Children: Master Behavioral Economists

People like Dan Ariely and BJ Fogg have made careers studying and explaining behavior and how to influence it.  People who master these skills have massive success.  Dealmakers like Scott Boras and Richard Lovett have made hundreds of millions of dollars by persuading people that their clients are worth big bucks.  Bill Clinton became President of the United States because his magnetic personality and ability to instantly connect with people won over just about everybody he ever met.  Hell, even a goofy looking guy who wears eyeliner and a feather boa can become a legendary pickup artist by applying some basic behavioral techniques.

People pay a lot of money to hear guys like this talk about their techniques and secrets.  There’s 2279 results for “Behavioral Economics” books on Amazon right now, and god knows how many courses, training programs, seminars, and retreats on the subject.  Maybe we’re missing the boat here.  If you’re a parent, you might be living with a master behavioral economist right now.

Think about it: children are completely dependent on their parents.  They don’t have any income, they can’t drive, they can’t contract, they can’t vote, they really can’t do anything.  And yet, most kids get most of what they want most of the time.  People fork out ridiculous amounts of money to take their kids to Disneyland, and buy them toys, and take them to movies, or for happy meals, or whatever.  It’s fascinating.

One of the techniques children use all the time is anchoring:

Calvin's Anchoring TechniqueThis sort of tactic has been used in sales forever, but it’s been catching on in customer service fields as well, as The Harvard Business Review illustrates:

One airline (that shall remain nameless) told us recently that they “caught” some of their best reps using similar techniques to avoid dust-ups with customers over cancelled flights.

For instance, imagine your 11:00 AM flight is cancelled and you need to be in Cleveland tomorrow morning. There’s an evening flight that’s open. Where most reps would simply say “I can put you on a flight leaving at 9:00pm” other reps, knowing full well the 9:00 PM flight was available but seeking to manipulate the customer’s reaction, might say “well, I know I can put you on the 7:00 AM flight tomorrow, but let me see what I can do to put you on the earlier flight, which is at 9:00 PM tonight.” This technique of experience engineering is more commonly called anchoring. A less-desirable option creates a mental anchor, making the best alternative seem more acceptable. Rather than be irritated that the 11:00 AM was cancelled, you’d probably be pleased that the rep has secured a seat for you on the evening flight.

The HBR seems to think this “walks a very fine ethical line”, though I’m not sure exactly why.  Anything that makes a customer happier seems like a good idea to me.  After all, kids do it all the time, right?

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One Response to Children: Master Behavioral Economists

  1. Pingback: Being Absurd: It Works | The Blog of A.J. Kessler

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