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Using behavioural science to deeply understand your users

Dr. Michael Barbera says a company that wants a digital product, app, or software, should ask itself two questions in the planning and testing stages of development

Dr. Michael Barbera
Photo courtesy Dr. Michael Barbera
Photo courtesy Dr. Michael Barbera

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“Some behavioural science research suggests that goldfish have an attention span of seven seconds, and North Americans have an attention span of only six seconds,” says Dr. Michael Barbera as he shares a stat that riffs off the popular saying about short-lived attention. 

The Chief Behavioural Officer at Clicksuasion Labs, is highlighting how important it is to quickly and efficiently address consumer dissatisfaction with a product or service.

In his experience as an entrepreneur turned consumer psychologist, the “friction point of failure” between organizations and their customers is expectation management. 

That friction happens when a user’s experience of a situation or product doesn’t match their expectation of what they thought it was going to be. For instance, most users will have preconceived expectations when a new product feature is released — that it will work in a specific way, solve a specific problem for them, or even be released on a specific timeline. 

To avoid the friction point of failure, Barbera says it’s actually better to understand and address user expectations early by drawing on research and data that is as current as possible. Waiting until after the fact can lead to expensive changes, and disappointed users.

When analytics might differ from human behaviour

Barbera says a company that wants a digital product, app, or software, should ask itself two questions in the planning and testing stages of development: 

  1. What is the customer or user’s expectation of the product or service? 
  2. How do we believe they are going to use it?

The answers, however, should be rooted in a scientific process rather than relying on self-reported information by users because what someone will tell you is inherently flawed because of personal biases.

In a scenario where you’re trying to figure out how people will engage with a website, you can review analytics and that would tell you how people move through pages. Barbera classifies this as “good” testing.

Even better would be eye-tracking to monitor where people’s eyes go on a page, he says.

“What you’ll notice is, if you were to have a heatmap tool on a website, you might identify where people hover their cursor, but you’re not identifying where they’re looking — two very different things to be cautious of,” he says. “If you can identify what they’re looking at, you can revise processes.”

An example of an improved process might be the placement of a chatbot icon, or a shopping cart based on where the human eye goes first, not where people click. Knowing that lets you create a digital experience where you optimize around where attention is most focused. 

Best practices when applying a behavioural science approach 

Barbera shared some best practices for incorporating consumer psychology in both the development of products, as well as the internal process around updating or changing a product later on down the road.

1. Focus on internal collaboration. If you want to incorporate behavioural research into your product development process, it’s important that back- and front-end development teams “speak the same language” and collaborate. Barbera says a good UX team can often enable that collaboration and a positive working relationship.

We agree, and it’s why we structure our development teams to have front-end, back-end, and UX stakeholders.

2. Invest in incremental change. Change is an inevitable part of the product development and launch process, especially if you’re accessing deeper, science-based consumer insights. But take your time with implementation, says Barbera. 

“Change should be completed in small doses, and to gain small wins. That’s something that’s manageable.” This incremental management of change makes it attainable and digestible for users, especially those resistant to change. 

3. Offer users different experience options. Another approach to easing users into a product change is to offer them the option of reverting back to an earlier version of a digital product if they prefer, says Barbera. This allows them to test out a new experience, but also to stick with the former default if they’d rather. 

You can even give consumers sneak peeks of an upcoming new feature or product to prepare them for the change prior to its release, he says.

A final piece of advice from Barbera on marketing your finished product: “Always share what you can do, never what you can do for them,” he says. Because consumers don’t want to be sold to, they want to connect with the emotional value your product provides. 

This article originally appeared on Vog Toronto App Developers as part of its series on digital product development. To discuss custom application and mobile apps, contact Vog Toronto App Developers.

David Potter, Director of Business Development, Vog App Developers
Written By

David Potter is an experienced tech marketing leader with a proven ability to build customer-focused programs that deliver business results, David has worked with large and small companies to make complex digital concepts accessible and actionable. David is a member of Digital Journal's Insight Forum.

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