How to Apply the Science of Behavior Change to Getting Customers

When it comes to getting and retaining customers, the good news is it’s more of an applied science than an art form. That’s because growing a business depends to a great degree on scientifically gathered insights into what drives human behavior. As a provider in the world of behavioral health, I’ve had the privilege of seeing these lessons firsthand. On this note, what follow are six tips from the world of psychology for growing a business.

6 Psychological Pointers for Growing a Business

Here are six fundamentals from the psychology of human behavior that can help build a business:

  • Create a perception of added value. “I have a need” is the first thing to drive customer behavior, so they need to be able to perceive that a particular product or service will meet that need for them. It’s people’s perception that is instrumental: Whether reviews, others’ comments, or the fact that Ben Affleck is wearing your clothes, people need to be persuaded that what you’re selling meets their need.  How it will improve their life through utility or perceived benefit can make all the difference.  Of course, we have all heard of terrible products that do not meet their claims and the allure will be short- lived.

The same is true with respect to growing a business. Often, a positive incentive will take the form of a price discount that creates the perception of “a great deal,” because price dictates value in people’s minds—but not always. Also, price or some other incentive will get people the entry to fall in love with what you are selling (think Groupons).

But know your market well; sometimes the opposite is true for certain services or products. For example, if someone says, “I’m going to a surgeon who will replace my hip for $500,” and this other doctor charges $5,000, chances are you’re going to think, “He must be much better or is offering something of more value than the surgeon who is only $500.”

  • Positively reinforce intended behaviors. When customers buy your product or service, reward them with an offer they can’t refuse. There’s a pleasure switch in the brain that can momentarily light up when a customer is on the hunt for a good deal and believes they have found it. The pleasure is usually short-lived—to the degree that buyer’s remorse is not uncommon. But, if a customer knows each purchase is earning them cash back, more free services, or another form of positive reinforcement, they’ll be more likely to keep feeling good about their purchase and make subsequent others, even if another product is better. (For it’s true a deal is a deal.)
  • Appeal to pack mentality. As social creatures, people are like pack animals. We want to know what other people think of a product or service before we try it; we want to see it, hear about it, or read 15 articles about it. And, for many of us, where we shop and what we buy makes a statement about who we are and who we associate with—or who we want to be.

What this means is that if “everyone” is buying Apple phones and swears by them, we will be more likely to purchase them as well. We will at least be more likely to look into them as an option and explore them, because they’re so popular.  An expensive pair of sneakers worn by a cool middle schooler suddenly becomes the hottest ticket and rationale to avidly coax parents into a purchase that will “transform” the life of their pre-teen.

  • Be different—and by being different, foster a personal relationship. A company that does this very well is Southwest Airlines. They have succeeded in building more customer loyalty than other airlines, by making the effort to be different and standing out from the crowd. This entailed creating a unique culture and customer service experience that would make flying with them more fun, with less extras, and budget-friendly (thanks to their distinctive rewards mileage programs). It’s not hard to see how one pay-off of that work was a sense of personal satisfaction and association among Southwest customers.  Even if you offer a bare bones service, at least keep a clean place and have happy smiles everywhere! (Cheap prices don’t mean you should treat people cheap.)
  • Stay committed to delivering a high-quality product/service. At the end of the day, a mindset of just wanting to make money alone won’t sustain business growth, because in the end you have to feel good about yourself, based on your values, and you want a positive business experience. Most of us who go into business have a desire to provide something of quality. As human beings, we want to offer something and make the world a better place, while making a good livelihood at it. So, it’s not enough to want more customers because more customers mean more revenue. On the other hand, knowing you have a product or service that truly enriches customers’ lives can be the engine of long-term business growth and a brand that continues to thrive.


Dr. Beau Nelson heads the Clinical Services department at FHE Health, a nationally recognized behavioral health provider treating addiction and mental health conditions.  Learn more about FHE Health’s treatment programs here.