How can you persuade a customer you can't afford to lose (Part 2)

Let there be consistency in whatever you do and whatever you say. If what you think and say is mismatching with what you do, you can’t really be trusted.
— Israelmore Ayivor

So, you need to persuade a customer you can't afford to lose? Where do you start? If we ask persuasion expert Robert Cialdini how to persuade your customer to act, he would suggest a few ways. Our previous blog, explains how to use questions, social proof and authority. Another two ways are scarcity and consistency. Scarcity is the best known technique, make an offer that suggests scarcity. Perhaps the offer only lasts for a limited time or there is limited stock of some items. This technique is well understood and well used.


The second technique is not well understood and not well used: Consistency. Consistency is being seen to be consistent with our previous statements and previous actions. Seems obvious, but our previous actions and statements may be distant from today. So, we need to be reminded about what we said or did in the past and once we are reminded it's difficult to not act consistently in the present.

One example is the difference between two groups who were asked to install a large sign in their garden saying 'Drive Safely'. In one group, only 17% agreed to install the sign. However, in another group, 76% said yes. What was different?

Well in the 76% group, two weeks before they had been asked to post a tiny 75mm sign in their window, saying 'Be a safe driver'. This request was so small and so easy to agree to that most people agreed. The reason far more of this group agreed to install the large sign is because they wanted to be consistent with their public commitment to safe driving (the tiny sign). So, this small action two weeks before made a massive difference in shifting response from 17% to 76%.

None of the 76% group would believe that such a small action two weeks before would make such a big difference to their response to the large request to install such a big sign.

How can we use this in business?

Well, first with the customers you can't afford to lose, find out what executives have said. Start with their PowerPoint presentations, have a look at their documents or reports or business plans. Even have a look at emails. The key is to look for public statements they have made voluntarily.

What commitments have they made:

  • Customer service is our top priority
  • Reducing cost comes first
  • We want to make it easy for our consumers
  • We want our consumers to be able to buy the best brands
  • We will deliver growth of 15% each year

How can you use these to influence your customer to act? First, check their commitment by saying something like: "I saw in your presentation to the industry conference that you said customer service is top priority, is that right?" Assuming they say yes, then link to the priority and ask some questions and then pitch your idea. For example, "so if customer service is your top priority, then one way to improve would be to do X or Y. How does that sound to you?"

So, for customers you can't afford to lose, use consistency. Check their commitment, link to their priority and pitch the idea to help deliver their priority. For more insights and practical guidance on creating compelling messages for your customers download our ebook Persuading Customers you can't afford to lose: Focus on Them or try the Persuading for Results course at the University of Newcastle, Sydney.