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Unleash the Power of Social Proof

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 04/14/2022

At Heart of the Customer, we recently had a software client who wasn’t winning as many sales as they expected. We mapped their customers’ pre-sales journey and found that the company was laying out their best practices, but prospective clients were ignoring them.

They just didn’t consider our client a trusted authority.

It’s common problem facing CX pros. You see your customers making “bad” choices, such as not making the best use of your company’s products or services. So you create communications to share the recommended approach.

But you just can’t get customers to change their behavior.

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

  • Business customers who underutilize their purchased software.
  • Gym members who don’t follow best practices to get fit.
  • Certification candidates who don’t follow recommended methods to prepare for an exam.

And of course, no such list would be complete in 2022 – two-plus years into the pandemic, with signs of another wave building – without mentioning a fourth example:

  • People who don’t follow recommended protocols proven to reduce the risk of contracting a harmful, if not deadly, virus.

Unfortunately, what holds true in a global pandemic also applies to your products and services: How much people trust and identify with the messenger can matter even more than the message itself.

When we try to determine what “normal” behavior is, social proof is what helps us figure out what is expected.

I’ve written before about the concept of social proof, popularized by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence. He describes it like this: “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”

Bottom line? People are prompted to act by those they identify with or respect. Just ask anyone who’s purchased a book recommended by Oprah!

Questioning motives

Customers have every right to doubt your messaging. They may be thinking, “Of course our software provider wants us to use more features – our renewal is nearing and they want to make sure we re-up.” Or, “So what if my doctor says I need to exercise more? He doesn’t know what my life is like.”

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.”

Given all that, what is a CX pro to do?

Most of us can’t afford to hire Oprah as a spokesperson. But that’s okay. There’s another source of social proof that’s even more persuasive: People like us.

Our peers have a huge influence over our behavior. When we try to determine what “normal” behavior is, social proof is what helps us figure out what is expected.

Peer review

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 that card asking you to reuse the towels they provide to help them save water and reduce your environmental impact (which, not incidentally, also helps the hotel save money). Cialdini and his co-authors replaced that message with one utilizing social proof, telling guests that 75% of other guests reuse their towels.

The result? The percentage of those who reused their towels increased by 10%.

Findings like these led us to advise that software client that instead of having their leaders talk at conferences, they should bring along a customer to speak instead. Their prospective customers didn’t want to hear a sales pitch from company leaders…they wanted to hear their own peers tell their story about working with the company.

People just like them.

Social proof in action

Utilities understand social proof. Just check the top of your bill. There’s probably a chart comparing your energy usage and your neighbors’. These companies know that most of those who are using less energy will continue to do so – but many of those using more will decrease their usage when they see that lower usage is the “norm.”

Delta understands this, too. For online ticket purchases, on the screen that offers an option to add travel insurance, Delta identifies the number of people who recently purchased it. Suddenly, buying insurance goes from being a waste of money to a “normal” precaution.

If your 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).

The fact is, it’s hard to cut through the noise to communicate with customers. Your message often gets lost in the mix because customers – now, don’t take this personally – don’t particularly want to hear what you have to say. That’s especially true when so many other messages are vying for their attention.

So instead of telling customers what to do, tell them what their peers are doing.

Because if people just like your customers are doing it, your customers are more likely to do it, too.

It works for hotels, utilities, and software. (And sometimes, for masks and social distancing.)

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