ourselves if the user isn’t doing the behavior we design them to do, why not? What is in their way? Do they have sufficient motivation or is the behavior easy enough to do? If not, we need to figure ways to boost motivation or make the behavior easier.

Fogg gives these six levers in both categories of motivation and ability to help make behavior more likely to occur. Let’s think about a behavior that many of us do throughout our day: using our phones. If a phone rang, why would we not pick it up? Well, we might not pick up a phone because we are no motivated to answer the call. Maybe it is a number we don’t recognize. Maybe it is a number we do recognize, but we do not want to talk to the person. Motivation is too low even though the phone is right there in my hand, ability is very high and I heard it ring. The trigger was present.

Another reason might be why I do not pick up the phone could be that I am taking a shower or I am in a meeting and getting to my phone call would be too difficult right now. Maybe I really wanted to pick up the call, so I have very high motivation, but my ability is too low and I haven’t crossed that threshold because it is too hard to go get the phone. The third reason might be even when I have sufficient motivation and the behavior is easy enough to do, I have sufficient ability, if I don’t hear the trigger, if the phone is on silent, I am never going to pick it up.

For any human behavior, we have to have all three at the same time. Sufficient motivation, ability and trigger must be present. And that’s online and offline. It doesn’t matter.

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