Designing for Change

How we’re attempting to alter our customer’s routines through the design of Fastlane.

Cody Iddings
Jan 10, 2018 · 10 min read

“The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” — Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

Last month, the innovation team that I work with at Z Energy released Fastlane at 9 trial sites around New Zealand — a new way of fuelling up and paying at a petrol station (read more about it here). While other teams would expect a certain number of registrations and transactions to deem it successful, our success is the gathering of data, the on-site observations, and the insights from all customer types and all areas of the business. We need to operate in this way because we are looking to modify habits and create change, and that only happens when we understand the current behaviours of everyone involved.

Many companies deal with growing pains of innovations which require a distinctive behaviour change by overreacting, not buying in, and shutting things down too early. In 2008, Evernote founder Phil Libin made the difficult decision to close the company down after deciding it was never going to take off, only to be met with a large overseas investment that ultimately carried the success of the company. In the same year, when Airbnb first started, it struggled to survive as prominent investors passed on the idea. Only through the unrelenting persistence of Airbnb’s team did they succeed.

Often times similar companies and innovations fail because the founders and investors are trusting their customers to know what they want. As Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In my last article about the Google Pixel Buds, I argued that the buds “will change your relationship with headphones” but the consumers and the industry have indicated (through terrible reviews) that we just aren’t ready for this change. (Time will tell if Google will hold out to see the innovation through or kill the idea before a change ensues). Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, says: “Many innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

While many companies start to question their judgement or react to low sign up and usage numbers, we aim to resist the urge to do this with Fastlane and focus on the core hypotheses we have in our learning plan to understand customer usage/experience. However, our nature is to question why: Why aren’t more customers signing up? Why aren’t more customers driving through the lanes? Is the experience of the Fastlane not working for people? I believe it’s because our customers have deep, instilled routines and expectations with how they fuel up now and changing those behaviours is outright difficult.

A Great 2-minute recap of Duhigg’s influential book about habits.

While habit-changing can be seen as impossible, Charles Duhigg of The Power of Habit gives us hope. He says, “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” So, the question is: how do we go about changing our customers’ habits?

Fogg Behaviour Model. Credit:

According to the Fogg Behaviour Model (named amply after BJ Fogg, the head of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab), if motivation, ability, and triggers aren’t present, the desired behaviour won’t occur. Jason Hreha, Head of Product, Behavioural Sciences at Walmart, says: “In order for a behaviour to occur, a person must first be motivated and able to perform the behaviour. Then, if they have an ample level of motivation and ability to perform the given behaviour, they will follow through when cued/triggered.” With this context, let’s dig into 3 helpful tips in shaping a customers’ habits.

1) Understand current motivations and expectations

While this may seem like they typical run-of-the-mill “understand your customer experience,” it’s a bit more complicated than that. Understanding who your customers are and what your customers are doing on their journey is one thing, but digging into their routine — what drives people to repeat behaviours — is where the insight comes in.

We often ask our Z customers why they choose to pay inside over pay at the pump, and we get a slew of answers — “I like to talk to the people inside,” “I think it’s easier,” “I want a drink” — but those answers are typically just the surface answers, not digging into the real meat. I believe many customers have formed routines over time, such as going to the same fuel stations (even favouriting specific lanes!), talking to the same people, and using the same form of payment. The idea of changing those behaviours, no matter how much better or easier things will become, doesn’t compete with the ease and comfort of routines.

“We can design for the fact that our users carry a consistent set of expectations about how the world works.”—Emmet Connolly, Director of Product Design at Intercom

We also know that people see and expect the world to work in a certain way and showing them a different reality should be done with special intent and thought, especially when we’re asking them to change their behaviour to something less compelling.

Maintaining a sense of user autonomy is a requirement for repeat engagement. Fuel, for example, is an energy commodity that people feel some ownership over. They invest in a vehicle and expect to use it easily and in the same way they have been for the past 100 years (while ideally keeping costs as low as possible). Changing people’s expectations that this is not a commodity they have ownership of but rather a service and a resource they are paying for is threatening their known reality and autonomy. Customers could even rebel against this new behaviour. Psychologists refer to this as reactance.

As expected, our Fastlane trial so far has seen a direct impact of going against people’s expectations and is gathering reactances. Because there are specific lanes just for registered users, if someone pulls up who is not registered, the driver is asked to move to a different lane. It’s a simple request but because of people’s routines and expectations, a few have become defensive. We never expected the amount of strife Fastlane has created, but it has been great for teaching us about the difficulty of changing behaviours.

On the flip side, for those who are registered and arrive to a Fastlane, the drivers’ name flashes on the pump screen. While the primary purpose of this is to notify our concierge, it also gives the driver personal recognition and the expectation that this is their lane and the pump is ready for their use. It’s small details like these that could ease customers into new and different ways of doing things as we slowly start changing expectations and the experience.

Understanding who our customers are, what and how they interact with the product, and the why of their behaviours is necessary to inspire change.

2) Offer the right triggers at the right time

We’ve discussed above that an individual’s current behaviours and expectations might inhibit their motivation and ability to change, but more times than not, we aren’t offering the right triggers at the right time.

There are two types of triggers, according to Nir Eyal: external and internal. An external trigger is typically some piece of marketing or cue to remind someone to do a particular action. These are seen as emails, push notifications, signs, etc. Unfortunately, external triggers often don’t work unless it can be connected with an internal trigger. (For example: I get a notification from Facebook on my phone, I realise that I’m bored, so I open Facebook; I see the powerful McDonald’s Golden Arches, I realise I’m hungry, so I pull into a McDonald’s). Leveraging these internal triggers in association with external triggers can be very powerful, as long as one’s individual ability isn’t inhibited. To create new customers, great marketing campaigns will often focus on the feeling experienced when someone purchases a product, so that the potential internal trigger can be associated with the external trigger in the wild.

For our Fastlane trial, we heavily relied on external triggers at particular Z Stations because it was a limited release. We asked people to download the app and register through brochures and posters. We created big, bright orange floor signage to trigger customers into driving into that particular lane. Stickers and flags were plastered all over the pumps. While these are all great external triggers, Fastlane won’t create an emotional connection with our customers until they try it and, as with most services, customers need to register. Unfortunately, downloading an app and registering when you are on the forecourt of a petrol station certainly doesn’t align with existing customer habits in this setting. Breaking down these barriers of registration (Fogg’s ‘ability’) is necessary for us to move forward and break the power of habit:

  • Don’t want to use their cell data to download an app
  • On the go and busy, can’t be bothered (or they’re driving)
  • Regulation enforces not to use phones on the forecourt
  • Lack of understanding of their smartphone (or don’t own one outright)

Experimenting with various external triggers—such as free WIFI at the petrol station or an offline registration process—will be helpful so that we can start learning if there are repeat visits, indicating that people have made a positive emotional connection with the faster payment system.

“If a user is presented with a call to action when they’re able and somewhat motivated to perform a behaviour, it’s likely that they will. If they then have a good experience… they will be reinforced to use it again in the future. If the following occurs enough times, a habit will be formed.” — Jason Hreha, Head of Product, Behavioural Sciences at Walmart.

3) Build new habits by experimenting with rewards

It’s easy to think about rewards as something tangible that we can offer our customers, but to build new habits, we need to focus on deeper, intrinsic rewards. Duhigg says: “Rewards are powerful because they satisfying cravings. But we’re often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviours.”

These cravings are woven together through motivations, rewards, action, and investment—otherwise known as the Hook Model.

An in-depth 13-minute recap of Nir Eyal’s influential book about building habit-forming products.

At the heart of the Hook Model is a powerful cognitive quirk described by B.F. Skinner in the 1950s, called a variable schedule of rewards. Skinner observed that lab mice responded most voraciously to random rewards. The mice would press a lever and sometimes they’d get a small treat, other times a large treat, and other times nothing at all. Unlike the mice that received the same treat every time, the mice that received variable rewards seemed to press the lever compulsively

Nir Eyal says that there are three types of variable rewards and that must satisfy the needs of the customers while driving motivation to reengage again. These three are:

  1. Rewards of the tribe are social rewards fueled by connectedness with other people.
  2. Rewards of the hunt is the search for material resources and information.
  3. Rewards of the self is the search for intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence, and completion.

(Similarly, Hreha says that one way to amplify motivation are through incentives, which he broke into four categories—monetary, tangible item, point-based, social.)

Furthermore, understanding the core-users and what they value with a product, will take some experimentation. It’s important to test different rewards and learn which rewards will drive change.

“This might take a few days, or a week, or longer. During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change — think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.” —Charles Duhigg

While Fastlane hypothetically eases the pain of payment, we need to learn through our trial if the intrinsic reward triggers reengagement in the future. Furthermore, we need to learn if people are willing to sacrifice other rewards they are getting in a normal fill-up to satisfy their need to just fill-up and go. Experimenting with different incentives for sign-up, different rewards for fill-up, and variable rewards for loyal customers will be great for our team to try break some of the barriers mentioned above.

New experiences are always at the mercy of the current experience—and even if it’s a better experience, it’s unfortunately not always perceived that way. Kumar Mehta, Ph.D., author of the Innovation Biome, calls this gap the ‘Experience Delta,’ and claims it’s at the centre of innovation.

The Experience Delta, or the change in experience between how something is done today, vs. how it could be done through a new idea or innovation is a consistent and valuable way to determine which ideas to invest in and which to pass on. The bigger the change in experience, or the larger the Experience Delta, the more impact an innovation is going to have. —Dr. Kumar Mehta, How You Can Start Betting On The Right Ideas

To be successful at innovation, we need to understand our customer’s experience, design intently for the new experience, and offer intrinsic rewards that satisfy their inner cravings. This drives true, long-lasting behaviour change, creates new ways of thinking, and bridges the gap between the old and the new.

Read more about Fastlane and the Z Energy Innovation Team here: Customer convenience is the focus of Fastlane - pull in, fuel up and go

Z Innovation

We are a small, curious, rogue product team of designers, researchers, creatives, and builders dedicated to improving the customer experience at Z Energy.

Cody Iddings

Written by

End-to-end experience design for the Z Energy Innovation Refinery. Previously Product and UX at Trade Me, Telepathy, BLVR, SURFER Mag

Z Innovation

We are a small, curious, rogue product team of designers, researchers, creatives, and builders dedicated to improving the customer experience at Z Energy.

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