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  • Writer's pictureElina Halonen

When you accidentally train your customers to do something

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Yesterday I came across a good example of how companies sometimes inadvertently "train" people to do something that they might later spend thousands of euros of market research and/or CX/SD experts to work out.

I wanted to book a flight from Milan to Amsterdam, and in the process discovered that the same flight, booked through KLM's own website has a 10e service fee added if I have made the search on their own website - however, if I end up on the same site through Kayak's aggregator search, I am not required to pay it. As a result, I learn that it's not in my best interests to trust KLM's own site but instead I learn aggregators are my best bet.

This is known as "positive punishment" in learning theory: by including a service fee on my purchase, KLM is inadvertently (?) adding something that will decrease the likelihood of me going directly to their site again.

I should be clear the point is not the monetary value of 10e but the principle: the reason I ended up on the KLM site was because I saw their direct price in the aggregator results and at first just typed in the KLM site name - only to realise the price was different.

Learning theory is commonly used in dog training to teach new behaviours and discourage unwanted ones. Many customer experiences and purchase processes are full of inadvertent, invisible positive punishments which people are unable to articulate - just like dogs can't tell us the reasons for their behaviour. Instead, we can look at the Behaviour, what happens before it (distal and proximate Antecedents) and what happens afterwards (Consequences) - in other words, the ABC of behaviour change.

The more time I spend thinking about dogs, the more parallels I see and the more I feel like behavioural design could learn from dog training. If you're interested, I wrote about learning theory some time ago and also another post about the parallels in behaviour change and dog training.

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