top of page

Customer Change Management - If you thought changing staff behaviour was hard...

Carrots and sticks

All over the world governments are trying different strategies to encourage the population to get vaccinated. Fear seems to have been sufficient motivation in some countries. Others such as the US have offered incentives to get people to roll up their sleeves. Many countries have tried creative advertising campaigns to educate and motivate. All this activity reminded us that changing customer behaviour isn't easy. We see organisations frustrated when customers aren’t behaving in the way they want. Few seem to approach changing customer behaviour in a systematic way. In this paper we’ll explore some of the techniques that can be used and use a mix of good and bad examples to illustrate the point.

We first coined the phrase Customer Change Management in the book “The Best Service is no Service”. It was an attempt to help organisations think about customer change in the same disciplined way that they were starting to approach change for employees. Organisations want to change customer behaviour in many areas. These vary from getting correct form completion to getting customers to adopt and use digital channels in an effective way. They are also trying to nudge them to the most appropriate product or service but that is the domain of marketing and we won’t cover it here.

In this paper we‘ll look at ideas for changing customer behaviour in service and sales interactions. We will explore the idea of customer change management and cover how to:

  • Make the customer aware

  • Remove the barriers you have created and make it easy for customers to change

  • Train them

  • Create incentives of all kinds and remove disincentives

  • Empower the front line to have the conversations we want

1. Make customers aware of the change

It may be obvious that ignorance is a major barrier to change and if customers don’t know about a product or the capabilities of a channel then they can’t use it. Some of the most successful customer change management processes have worked hard to explain what a new channel or product does. When the New York DMV wanted customers to start using self-service they ran a campaign called “skip the trip”. This helped customers understand what they could now do from the website and the benefits in doing so.

A number of whole-of-government strategies have created and promoted new brands to make customers aware of new service portals. These have been as simple as “Service NSW”, 311 Toronto or the Australian Government’s “My Gov”. These brands have created a memorable focal point for government services that have then been easy to promote. Retailers have worked hard to educate customers on strategies like Click and Collect or options for online delivery. So, thinking through awareness and how to create it is an important change strategy. One company used a term they called “carpet bomb” marketing to saturate defined geographic areas with information about their services.

2. Removing the barriers for customers and making it easy to change

Customers will only change if you make it easy for them to adopt the change. Yet many companies put obstacles in the way of digital adoption. Complex identification and registration gets in the way. There is a need for security, but many organisations adopt complex user ID and password protocols. One organisation insisted on a minimum of 18 digits for a portal password and it included a range of rules. Some organisations create an onerous process to sign up to the self-service channels. You have to complete a form to register. Why? We often wonder why customers aren’t automatically signed up for the internet solution. No-one asks you to register to use a branch. Registration could just be nominating a password. Make it easy and they will come.

Some companies make it hard for customers to get processes right. A financial services company was besieged with customers asking for the status of the work they had requested. (“where is my X?”). It turned out that most of these weren’t delays in processing. The real cause was that the back office was frequently rejecting customer forms that were incorrect and mailing back the rejections. The forms and processes were too hard for customers to get right. Most of the processes used complex paper forms that ran for pages. Worse still customers had to work out which bits were required. Many of the rejections and errors were for inconsistencies or customers completing the wrong section of a long form.

The complexity of the processes created a barrier for customer success. Simplified forms and better still a smart form on-line with validation and format checking, would be far easier for customers to get right. In this case good design was the answer to making it easy for customers to behave in the way the organisation wanted.

There are many other barriers to remove. Few organisations we know, prefill forms for customers with details they already know. It’s almost rude to ask for details that the organisation already knows but it is still the most common way that companies operate. For example, several airlines ask ten or more questions in their feedback surveys about things they already know before they ask for your feedback. Then they wonder why no one completes the survey! In contrast it’s really easy to book an Uber or use some of the modern travel booking sites because they have made it easy for the customer and minimised the actions needed. They have removed the barriers to use.

3. Train the customer

It used to be very hard to train customers but with available digital technology it is far simpler today. A good example from “the old days” was a white goods manufacturer that used to include a video tape to train customers on how to use their appliances. A short five-minute video tape saved hundreds of calls and frustration. Dyson appliances are pretty usable in the first place, but they include really simple instructions and explanations that are all pictures. Perhaps the greatest customer trainers are Lego, whose complex instructions children seemed to understand when creating their most complex toys. No doubt they test each instruction booklet, but they are brilliant in doing things like:

  • Showing the end outcome

  • Breaking down the steps

  • Recognising the hard parts and blowing these up to make them understandable

If Lego can train 5-year olds, then every company should find similar ways to train their customers. Innovative companies are building “show me” protocols into the websites that pre-empt a customer e.g. “show me how to download transactions” if someone is lingering on the statement page. A few clicks following the clearly labelled options that pop up sequentially and the job is done.

4. Provide Incentives and Remove Disincentives

Two classic stories illustrate the accidental disincentives that organisations can create to prevent the behaviours they want. A regional train line launched digital ticket booking but with a caveat.

You couldn't book tickets within a week of the travel, because they still insisted on printing physical tickets and sending them out. What a disincentive. Almost as bad was the cinema that allowed digital booking but then insisted customers queue up in the cinema to collect tickets. The queue for on line pick up was longer than those hadn’t booked first and inspired one of our cartoons. In contrast, successful organisations have aligned their customer incentives to the behaviours they want. Many utilities offer discounts for on time payment. Insurance businesses offer discounts for products purchased online and smart cafes who have enabled text orders for coffee make it easy to collect and skip a queue. These are all great examples of aligning customer benefits to the behaviour you want.

5. Equip the front line as change managers

The front line in contact centres, retail or chat channels are the trainers and educators who can help customers change their behaviour. We’ve seen many organisations where the front-line staff seem to hate the “app” or complain about how bad the self service is. In one organisation the staff claimed that “the App’s crap” because they had dealt with all the fall out of the first early release that had been full of bugs and problems. A year later the app was in better shape, but no one had told the customer facing staff. In many instances staff have never been trained on the app, aren’t users because they do not have an account and do not have access to the customer facing applications. As a result, they aren’t confident to train or support. In addition, some fear for their jobs if they educate or promote because they assume self-service take up will remove other roles.

In the best cases, the front line get access to all the things customers can see and are trained how and when to educate. One company called it “Digicare”. The staff processes were changed to embed digital education and ‘walkthroughs” at suitable times in the process. This wasn’t “fries with that” type promotion. The staff knew when appropriate times were to promote self-service and train the customers and when not to. The results were not only greater take up but increases in customer satisfaction. Customers were even more satisfied when education had been provided even if they chose not to use the self-service. This illustrates that well thought through practice design that embeds education can be a win win win – for customer, staff and company.


In this paper, we hope we have explained that organisations can do a great deal to change customer behaviour. It’s as hard or harder than working with staff but there are many levers to pull. If you’d like to discuss this further, please feel free to get in touch at or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.


Whitepaper Access

Please complete the following form to gain access to all our whitepapers

Please complete all required fields.


If you have already registered, this form will disappear in a few seconds

Whitepaper Access

Please complete the following form to gain access to all our whitepapers

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Contact us to discuss ideas in this White Paper
bottom of page