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How to Use Behavioral Economics to Optimize Your UX

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I am a self-proclaimed behavioral sciences fangirl. Every time I read Ariely or Cialdini, my mind fills with prospective experiments. As the lead of our experimentation strategy, I am always looking for ways to further incorporate behavioral science principles into our culture.

I’ve got books, flashcards, principles displayed on my office walls, and even The Irrational Game that Dan Ariely created just waiting for a quiet Friday afternoon.

I’ve focused on digital optimization for nearly six years now, but my passion for it is greater now than ever.  No matter how our client and partner networks change, my fascination with the science behind our (sometimes irrational) human decision-making remains constant.  And I love that I get to come to work each day and run experiments to better understand what makes people tick.

I recently read the article from the NY Times titled “How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons.”   I found some of the applications of behavioral sciences to be very interesting.

Let’s look at some of the scenarios.  While reading, think about if/how these scenarios could influence your optimization program.  Also ask yourself if these tactics hit below the belt as the title term “tricks” implies.

SCENARIO 1
Summary: 
Directing drivers to high demand areas via text, email, popup to send them where the riders are.
Example:  “Hey, the morning rush has started. Get to this area, that’s where demand is biggest.”

SCENARIO 2
Summary:
  Using a female persona to deliver suggestions to drivers.
Example:  “Hey, the concert’s about to let out. You should head over there.”

SCENARIO 3
Summary: 
Providing halfway message to encourage drivers to keep working toward their 25 ride signing bonus.
Example:  “You’re almost halfway there, congratulations!”

SCENARIO 4
Summary:
  Providing message in driver app to encourage drivers to continue to another monetary benchmark when they were considering going offline.
Example:  “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?” with a visual of an engine gauge just short of the “$” marker.

SCENARIO 5
Summary:
  Providing badging opportunities for drivers to unlock.
Example:  Badging like “Above and Beyond,” “Excellent Service,” “Entertaining Drive.”

SCENARIO 6
Summary: 
Performance dashboard with a driver’s weekly metrics.
Example:  “How many trips they’ve taken that week,” “how much money they have made,” “how much time they have spent logged on,” and what their “overall passenger rating” is.

So, what do you think?  Are these examples of trickery used for exploitation – or perhaps tools used to increase motivation?

I consider myself an untrusting pessimist (ha, only I can say that about me!) and I don’t even see these as underhanded tactics to exploit workers.  Drivers want to be where the riders are, right?  Drivers want to unlock as much revenue as possible in the time they have available to drive, right?

To me, these are solutions designed to optimize the drivers’ user experience.  Assuming they aren’t manipulating the data and algorithms for ill-will, I don’t see anything wrong with exploring fun and creative ways to surface that information for drivers, and measuring to see which ones worked the best.  Also, the notion that a weekly performance dashboard is designed for evil seems a far stretch.

Motivating people toward their goals is one of the best applications for behavioral sciences and there are tons of wonderful examples of that out there.  In fact, the drivers that moved to an in-demand area and picked up rides based upon those notifications or who continued to give a few extra rides instead of closing up shop when they saw how close they were to their next monetary milestone may have a little more money in their wallet as a result.