Kickstart your customer goals

17 March 2021

Categoriesbehavioural insights, goals, policy

Tagsbehaviour change, behavioural insights, goals

Setting goals and making public commitments are ideal ways to encourage behaviour change, whether it’s improving our wellbeing at home, or delivering better services to customers. Here are a few tips on how you can use behavioural insights to support your customers in achieving their goals.

Kickstart your customer goals

Did you set any New Year’s Eve resolutions last year? We’re now in March, how did you go? What about your projects at work, are you on track?

If you lost your way with some of your intended goals for personal and professional change, never fear! It’s the beginning of Autumn; the perfect time for reflection and a new opportunity to review our goals. The same rules that help us stick to our individual goals can have a significant impact on our customers.


1.    Capitalise on the “fresh start effect”

People are more inclined to tackle a new or improved behaviour following landmarks in time. This is known as ‘the fresh start effect’ (e.g. change in seasons, New Year’s Eve, and birthdays). The landmark in time gives us an opportunity to attribute past failures to our ‘past selves’. A new time period allows us to reframe our self-perception: our ‘new self’ is better and can form beneficial habits.

We’ve previously shown that the fresh start effect can help people at-risk of reoffending to consider voluntarily participating in programs to help their rehabilitation. You can use the start of Autumn or another significant upcoming date as a landmark in time to help customers mark the start of a new goal and make a plan of what you will do to achieve this. For example, book a meeting on the last day of March to review progress and start fresh for April.

If you fail, reset your fresh start date (e.g. new week or new month). There’s motivational value in near-misses - capitalise on this motivation, keep going!


2.    Create a “commitment device”

A commitment device locks you into a behaviour. It could be anything that imposes a penalty or reward. It can be as basic as publicly sharing your goals and progress (e.g. on your social media), or donating to a cause you are passionate about when you hit a goal. A commitment device imposes a cost on failing to stick to your plan. This cost can be monetary (e.g. paying for year-long gym membership) or social (e.g. loss of reputation from peers).

We increased the number of women going to their cervical cancer screening by 32%, simply by including a tear-off commitment device at the bottom of their appointment letter. This acted as a visible prompt to follow through with their check-up, leading to an additional 7,500 women attending their Pap test appointment within three months of receiving their reminder letter.

Accountability partners can also help people who will check in on your progress regularly. We increased the number of injured teachers returning to work when it was safe to do so, by encouraging workers to make commitments. For example: ‘I will do all the exercises that my physio tells me to do.’ As part of our behavioural intervention, we improved the way case managers supported customers to reach their goal, and removed other administrative burdens. This approach led to people returning to work 27% faster in the first 90 days compared to the existing business-as-usual approach.  


3.    Other ways to improve goal setting with customers

  • Plan for obstacles: Implementation intentions or “if-then” plans allow you to have a pre-planned strategy to overcome behavioural barriers ahead of time, rather than losing our way when our willpower is lower[1]. Create your if/then plan by accounting for complications that could get in the way of achieving goals ahead of time. For example, help customers think of their common triggers (‘if they offer me the dessert menu’) and create a pre-planned strategy to overcome it (‘then I will skip the dessert and have a coffee instead’).
  • Temptation bundling: Help customers achieve their goals by asking them to pair an activity they enjoy, with the main goal they’re struggling to stick to. The pleasant activity will help customers to overcome the unpleasantness of the other activity.[2] For example, if you’re trying to get customers to improve their health, set a goal where they can watch their favourite show on TV while on an exercise bike.
  • Change the scene: Remove the cues that make it hard to change our habits (context cues).[3] For example, to reduce intake of daily coffees, walk an alternative route to avoid the café.
  • Piggybacking: Tie the desired goal to something else customers are already doing. This can be easier than trying to replace a habit with a new one. For example, teachers can encourage students to read a chapter of a book with breakfast. Creating event-based opportunities (when X happens, I will do Y) are more effective than time-based approaches (at 2:45pm each day, I will do Y).
  • Plan for the future: People pay more attention to rewards that are closer to the present, and struggle to work towards a future pay-off (present bias). As a result, people may heavily discount the benefits they receive in the future. This makes them opt for small gains in the present, rather than large gains in the future.[4] You can help customers stay motivated on future gains by asking them to write an email to their future self and delay sending it in a few weeks, when they may need encouragement to keep going.


How can you use this in your work?

  1. Discuss with your team how you can use commitment devices in your programs. What’s the next important date when you might capitalise on the fresh start effect?
  2. Build in a commitment device into your existing forms, processes, or appointment reminders
  3. Try a new way to set goals. Experiment with the strategies here to help customers stay on track with important objectives.