I should make better choices. You probably should too.

By James Bland

I could eat more healthily. Summer is no time to start a diet – who wants to diet while they’re on holiday? So I say to myself – “I’ll start in September”.

September is, of course, conference season, so I find myself on the circuit, doing the rounds and crashing from hotel buffet to hotel buffet. Sometimes I make healthy choices, but then there’s that little piece of chocolate brownie, or the handful of crisps, or the freshly-baked cookie.  It’s worse when it’s residential and when breakfast is involved. I may set off in the direction of the fruit and the yoghurt, but somehow I always end up by the bacon. I’ve no idea how it keeps happening, but it does.

Conference season typically takes me to November, which is practically Christmas and… and… and… you get the picture.

The truth is, on occasion I lack self-discipline (no, really). I know what I should do, but I keep finding ways to justify to myself doing the things I shouldn’t. What I need is a bit of help – a nudge in the right direction. 

It’s not just me. Most people want to do the right thing, but for a variety of reasons, end up doing the expedient thing instead. It’s not our fault. Despite what economists assume, we are not ‘rational actors’. We’re emotional, impulsive and sometimes self-destructive. We all (well, most of us) want to reverse climate change, but how many of us – truthfully – are doing EVERYTHING we possibly could? Almost certainly not. So, how can nudge really help to change behaviour?

It’s not just about making things available.

How many hotel bedrooms still have just one type of bin? They may want to recycle their water bottle or coffee cup, but if you’re going to make them take it with them when they leave, the chances are they won’t. “One bin is rubbish” as the side of a bus told me recently. That said, just putting in more bins won’t necessarily solve the problem on its own. Nor will outlining the benefits of recycling. So how can you nudge guests towards compliance? (You can see how a French train company did something similar here.) Better still, can you nudge them into not using disposables in the first place? 

It’s not just about incentives.

Incentivising is risky, as the unintended consequences are significant. Incentivise incorrectly and you encourage bad behaviour. The classic example is incentivised targets for guest satisfaction and the ensuing temptation to omit guests you know have had an indifferent experience from your feedback survey. Hooray – you hit your score, but at what cost? Sticks and carrots are often too simplistic – wouldn’t it be better to gently nudge people in the right direction? Likewise, wouldn’t it be great if you could gently nudge your guests to tell you their problems during their stay instead of telling the world when it’s already too late?

It’s not just about selling.

We all know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘selling’ is crucial – don’t just tell me that I get the best price through your website, sell me the benefit of doing so. The reality, though, is that sometimes neither of these is enough. I may know that I can get the best price on your website, but if I know I can get roughly the same price elsewhere that is easier to use, or gives me more choice, or compels me to buy there and then, which one will I use? You might have a loyalty programme, but so do the OTAs. Speaking of which, their programmes are usually incredibly simple – is yours?  I may well be financially or experientially better off with your programme, but if it’s too complicated, you’ll lose me. Free WiFi, a free stay when I reach eighteen billion points, late check-out but only under specific circumstances which are listed here in two pages of small print and oh – I’ve gone, and so has about 25% of your room rate. Your benefits were great, but you failed to hold my attention. What can you do to nudge me in your direction and keep me there?

It’s not just a flight of fancy.

Effecting behavioural change is not easy, but the benefits are wide-ranging and commercially compelling.

BVA BDRC now works with the BVA Nudge Unit – one of the pioneers of nudge consulting – to create affordable, sustainable and transformative changes in both customer and employee behaviour. Want to know more? Drop me a line, or better still, ask me about our UK launch event on the 6th February.

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