To start, let’s look at some insight into habit, inspired by the book Killer UX Design by the brilliant Jodie Moule.
Define a habitual user
How often do you want someone to use the product? What do they do? How long do you want them to stay? How often do you want them to visit? These questions will help you to outline what you are expecting up front before you launch. This is easier to do if your product already exists, but try to estimate what you’d expect or hope for, at a minimum.
Focus on behavior
Remember, we are focused on users’ behavior, and what creates a habit varies for the type of service you deliver. Focus on individual users and what they are doing, and assess if they’re making your product a habit or not. The overall active user rate is not predictive; it is what they are actually doing that should be the focal point.
Plan out the Macro & Micro usage thoughts. How many times a day, week, or month do you see as realistic usage? Set a clear expectation for overall frequency of use of your product, but try to be realistic. Everyone wants users to engage daily, or even hourly—but few products manage this. The context of your product will help guide what you can sensibly expect.
Then it’s important to plan where in the process of behavioural change to target activities that stimulate the Reward Centre. Timing is everything in the game of addiction – grab people at their most susceptible or vulnerable. Behaviour change occurs during the covert and overt activities that people use to progress through an engagement with a service or experience.
There are ten such processes as explained by Prochaska:
- Consciousness Raising (Increasing awareness)
- Dramatic Relief (Emotional arousal)
- Environmental Re-evaluation (Social reappraisal)
- Social Liberation (Environmental opportunities)
- Self Re-evaluation (Self reappraisal)
- Stimulus Control (Re-engineering)
- Helping Relationship (Supporting)
- Counter Conditioning (Substituting)
- Reinforcement Management (Rewarding)
- Self Liberation (Committing)
The first five are classified as Experiential Processes and are used primarily for the early stage transitions.
The last five are labeled Behavioral Processes and are used primarily for later stage transitions.
People pass through a series of stages when changes occur. They are:
The opportunity for small, sustained positive reinforcement occur at 2,3,4 & 5. In theory if we get these moments loaded full of dopamine stimulation then pre-contemplation is taken care of by your herd (more on that later!) and relapse is prevented because a person is positively engaged throughout the experience.
Set the baseline
Once launched, you are in a position to collect and analyze data around habits. Measure at intervals how many of your users actually fit the definitions you set at baseline, and then at different time periods post-launch (monthly, quarterly, six-monthly).
Who is dropping off and why? Understand who engages with your product and who dumps it. Try to uncover why that might be the case using UX methods.
Measuring behavior is a job done longitudinally and there is no way of hastening time. The best results are taken over a long period, and during this time anything could change—so hang in there. There are also slow starts.
There is no magic percentage you can assign to assess whether your product is creating a habit. Actual user behavior patterns are most predictive of an eventual habit.
Evolution, Not Revolution
Iteration as an approach to learning continues even after you’ve launched, and is backed (or refuted) by larger volumes of customer data that reflect actual use of your product.
You need to take these learnings and continue to evolve your design, but keep in mind that it is about evolution rather than revolution at this stage of the game. You are not looking to fundamentally change your design approach, but rather to tweak and refine based on a new level of understanding of your customers’ needs and habits.
Observe the Early Adopters of Your Product
Watching the early adoption of your product will allow you to ascertain where the real value of your product lies for your users, helping you to then shape the product in new or unexpected ways.
A great TED talk with Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, reveals how watching early adopters of the product helped to uncover hidden value that was not imagined in its creation.
In this talk, Evan discusses how Twitter was originally created as a broadcast medium. Users shaped its evolution by inventing ways of doing things; for example, using the @ handle evolved from users shouting out to other users they knew whom they wanted to draw into their discussions; it was not part of the original design.
Similarly, the use of the hashtag [#] to search for like items was not originally designed, but created by a third-party provider as a way to locate content as the service grew and evolved. Twitter then purchased this service, and the hashtag became an invaluable way of locating content across all posts.
What does a habitual user look like?
Once you’ve launched, identify the behaviors that differentiate your habitual users from the rest, and try to identify the tipping point that took them from normal user status to habitual user status. It will take more than stats to uncover the answer, and this is where follow-up contact with your users will be useful to uncovering the “why.”
Before you go see users in the wild, check your data and formulate a hypothesis about their usage and why they might have taken a certain pathway that other users have not.
Model Your Top Users’ Habits
Target your devoted users and try to understand their usage and behavior in detail so that you can apply learnings from this group to the rest of your user group. Understand what it was that hooked them more strongly than standard users so that you can then use this information to attract a new group or convert others.
You could focus on data and drill down to see what they did and where they went within your product, uncovering the patterns and areas that drove their usage. Alternatively, pull out your UX methods again and talk to your most passionate users about how they use the product; monitor them in their own context and ask them to keep a diary through the trial so that you can uncover greater detail than stats alone can give you. Your devotees will love it!
Identify from your data commonalities among the habitual users to see if there is a pattern that led to a habit that can be translated across a wider group.
Modify Based on What You Learn
What you learn post-launch will allow you to focus on aspects to further develop and refine your product. You’ll also be able to market your product to new users in a way that directs them towards the end you seek.
To reach a deeper level of understanding, head out of the office and start talking to the real users of your product once again. This should help you to add context to the analytical data you’ve collected. Key areas for expanding your learning at this stage are:
What are hurdles to engagement with the product or features, if any?
What gaps do competitor’s products fill that yours don’t?
Is the problem your product solves one that customers want solved?
Are your strategies influencing users’ behavior towards the desired result?
Which aspects of the product resonate with users, and which do not? (In this sense, you understand the aspects of the original vision that have been validated, and those areas that are not resonating.)
Remember: with product design, it’s about evolution, not revolution.
Other thoughts on executing NeuroCX
As well as the strategic considerations above, there’s a whole wave of tactical things we can do to fire up the reward centre & back in NeuroCX into our products;
- The first question(s) you ask a user should trigger a positive feeling – Consider the idea that you might actively provide or suggest that a user listens to their favourite song during registration. It’s scientifically proven to flood the Reward Centre and put the user into a positive state of mind.
- Don’t collect too much data in one foul swoop. Seek to collect only the minimum with the intention of collecting a stack of additional data throughout the duration of the experience. Play the long game.
- In a registration or application that has to collect a lot, consider offering a recess. A deliberate break in proceedings. If it seems annoying then it’s probably the right thing to do. It helps the brain retain the knowledge already passed into the system and makes the user feel in control.
- Offer data collection milestones. Literally reward someone with a discount or virtual token of some kind the more data they give you.
- Allow users to donate this virtual token as a gift to entice new members, which in turn could gift them with more points or rewards. Generosity gets the dopamine flowing.
- Don’t give everything away for free. It’s vital that content is earned. It might seem cynical, but it’s crucial for brain stimulation that a user feels like they’ve achieved something. Content is a great vehicle to do that.
- Link content exposure or / and tone of voice to level or score. The more a user grows, the more content you release or give them access too – Progressive disclosure and Asymmetric Paternalism.
- Reward a user for sharing content and influencing the Viral Loop. The net for new users widens, the generosity dopamine kicks in and associative conditioning teaches the user that sharing feels good and is rewarded.
- Break content into small parts and drop the full edit over a long period of time. Create cliff-hangers. It’s going to fly in the face of our natural inclination, but you have to be willing to accept that this approach might be annoying. The positives however, certainly outweigh the negatives. You’ll keep users wanting to come back and make it easier for them to learn too.
- If content is king, then the maven is its queen.
Ongoing engagement (maintenance and CRM)
- Make sure people are constantly made aware of progress. Even small steps like “congratulations, this is your 1st week engaged in X, Y & Z” give positive reassurance and stimulate the reward centre and feelings of achievement.
- Similarly, contrary to popular rhetoric, make people aware of negative behaviours, but don’t punish them for it (progress moves you forward and unlocks new content and levels, negative just stalls progress – a blip in the road, not a u-turn).
- Show people where they rank amongst a subset of close peers. The maven loves to be made to feel that they are valued and among the elite. Being elite doesn’t mean the ultimate best, it can be the best in your vicinity.
- Make sure you use the ongoing triggers to teach new things. Knowledge grows exponentially. The more we know, the greater our ability to learn, and the faster we expand our knowledge base.
You get the idea… Just give people joygasms as regularly as possible!