It is really hard to hook modern people because they are overloaded with information. It’s bad for their health and mentality, it is super bad for brands trying to sell them stuff. The most successful ones know that in order to get customer’s loyalty they have to get in their head. They know there’s a method to encourage customer behavior in a delicate way. It is a whole how-to theory elaborately described by Nir Eyal in his must-read book Hooked: how to build habit-forming products. This book consists of practical insights on how to create user habits that stick and actionable steps for building products that people love.
The book itself is quite big and I would definitely recommend you to read the whole of it. In this article I will cite the main ideas and show you why Conversational AI (bots and virtual assistants) can be very helpful in forming customer’s habits.
The hook model
Why habits are so important for business? The core idea is that once your product becomes a habit — there’s no need in advertising — the product itself is connected to users’ emotions. Habits do not require conscious thought — so it is highly unlikely that your client will give their attention to your competitor.
Habits increase CLV (Customer Lifetime Value), deliver flexible pricing policy, ensure continuous growth and competitive edge. And you, as a product owner can form these habits by means of so-called hooks — experiences you create.
Nir Eyal distinguishes 4 phases of the hook model. These are:
1. Trigger — external or internal signals that prompt certain behavior
2. Action — use of the product, based on ease of use and motivation
3. Reward — the reason for product use, which keeps the user engaged
4. Investment — A useful input from the user that commits him to go through the cycle again
Phase 1. Triggers
To change human behavior, you have to bring new habits a bit at a time — slow and steady, one after another till the behavior you are looking for is completely formed. Triggers are the basis of behavioral change, and there are 2 types of them — external and internal.
External triggers are the signs that we can see and hear — they come from around — ads and notifications, other people’s advice and rave reviews, TV and press mentions — these are the ideas that stick in our heads, even if we do not really pay attention to them.
Internal triggers are our emotions, they are driven by our inner needs and associations, and do not require external signs. This could include negative emotions like boredom, nervousness, loneliness, etc. Since the human brain is trying to get rid of these feelings (you know how procrastination works, right?), your product can help with that too. And in case it works well, our brain will associate the product with the relief and eventually it will form a habit.
Conversational AI may be used here as an additional channel for promo and notifications. But consider building your own skill for voice assistant — if made right, it would have far more effectiveness. Think of the times it would be useful for your customers, examine whether your voice app could fit in and become an integral trigger, relieving your users from negative thoughts (in a playful way, perhaps?), and giving them a sense of harmony, peace or joy.
Phase 2. Action
A good trigger is not enough, for sure. You can’t just change the behavior — a user has to be motivated enough and able to perform an action. A desire for pleasure, hope, social acceptance, as well as avoidance of pain, fear and rejection — are very strong motivators.
To help your users make an action — reduce the time they spend on engagement with the product, or money, or physical effort they devote. Make it easier for them and the positive results won’t take long.
Voice tech is the perfect example here. It is obvious that in most cases making voice request is much easier than enter the information manually or look through a load of webpages — it takes less time (and we are all very busy). Optimize your content and promotional campaigns to voice search to satisfy your tech-savvy customers and outperform competitors.
Phase 3. Reward
Our brain needs rewards. In terms of the business they increase user engagement keeping them coming back. There are three types of rewards:
- Ones that satisfy our social needs, as Nir Eyal calls them “rewards of the tribe”. These are the rewards that make us feel special, important, and accepted by society — likes, upvotes, shares, comments
- Ones that satisfy our basic survival instincts (rewards of the hunt) — these are the rewards that help us gain things that we consider indispensable to life. Like money, information or thrilling and amusing content
- Ones that provide a sense of accomplishment (rewards of the self) — these are the rewards that help us with our self-determination. Think of actions or services that help us to get a sense of goal achievement, knowledge or new skill acquirement
When applying these rewards to your product don’t forget to leave some space for users — self-sufficiency is still crucially important, otherwise, you will get precisely the opposite effect (reactance). Find the best rewards for your product that would motivate your users.
In terms of voice assistants this could be useful content, some lifehacks with your product application, or a new vital skill your customers would be thankful for — like healthy habits. Want to form strong ties with your customers? Try gamification.
Phase 4. Investment
To nail down the habit and increase the user’s commitment to the product, you have to build an expectancy of future benefits in the mind of a user. And there you better appeal to the rational side. And if users themselves invest in the product — this leads to the escalation of commitment. And this can be a win-win situation for both — brands and customers, if your product permits. You can use the users’ feedback and contribution to design the product well, and a well-designed product will enhance the user experience.
Amazon, Google, and other major tech developers who work on voice assistants quickly realized that third party devs could be of invaluable support to them — they’re building new skills for assistants therewith unleashing tech’s true potential. They find the new spheres of application and they get paid for it. Voice tech users, in their turn, try these skills and rate them, allowing companies like Amazon or Alibaba to define the vector of the further development.
Getting into the habit zone
As soon as your product becomes a habit, it will be much harder for a user to switch to a competitor — there simply will be no reason for them to do that. Using your product often enough becomes a default behavior, meaning that you arrived at your goal — you got into the habit zone.
Think of daily routine actions and things your product could improve in some way. For instance, even if you are an umbrella manufacturer — you could build a fun weather forecast skill, which could specify the power of wind and in case it’s too strong, the assistant would recommend a user to buy your strengthened umbrella, or you could make discounts on rainy days, or you could promote bright umbrellas on weekends or on holidays… There’s always something neat and cool to think of despite your business profile!
Chatbots and voice assistants are extremely helpful in forming and sustaining a habit. Think of the conversational interface — asking for information, checking reviews, making an order, leaving feedback — all that can be made in seconds. No need for a customer to look for your website, mail address or feedback form. This interface is natural for people — they don’t have to learn how to use it, and this user-friendly tech has a huge beneficial effect.
Reduce the effort for your customers to conduct activities related to your product or brand — and with high probability, they will stick to it
And fewer efforts mean more activities — you can build up new user interactions and put new shopping opportunities, just do it in a non-intrusive kind of way. But remember, you should form new habits responsibly — these small manipulations are still manipulations, so make sure you do it for the good. Form healthy habits — help your customers build better versions of themselves, motivate them to self-improvement, simplify their routine, and satisfy their needs through useful voice assistant’s skills, think of the times when it is much easier for them to acquire information aurally.
Speech recognition and natural language processing can make your business more human, and all that will be less expensive and labor-intensive than improving your account department. Personalized approach, 24/7 service availability, and overall answers to queries will reflect in an intense sense of connection to the brand.
Ask yourself “Where could we create a more efficient process? Which brand touchpoints can be improved? Can we possibly create more touchpoints? Would that be helpful for our customers? Would that be efficient in a voice interface?”. After that you can move to define the goal for this experience. Think of what does your brand stand for and who do you want to attract. Do you need to create awareness, do you want to sell products, do you want to be a resource, do you want a new channel to interact with your potential clients or current clients? Maybe you want to get in their heads through sonic branding — to get that commercial jingle that evokes appropriate associations?
There are dozens of great examples of voice branding, take a look at this one: Disney released a voice skill for Google Assistant called Frozen Stories. And when the movie was out, there were products on the shelves for people to buy, commercials on TV and the voice skill made it all interactive.
And the last very interesting psychology and behavior feature mentioned by Nyr Eyal that is quite common for most people — is the California Roll Rule. This rule says that most people don’t really need something new — they want something familiar done differently. Unfamiliar interfaces can hold back on adoption, and since voice UI is the interface that does not require training, it would be much easier for them. So, don’t just look for the painkillers that relieve your customers from pain, create new experiences that people would take like vitamins — because they want it and because they make them better. Thanks to you, of course. And the voice tech.