Thursday, August 9, 2007

Persuasive Online Forms

Distinguished Professor of Marketing and Regents’ Professor of Psychology Robert B, Cialdini, Ph.D. describes in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion the principal of human automatic action demonstrated in an experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer.

Here’s a passage from the book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B, Cialdini, Ph.D.

A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do. Langer demonstrated this unsurprising fact by asking a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine; Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? The Effectiveness of this request-plus-reason was nearly total: 94% of those asked let her skip ahead of them in line. Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request only: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? Under those circumstances, only 60% of those asked complied.

This example works well in the real world where we can interact with someone directly but can this translate to the online equivalent human automatic action?

On a website the need for reassurance is even higher because of the lack of direct human interaction. The nature of the web puts the user in control and when that control is challenged users tend to bail out since there’s no guilt holding them back. They are not walking away from an actual person after all.

The cutting in line experiment is the online equivalent of when a company form page or registration page asks for information that may be beyond what the user is comfortable with providing or information that has nothing to do with the expectations of the task. For example why ask for your mailing address if you’re just signing up for a free online membership? The user has no expectation to receive anything in the mail and therefore assumes they just want to send him or her junk mail or worse yet sell his address to several other people who want to ensure the mailman has plenty to stuff in his box.

The lessons learned on persuasion in the experiment can be easily adapted to this online situation and as a result improve the conversion rate of all online forms. If in the real world conversion went up 34% we can at least expect an equivalent online.

Below is an example of how the lesson of human automatic action can be leveraged by adding a simple reason why to a contact page.

In the example rather than simply asking for information a bit of verbal persuasion is used to reassure and explain why the user should be filling in his valuable information.

This simple act of explaining, “Entering a URL allows us to review your site so that we can begin thinking about improving it before we speak to you.” Not only provides a human level of comfort but also directly relates how entering this information will be beneficial to the user filling out the form. “…so that we can begin thinking about improving it before we speak to you.”


Kristian Tørning said...

Nice article it's an interesting topic!

Xerox Ink Printer said...

Hey guys!
i just started blogging not that long ago and running across this blog it seemed a bit too interesting to only read the first paragraph. I kinda got confused in the middle of it but the end just made it all go together like a puzzle. Please, who ever wrote this, keep me updated!