Monday, November 1, 2010

Traffic light button pushers

In a recent post (Elevating elevator multi-sensory behaviour) I wrote about the quiet chaos invoked when one of the sensory cues breaks down - in this case a "bing" that confirms that the elevator button has been activated.  But let's take it outside, to any street corner where pedestrians cross with the safety lights.  Why is it that some people feel that pressing the button repeatedly, and often with rapid fire technique, will speed up the light change?

The button itself usually makes a sound as you depress it - reinforcing that your action has been conducted. Some buttons even have back lighting to reinforce that you have completed your task. But these cues are simply acknowledging that you have pushed the button. What if I want to CONTROL the process?  What if I DON"T HAVE TIME TO WAIT 30 SECONDS BECAUSE I'M A VERY BUSY PERSON! Press press press the button and aha! The lights have changed! Proof that the more times I press the button the faster the lights will change.  And for those skeptics who say the lights would have changed anyway, that may be true but it would have taken soooo much longer. 

What's happening here?  People who must logically know that one push of a button is enough to set the system to change the lights are finding themselves repeatedly and earnestly reaching for the button.  People who must rationally know that the light system does not count how many button clicks it gets before making the change (8, 9, 10...yep, now I can change) keep pressing that thing like it's machine gun.  What's happening is a pretty simple reinforcement of behaviour. Do it once and it works, why not do it every time?  And why take the 'risk' that not doing it will mean that the lights won't change...ever? 

Look around and you will see people of all walks of life behaving in ways counter to logic because that's just how we are (refer Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely) Of course it doesn't mean there cannot be improvements to everyday experiences like traffic light crossings.  How about a count down timer that is enacted when the button is pressed?  I've seen timers that count how much time you have left to cross the street, but how about knowing you have 10 seconds to wait before the lights switch?  It will also help to cue whether the person across the street has already pressed the button.

For marketers the lesson from the lights is that the more cues the better.  Reinforce that your customer has completed whatever task is required of them - Order complete message; Acknowledgement that their competition entry has been received; a reference number when dealing over the phone - confirm, confirm, confirm that they have completed their action otherwise they may keep pressing the button.

No comments:

Post a Comment