Better Plus: The difficulty in changing user behaviour and habits

I met with a potential client the other day. They were considering another attempt at becoming a destination website for a certain type of content.

And during our chat, I was reminded of the hurdle that must be overcome whenever we want to change user behaviour.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing our Great New Online Offering to what users are putting up with at present. Perhaps they’re with an (obviously!) inferior competitor, or an offline equivalent. Our offering is (obviously!) better, so once users see that, they’ll be lining up to pay. Right?

Not right.

And here’s why: we fall into the trap of assessing our product or service’s market potential as if customers have no history of using an alternative—as if they’re standing in front of two doors for the first time, and Door A is better than Door B, so they will, of course, choose Door A.

But we human beings are such wonderful creatures of habit. We’re inherently ‘lazy’, in that we do enough to accomplish our goals, and no more. Routine replaces effort. And our modern world has quite enough to keep us busy on a day-to-day basis without choosing to change things that seem to be working.

So if something is ‘good enough’, we tend to stick with it.

And when something better comes along, it’s not good enough to be just objectively ‘better’. It has to be that much better that we’re also willing to change our habits and patterns of use to accommodate it.

I call this ‘Better Plus’.

And that’s why companies are often mystified when their surveys and research and testing show that their new online offering is better than the competition, yet the offering tanks upon launch. It may have been better from a fresh perspective. But it wasn’t better enough for users to put effort into the change, to learn a new way of doing what they already do.

Now there are, of course, other factors in changing behaviour—brand affinity, technology support, cost of the change, and so forth. They all play a role.

But next time you’re considering any investment in a new online offering, stop and think about current habits and patterns of use. About natural human resistance to change. About how much mental work a user must invest to integrate your new offering into their everyday life.

Make sure you’re offering Better Plus.