No thanks, I'll keep struggling.

Blog & News

ESP: How to read your customer's mind

Category: Blog & News

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get into the minds of your customers, to really know why they make the decisions they do? Well today is the day. I’m about to share a powerful framework that will give you customer ESP.


No, not Extra Sensory Perception. The E.S.P. I’m talking about stands for the three ways you need to look at customer behaviour in order to better influence it; Environment, Social and Personal contexts. Here’s how and why it will make a difference to your conversions.

Environment: how we are unknowingly influenced by our surrounds

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by their environment; what your website looks like, where they are searching for you, what your shop looks like, smells and sounds.

Research(1) has indicated for example that voting preferences can be impacted by where the vote is held, we think we are eating fewer calores if we’re sitting in a ‘healthy’ fast food outlet even if we’re not, the music playing in a bottleshop can change the preference for regional wine, we eat more if the plate is larger, and the placement of meeting room chairs in a circle can effect likelihood of a consensus decision.

The interesting thing is that if you ask people whether these environmental conditions impacted their behaviour they would likely say no. It all happens subconsciously, beneath the surface.

Social: how we are influenced by others

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by other people; who they see you dealing with, how you appear, availability of testimonials and count of social media followers.

We are attracted to best selling items and flock to popular cafes, we dress like others with whom we identify, and we seek to be included rather than excluded.

The interesting thing about the social context is while others influence us we tend to downplay this impact on our decision-making because we want to maintain our sense of uniqueness. A favourite example of mine is the purchase of a luxury vehicle - if asked we may cite performance and safety but discount the impact of seeing what cars our neighbours drive. No one likes to own up to the fact that they are “keeping up with the Jonses’”. Again, it’s all happening beneath the surface.

Personal: how we make decisions before we realise we are

Your customer’s behaviour is influenced by deep-seated behavioural biases and rules of thumb (heuristics) that would impact them even if they were living alone in a bubble. The interesting thing is that although I call them “personal”, we all have these biases - your customer, you, your staff, me...

We roam around on auto-pilot, relying on habits and mental short cuts, we often prefer to leave things as they are rather than change, we want good stuff now and leave bad stuff to a future version of ourselves and we are attuned to information that supports rather than contradicts our world view. And you guessed it, this is all happening beneath the surface.

How to apply ESP

So now we’ve laid out the foundation for carving up a way to better understand your customers: E.S.P. Our next step is to dive deeper on each so that I can illustrate how you can tweak your business to gain advantage. First cab of the rank is how you can shape your customer's Environment to influence behaviour which you can read here.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

1. Research sources
Voting preferences see Berger, Meredith & Wheeler 2008
Underestimating calories see Chandon and Wansink 2007
Music playing in a bottleshop see North, Hargreaves & McKendrick 1999
Larger plate size see Van Ittersum and Wansink 2012
Placement of meeting room chairs see Zhu & Argo 2013