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How do you get customers to commit? Just ask.

Posted by: Fred Burt on August 05, 2011

Reading Business Life, BA’s in-flight business magazine, on my regular flight to Frankfurt today, I came across an interesting article.

According to the piece, a Chicago restaurant improved reservation attendance by implementing a really simple trick. Rather than stating to the customer that they should call if they needed to cancel or change, they asked them ‘would you be willing to call us if you need to change or cancel your booking?’

The difference is subtle but, apparently, highly effective. The customers said ‘yes’ (who wouldn’t) when asked, and the no shows dropped significantly. The National Health Service in the UK is seeing similar results around improved appointment no shows. Why? It seems that because the customer (or patient) was involved in a conversation – they were asked and verbally confirmed - they were much more likely to act. 

I think this has interesting implications for brand owners, who are constantly looking for techniques to improve loyalty and commitment. Ask your customers if they intend to do what you believe they want to do. And then try and elicit a response. This simple process of getting the audience to listen, think and then confirm seems to lead to a greater level of commitment.

Here are some statements that I suspect could be phrased more often as questions:

+    In financial services: Would you be happy to come in one weekend and see one of our financial advisors? (not ‘please come in to see us at your earliest convenience)
+    In supermarkets: Next time you shop here, would you consider bringing in used plastic bags for recycling? (Not ‘please bring your bags in to be recycled’)
+    In religion: Can we expect to see you in church again this month? (not ‘I hope we’ll see you again next month)
+    In automotive: Would you be happy to post a review of your new car on a review site? (not ‘please post your review here if you’re happy’)
+    In politics.  Can I count on your vote in next month’s election? (Not ‘please vote for me’)

I am sure there are examples for every industry (and feel free to post some).

If you’re reasonably sure these are actions your consumer already intends to take, then by asking a question (rather than issuing an instruction) you could go a long way to narrowing the gap between intended and actual behavior.

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