Nudge, Nudge

A recent Wired article discussed the dangers of trying to influence users through nudging — the practice of structuring a person’s choices in such a way as to get a desired result. It highlighted one of the key dynamics facing today’s high-tech companies as they shift from relatively independent creators of “whiz-bang” software to full-fledged consumer-oriented businesses. This tension between following your bliss and taking into account the expectations of others can be a tough cultural change for some companies.

As corporate self-interest becomes more important than user satisfaction, the nudging company’s approach to consumers becomes fragmented and incoherent.

The target of the article was Facebook but it could just as easily be applied to anything from politics to parenting. I remember learning pretty quickly that if I wanted my five-year-old daughter to put on a sweater, I didn’t come right out and ask her if she wanted to put on a sweater … I asked her if she wanted to put on the red sweater or the blue sweater. Sheer genius. Of course, as she got older, she got wise to my evil machinations and the nudging approach started to fail.

The problem for businesses is that their customers are at least as savvy as young children and these people get frustrated when websites, surveys, or automated phone menus don’t offer up reasonable choices (or even try and trick them into doing something they don’t want to). This type of behavior can contribute to reduced customer satisfaction, lost revenues and lower brand value.


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