Unmask the Power of Social Proof

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 putting out their best practices, but prospective clients were ignoring them.

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

It’s common problem among CX pros. You see 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.

Is this ringing any bells?

With almost 250,000 Americans dead and coronavirus infection rates soaring across the country, this fourth example probably resonates:

  • People who don’t follow a recommended regimen known to improve health.

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 much more than the message itself.

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 it’s like for me.”

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.”

So, 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 those using more will decrease their usage when they see that their neighbors typically use less.

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 don’t particularly want to hear what you have to say, especially when so many other messages are vying for their attention. So instead, let them know 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 masks.

We’re wearing ours, and hope you are, too.

Stay safe and be well. Together, we’ll get these numbers down soon.