Discover the 7 Powerful Rules that Will Transform Your Customers’ Habits


Share on LinkedIn


I buy everything on Amazon. Suppose I want something; that is where I go first. Not only that, it’s usually the only place I go. It’s habitual, and breaking it would be difficult for anyone.

But not impossible. Today, let’s look at seven ways you can change habits to improve your return on investment.

Before we launch into that, let’s review what is happening with habits at a psychological level. There are a few distinguishing features of habits, which include the following:

  • An environmental cue initiates them.
  • The cue triggers the automatic part of our brain to respond with a behavior based on memories.
  • The reward reinforces the reason for the habit.

The idea here is that our Intuitive System will recognize this cycle the first few times we do it and turn it into a habit. Now, it will be automatic.

Customers have habits. So, if your customer is habitually buying your competitive product or service, how do you change that? Here are seven ways.

Rule #1: Identify that habit and loop people are in.

You should be able to identify the cue, response, and reward people get from their habitual purchases. Then, you can determine why they buy from someone else.

The tricky part is that cue. The response is obvious: they are buying from the competition. The reward might also be evident; it could be a good price or more straightforward not to think about it. Whatever the reward is, it’s essential to understand what it is to the customer whose habits you want to change. However, the cue is more elusive and might require more work.

For example, we have bought Aquafresh toothpaste for 40 years. We have never even considered another brand. Our cue to purchase is turning into the toothpaste aisle at our local market. Our intuitive brains say, “Oh! I know what we get here,” and walk us to the toothpaste aisle.

Rule #2: Once you’ve identified where that habit is, introduce a new cue to replace the existing one.

Identifying the different stages in the habit loop provides an opportunity to intervene. If you want to change habits, the most effective way is to disrupt that cue.

Therefore, knowing that we are doing that walk to Aquafresh in the aisle gives you the information you need to understand what makes us buy that toothpaste. If you represented the other toothpaste brand, you could develop a strategy addressing that moment.

Can you introduce a new cue?
Can you modify the cue or the trigger so people do something else instead?

For example, getting an end cap display in the grocery store might get our attention before we zombie-walk to the Aquafresh. We are not in habit mode by encountering the toothpaste in a different part of the store. So, we might evaluate the competitive brand differently and perhaps even try it.

Rule #3: Make the transition easy.

Minimizing any barriers that might get in the way of a new behavior is essential. Making it easy to do and user-friendly is what creates rewards. Rewards create good feelings (or something else just as valuable related to the situation), which lead to happy memories. These happy memories are what the Intuitive System remembers when it starts cueing up habitual behavior, and voila! A new habit forms.

When you’re approaching habit change, the vital thing to remember is that we evolved into habits to make things easier for us. Therefore, if the process of trying to break somebody out of a habit requires lots of effort on their part, there’s an excellent chance it’s not going to work.

Apple did an excellent job with this regarding Apple Pay. It’s so easy to wave a phone near the reader. It became my go-to way to pay. I am grouchy when the system doesn’t work with it. I can’t believe I will have to get my credit card out of my wallet (which might not even be on my person at the moment) to pay.

So, the lesson here is that it won’t be enough to introduce a new cue that leads to a new behavior. In addition, the system has to be easier for your customers if you want it to stick.

Rule #4: Provide a compelling reward.

The new behavior’s reward can’t be less of a reward of their old habit. It needs to be more than the reward of their old habit, whether it saves time or money or provides a discount or loyalty points.

The Intuitive System drives these habits. The intuitive system responds better to certain rewards than others, which tend to be rewards of ease, reduced effort, and things that taste good, feel good, and are generally hedonic.

Running today in winter so you look good in your swimsuit next summer has no appeal for the Intuitive System. Nor does it care that running might help you live longer. It also doesn’t care about whether you have any money in your retirement. It is interested in what happens now. Your intuitive system loves the reward of staying in bed rather than getting up and running.

So, if you want your customers to form a habit, the reward has to be intuitive, meaning it makes them feel good. Moreover, the feeling good has to be right now.

Rule #5: You must educate and communicate.

As with all things in your experience improvement programs, you need to train people on the new habitual process. This training addresses the response part of the regular cycle. As we mentioned in rules three and four, facilitating habit changes has to feel easy and worth the effort (now) to be successful.

For example, Airbnb has changed people’s habits of booking hotels. However, unlike a hotel, no one at the property can give you the key. Therefore, Airbnb has a Key Café where the renter can get their key. If you don’t know how this part of the customer process works, Airbnb made a video that explains it.

So, rule five builds upon the two previous rules. Make it easy and intuitive, and then make it rewarding, which you support through customer education and communication.

Rule #6: Reinforce the new habit.

It is essential not to assume that because somebody has disrupted their automatic behavior once, they’re now going to do it forever. It is incumbent upon you to reinforce that new behavior until the new habit forms.

Now, with a bad habit, this type of reinforcement isn’t always necessary. You can quickly get into the bad habit of eating cookies every day.

Good habits, or at least not so intuitively rewarding habits like eating cookies, might take more work. You might have heard that to form a new habit, one must perform the activity 21 times. While I doubt that this statistic is accurate for every behavior, it illustrates that changing behavior requires consistency for a time before it becomes habitual.

Also, the necessary frequency of the behavior influences the reinforcement efforts. So, changing to Apple Pay over paying with cash or card is a behavior that occurs several times in a given period. Therefore, consistent reinforcement is more accessible to implement and more straightforward to manage.

However, consistent reinforcement is more challenging if you infrequently engage in the behavior. For example, a health insurance company that wants to move customers’ questions to their app over their call center might have difficulty changing behavior. Why? People don’t have that many questions for their health insurer. So, even after you get them to engage with the app for something, they might forget before they need anything again—so it will be back to their old tricks of dialing in.

Rule #7: Be patient.

Some of these changes aren’t going to happen overnight. Patience is key.

For instance, customer feedback is essential in the health insurance example above. Permanent change requires understanding whether the cue disruption works and whether the reward is compelling enough for the Intuitive System to remember. If not, customer feedback can help.

Remember that the other habit isn’t gone completely. You are reprograming the habitual cycles but not erasing the old ones. Therefore, patience and consistency are critical to replacing the old habit with the new.

These seven rules can change customer habits and improve your return on investment. First, it would be best to identify the habit loop that your customers are in and introduce a new cue to alter their behavior. Then, ensure it’s easy and provides a compelling (instant) reward. Follow that up with education and communication, as well as reinforcement. Please don’t assume that because the customer’s done it once or twice, they will continue doing it. You have to reinforce it over some time. Finally, remember that it’s not going to happen overnight. Changing habits takes time.

Do you have any habit-changing advice for everyone? We’d love to hear it below in the comments.

If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. Leveraging customer segmentation significantly enhances the application of Colin Shaw’s “7 Powerful Rules that Will Transform Your Customers’ Habits” by allowing businesses to tailor their strategies to specific customer groups. Customer segmentation divides the market into distinct groups based on various criteria, such as demographics, behavior, and psychographics, enabling companies to understand the unique habit loops of each segment.

    This nuanced approach is vital when identifying the habit loops (Rule #1) within different customer segments. For instance, younger consumers may respond to digital cues, while traditional media might influence older demographics. By understanding these distinctions, businesses can introduce new cues (Rule #2) that are specifically designed to appeal to the preferences of each segment, making the introduction of new habits more efficient.

    Segmentation allows for the customization of rewards (Rule #4) to ensure they resonate deeply with the specific desires and needs of each group. What might be an interesting reward for one segment could be irrelevant to another. This precision in tailoring rewards enhances the likelihood of successfully embedding new habits.

    In terms of communication (Rule #5), segmentation ensures that educational materials and messages are relevant and engaging for each customer group. Tailored communication increases the effectiveness of education efforts by addressing the segment’s unique concerns and preferences, facilitating easier transitions to new habits.

    Reinforcing new habits (Rule #6) through segmentation means that follow-up actions, reminders, and rewards can be specifically designed to maintain the interest and engagement of different groups. This targeted reinforcement helps solidify the new habits more effectively across diverse customer bases.

    Incorporating customer segmentation into the application of Shaw’s rules underscores the importance of a targeted, data-driven approach. It not only amplifies the impact of efforts to change customer habits, but also ensures that strategies are deeply aligned with the varied lifestyles and preferences of customers, enhancing the overall effectiveness of habit transformation initiatives.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here