4 Amazing Examples On How Easily Manipulated We Are

Posted on

behavioral economy

The last couple of weeks I have been knee-deep in books, blogs and videos on behavioral economy and social psychology. They are fascinating subjects; a look in to the underlying psychological factors that shape the decisions we make. What strikes me the most is how unbelievably easy we are to manipulate.

I, for one, like to think I’m pretty much in control of the decisions I make. I have worked in sales and marketing for years, I think I can spot the “tricks” a mile away. No .9 charm price is going to sway my decision. I know the fresh fruit and veggies are placed at the entrance to the supermarket, it won’t fool me in to thinking that the rest of the supermarket is an abundance of freshness.

It is easy to spot the “bigger” persuasion techniques, such as .9 pricing and “deal of the day”, they might draw your attention to a product, but I think most of us will base our decision to buy on a weighing of costs and benefits, and not just because it had a .9 price or was labeled a certain way.

It’s the small little manipulation techniques that have me completely intrigued and perplexed at the same time.

Want someone to like you – hand them a warm cup of coffee

Our brains work in mysterious ways, the interconnected neural network that inhabits first floor does not seem to be very good at separating seemingly unrelated events.

For years, Professor John Bargh has proven how easily we can be primed to feel a certain way. In numerous experiments he has tested the effect of having someone hold a warm or cold beverage first and then ask them to rate a stranger’s friendliness afterwards.

The people who were given the warm beverage, felt the person was kind, friendly and when asked if they would hire the person for a job, they said they likely would.

The exact opposite was true for the group of people who held the cold beverage, they were much less inclined to hire the stranger and they had a much lower opinion of the stranger’s friendliness.

How on earth can this be true? Well, according to Nathalie Nahai, author of “Webs of Influence”, the part of our brain responsible for processing physical temperature, is also involved in processing interpersonal warmth, and the same area also plays a role in our social emotions, such as empathy, trust, embarrassment and guilt.

Our brains simply can’t distinguish between these unrelated events, because they are processed by the same area of the brain. This explains why these experiments keep showing the same results time and time again, even when people have been forewarned that external influences are at play.

As a public service I’d just like to say – beware of politicians and salespeople handing you warm cups of coffee!

One word makes all the difference

In a fascinating TEDtalk psychologist Elizabeth Loftus talks about false memory. She describes memory as a bit like a Wikipedia page, we can construct pages ourselves and add new information – but so can other people. A bit scary really.

In an experiment they constructed a scene of an accident and showed it to people. Afterwards they asked half how fast the cars were going when they hit. The other half were asked how fast the cars were going when they smashed.

Just by changing one single word, hit/smashed, the results were remarkably different. The “hit” people estimated that the cars travelled at 34 mph and the “smashed” people estimated 41 mph.

Moreover the “smashed” people were more than twice as likely to say that they saw broken glass in the scene, when in fact there wasn’t any.

All it took was one single leading word and suddenly the whole incident was more dramatic and more violent.

I don’t even want to start speculating where evil people could and do use techniques such as this!

The power of default

If you really want people to choose a particular option, make it the default.

A study done on the percentage of a nation’s population willing to donate their organs to medicine after death showed some remarkable results.

Opt-in opt-out study

It seem the people of Denmark are particularly cold hearted and unwilling to donate organs, whereas the good folks of Sweden are much more inclined to donate. How can this be? Denmark and Sweden are culturally similar nations, as are the Netherlands and Belgium, and Germany and Austria. How can it be that some nations are so much more willing to donate than others?

Turns out that when the questionnaire was handed out, the countries on the left hand side were asked to tick a box to opt-in if they wanted to donate their organs.

The countries on the right hand side were asked to tick a box to opt-out if they didn’t want to donate their organs.

And what did people do? The exact same thing – they didn’t tick anything! Resulting in dramatically different results.

So can you trust statistics? Well, only to the degree you can trust the person who designed the questionnaire or the form you are filling out, as the design will have a dramatic effect on the end result.

As Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century English Prime Minister, said “there are lies, damned lies and then there is statistics”. Seems he might have been on to something…

It is for this same reason that 42% of people click on the first result on search engines result pages and only 8% click on the second result. We choose what is served, whether out of laziness or a blind trust in other people’s choices, I don’t know. What is truly remarkable is, that even if you switch the first and second search result around (which should then serve you a lesser quality result first) people still choose the first option!

Want something to look fantastic? Place it next to something inferior.

My favorite behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, gives in his book Predictably Irrational some startling examples of how attractiveness really and truly is relative.

For example, did you know that restaurants can increase their overall revenue by including high-priced entrées on the menu, even if no one buys them? How can this be, I hear you ask. Well, people will typically not choose the most expensive dish on the menu, but they are inclined to choose the second most expensive dish. So by including a high-priced dish, you can lure people into choosing the second most expensive dish.

The same persuasion technique comes in to play in many product displays. Imagine you were looking at buying a new TV, and you were presented with these three TV options:

  • 36 inch Panasonic for $690
  • 42 inch Toshiba for $850
  • 50 inch Philips for $1480

Which one seems like the better deal? Is the Panasonic a better deal than the Philips? $1480 might be a bit hot, and 36 inch might be a bit small. Likely you will choose the middle option, because next to the other two, this one seems like the best deal.

And finally, my favorite, imagine you were going on a vacation, you have to choose between Rome and Paris. It’s a tough choice, both vacation packages come inclusive of hotel, breakfast and sightseeing tours.

If your travel agent really wants to sell Rome, he will include a second but inferior Rome option, like Rome without the breakfast. You will immediately recognize that Rome and Paris all inclusive are similarly attractive options, and you will also recognize that Rome without breakfast is an inferior option.

What happens is that this inferior option makes Rome with breakfast seem even better. In fact so much better, that now Rome with breakfast looks even more attractive than Paris with breakfast. And next thing you know, you have booked your vacation in Rome – with breakfast.

I hope you have enjoyed these few examples of just how easy we are to manipulate. I don’t really like the word manipulate, it is a very negatively charged word, and I don’t think these techniques are only for “evil” use by any means. I am simply fascinated by how seemingly small and insignificant things can have a huge impact on the choices we make, and I think we would be wise to slow down sometimes and think before we act.

How I Accidentally Ended Up Buying A Miserable Cow

Posted on


Have you ever been in a situation where your emotions got the better of you and all logic and good reasoning seemed to disappear into thin air? Well, that’s what happened the day I became the owner of a miserable cow.

It all began with a farmer placing his cow right outside my house – at the time I lived in Barbados where it is not uncommon for cows to graze in the middle of residential neighborhoods. The farmer didn’t take very good care of this cow, didn’t give her water nor feed. She was very skinny and I felt terrible when ever I looked at her.

So one day I decided to don my cow-saving cape and confront the farmer. He offered a gazillion excuses for not taking proper care of his cow, none of them good enough for me, so as you do I offered to buy the cow. I really hadn’t thought it through, actually hadn’t thought of it at all and didn’t expect him to immediately jump at the chance to get rid of his cow. Talk about an emotionally driven impulse buy!

I took on my new role as cow owner very serious and read books on how to take care of a cow. I bought her proper feed, although the woman at the farmers market kept asking me if I wasn’t sure I had a horse, apparently not many women keep cows! I made sure she had plenty of water and a placed a very attractive umbrella in the field so she could enjoy some shade. And I named her Rose.

Rose the cow
Rose enjoying the cool shade

Rose quickly came to associate me with food, which resulted in her literally giving chase every single time she saw me. Now if you have ever been chased by an 800 lb. cow you know it can be quite scary. The more Rose regained her strength the more unruly she became. When I attempted to move her to a spot with fresh grass she would take off leaving me scrambling trying to hold on to the rope while she galloped through the neighborhood. She would often fall in love with some other cow or bull – what do I know, and muh at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night driving everyone insane with her endless serenades.

Boy did I have a serious case of buyer’s remorse!

Had I known what exactly I was buying into that day and had I not let my emotions run the game, I would most certainly not have become the Rose’s owner. So my point of telling you all of this is; as the seller make sure you give your customers ALL relevant information on your products or you can be sure they won’t shop with you again. And as the buyer keep your cool, don’t let impulses or emotions control your purchases or you might just end up with a miserable cow.

In the end Rose collided with a motorbike on one of her rampages, the police was called and I mysteriously disappeared, Rose was taken away the 5-0 never to be seen again. Although I felt kinda bad I was also immensely relieved to no longer be Rose’s owner. Oh, and nothing happened to the man on the motorbike.

Fake It Till You Become It – Works In Customer Service As Well

Posted on

This is one of my all time favorite TEDtalks. Amy Cuddy talking about how your body language shapes who you are.

The idea that by practicing being powerful we can actually become powerful. That we have a tremendous impact on the events that shape our lives and our everyday experiences by the non-verbal messages we send. Events such as dealing with a difficult customer or having to give a pitch, like a sales pitch or any other social threat situation that we may experience.

The term powerful is not to be understood as having success, money, power or anything of that nature, but rather being assertive, confident and comfortable – and who wouldn’t like to be that?

When you deal with customers on a daily basis, you often find yourself in these unequal power situations. As a salesperson or customer service person you will likely have experienced feeling powerless in front of an a complaining customer. Unfortunately being powerless is a self-reinforcing mechanism; the balance of power tips and it becomes difficult to restore as the customer is more likely to act in an aggressive manner because the more you shrink the more they powerful they become and vice versa.

This imbalance does not do much to promote constructive communication and unfortunately it can result in a lowering of overall service performance as you will fear a similar situation next time you deal with a difficult customer and therefore start out in a defensive and low power stance.  

Now I am not advocating that you should put your hands on your hips and give back as good as you get, but you can improve on the situation by being more powerful yourself. By exuding power you become more confident and people trust confidence as it gives us a sense of security. Your customer will evaluate you much more positively and the likelihood of a successful outcome of the situation will have increased dramatically.

So my advise to everyone is – take two minutes out of your day every day and practice Amy’s high power poses and walk out there and fake til you become it!

Tips on How To Make Customer Service Work Using Social Media

Posted on

Many businesses have a presence in social media with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a host of other options available. Social media is a fantastic opportunity to spread the word and show lots of great content. It is also a great way for consumers to interact with a company and reach out in times of customer service needs.

Departments pie chart

And it is exactly on the customer service side of the equation that the film often breaks. Social media is usually the responsibility of the marketing and/or and public relations departments, and they do a fantastic job when it comes to transmitting corporate messages and showing off all sorts of “can’t-live-without” features and latest models. It seems that some companies forget that good customer service is out-of-this-world fantastic marketing and PR. Adding customer service to the mix will complete the circle and add tremendous value to the overall customer experience.

Unfortunately I see an awful lot of poor customer service on the various walls around the net. Unanswered queries and messages that get answered by someone who either doesn’t work in customer service or shouldn’t be working in customer service, they often carry a  passive-aggressive tone with a hint of defensive self-righteousness. They make my toes curl – it looks ever so bad.

Seeing such walls makes me wonder what kind of customer service I can expect from these companies who seem to prioritize pushing sales messages so much that they don’t have time to stop and pay proper attention to existing customers. I have actually chosen not to buy from companies because of how poorly they have demonstrated their ability to handle after-sale service issues on social networks. Surely I’m not the only one…

So here are some tips on how to it right.

The first tip is really not a tip at all. It’s a requirement. Answer ALL customer queries. There really is no middle ground here. You answer the phone when it rings right? This is no different, except here everyone can see when you choose to ignore the call.

There is a lot discussion going on as to whether 1 hour or 24 hours is the correct amount of time to answer customer queries. I’d say it really depends on your industry, but in general the sooner the better. Customers love immediate attention; makes them feel valued and a timely reply can easily be an ice-breaker if the query is of a difficult nature.


When a customer reaches out, the first and most important thing you must do is to acknowledge them and show them empathy. I see companies using phrases like”Oh no, we understand your frustration and will….” or “Dear XXX please accept our sincere apologies we will immediately….” These types of responses are great, they really show that you care about the customer  and appreciate their predicament. One thing to keep in mind though is to not use the same phrase in response to all queries, a whole wall full of “Oh no..” looks like the responses are insincere and rehearsed, like a broken record.

The second thing to do is to demonstrate action. Let the customer know what you intend to do about the situation. And please do not say that “there is really nothing you can do” or “Facebook is not the right place to…” Yes, I have actually seen responses such as these, and there is ALWAYS something you can do and Facebook is an obvious place to demonstrate how much you care about your customers. So tell them that you will personally see to some action taking place or ask them to contact you personally with more details.

The last bit of advise I’ll give for now, is to NEVER reply to a customer query if you are in a bad mood or feeling irritable. In that situation a later reply is likely better than what you would be delivering immediately. When we communicate in writing, we only have the actual words to interpret, there is no tone of voice or body language to guide and help us, so you have to be acutely aware of your choice of words and using positive and supportive phrases is just a lot easier when you are in a good mood.

I came across a great example of how you can turn a very uncomfortable and difficult situation 180 degrees by giving the customer the answers they are looking for. It was a furniture company with a very unhappy customer who had received a sofa in less than prime condition, the reply to the customer was a detailed explanation that with complete transparency and honesty told how and why the situation had occurred, apologized for the unfortunate events, offered a solution and was signed in person and with a personal e.mail address attached.

Not many companies would dare to expose faults as openly as this company did, but judging from the subsequent comments I think it was the right thing to do. Admitting when you are wrong is a character trait that earns respect, not just for people but for businesses too.

Build customer service on effective communication

Posted on

Good customer service is founded on the exchange of information; messages being send out, received, de-coded and acted upon. Needless to say it is very important that the messages we send out are de-coded in the way we intended them to, but more often than we like to admit our messages become misunderstood. To our great bewilderment what we thought was ever so cleverly communicated turns into a tangle of confusion, contention and more questions than answers.


Human communication is a complicated business it involves a complex mixture of verbal and non-verbal cues such as; tone of voice, the words being used, facial expressions, gestures, posture, appearance and the list goes on and on. Ever since Albert Mehrabian published his 7-38-55 rule, which basically states that we base our approval of a person on 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% on the spoken word, the importance of non-verbal communication has received much attention and discussion. Whatever the distribution really is one thing is for sure; the majority of the cues we use to understand a message are not actually related to the spoken word, but are instead based upon physical observations. If you work in customer service you will know that being liked by your customer is crucially important for the outcome of any given situation.    

The root of the problem lies in the emotions we build into the messages we send by our physical behavior. Being able to understand the messages from the receivers perspective can alleviate potentially negative and contentious situations. It’s a case of “putting the shoe on the other foot” and imagine how you would feel as the receiver.

Here are a few tips on non-verbal communication that will help resolve differences, build trust and foster an environment where cooperation can flourish.

Face-to-face communication

When dealing with a customer face to face the most important part of your body to be aware of is, well, your face. And in particularly your eyes and the area around them. Raise your eyebrows to the top of your forehead and you will look like a deer caught in the headlights. Relax your eyebrows and you will look like you don’t give a damn. Practice what your facial expressions look like by standing in front of a mirror and be acutely aware of them when dealing with your customers.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Keep eye contact with the person in front of you, that will tell them that you hear them and are doing everything you can to understand them. But be careful not to stare at them, that could make you appear somewhat intimidating, and watch out for knitted eyebrows that read “I don’t understand a word you are saying, but you are giving me a headache”.

If you can smile with your eyes, well that is half the battle won right there. People who master this seem friendly, inviting, caring and attentive – all things that makes people relax and open up.

Your mouth is the second most important feature. A lot of people will look you in the eye while they talk, but quite often look at your mouth when you talk. Tight lips and clenched jaws will certainly make you look annoyed and angry. Pout and you look like an obstinate teenager.

It will probably not come as a surprise that I recommend smiling. Smiling is just one of the most attractive things we humans can do, smiling makes us feel good and it is infectious; in a difficult situation it can turn animosity into cooperation.

But smiling also has it’s limitations, as much as a genuine smile can bridge a gab between people, so can a fake smile widen the gab beyond repair. Do not attach hooks to your cheeks and pull them up behind your ears, apart from looking freakish you will also look condescending, and that will get anyone’s back up against the wall.

Moving on down the body we come to the arms. Try to avoid putting your hands in the pockets, especially the back-pockets, it looks a bit too casual like you are not taking the situation serious. And never cross your arms in front of you, by doing that you communicate that you are closed and will not listen. Instead keep your arms relaxed down the sides or hold them in a loose grip in front of you or behind you. When you talk use your hands to illustrate that you welcome the dialogue by holding your arms out and open up your hands.

Eyes, mouth and arms are the three main components to master when communicating non-verbally. Top them off with a good posture; straight back and chin up, and you are well on your way to making your customers feel appreciated and valued and that will help them de-code your messages in the way you intended them to.

In a later post I will give tips on effective customer service in non face-to-face situations, such as through social media or over the phone.