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Self Service

Using Cialdini’s 7 principles on your self service portal

By Leo Kranenburg on June, 13 2019

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Leo Kranenburg

Copywriter at TOPdesk

The number of visitors to your self service portal is a key element in measuring its success. Even the best-designed portal is a failure if customers don’t use it. So, how do you win customers over? For many years now, marketers have been using American psychologist Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion to get people to say ‘yes’ more often. How do these principles of persuasion work? And how can you use them to promote your service desk?

If something is very hard to come by, you want it even more. Sound familiar? Don’t feel bad. Scarcity is one of the most powerful influencing techniques there is.

In 1984, Robert Cialdini presented this persuasion principle along with five others – all derived from social psychology – in his book Influence. He added a seventh principle in his 2016 bestseller Pre-Suasion.

Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion:

  1. Social proof
  2. Reciprocity
  3. Authority
  4. Liking
  5. Commitment & Consistency
  6. Scarcity
  7. Unity

 Are you applying these principles successfully? If you are, you can elicit a response from people almost automatically. When promoting your self service portal, too. How? Let me explain the principles and give you a few examples of how you can use them to promote your portal.

1. Social proof

Is everybody using a specific method for their work, or using the same product in their every day life? Then chances are you will join in. Think back to the summer of 2016 when hordes of people invaded Central Park in New York.

Marketers apply the principle of social proof when, for example, they show visitors to a website how many people have registered for the newsletter.

In his book, Cialdini describes an experiment involving towels in a hotel. You’ve definitely seen those little cards asking you to reuse your towels to help protect the environment. By changing just a few words, Cialdini made these cards 26% more effective. How? He simply told people that the majority of their fellow guests were already reusing their towels.

The more specific you are, the better. Cialdini then informed guests that the social norm for people who had stayed in that exact same room was to reuse towels. The result? The towel reuse percentage rose by a further 33%.

Tell people how much your portal is already being used

Do you want your customers to use your self service portal more often? Don’t just tell them what you want and why. Also tell them how many of their fellow customers are using your portal.

Make your case even more convincingly with data about a specific department Tell customers what percentage of their colleagues are already working with your self service portal.

Show positive reviews

Do you have an extensive knowledge base? Always link these articles to a rating system and you immediately have input for promoting your self service portal. Once positive reviews of your knowledge base have been posted, find ways to show them to potential new visitors.

2. Reciprocity

Ask yourself: did a friend treat you to a drink last time you went out? How big is the chance that you’ll pick up the tab next time? When you give something away, the recipient automatically feels obliged to do something in return.

If you’re trying to get more customers to your self service portal, try using reciprocity with existing customers. After you help them solve their problem through the portal, ask them to rate and review the service and share their experience with colleagues

3. Authority

Do you want to persuade someone of something? The people doing the persuading should be:

  • Independent
  • Expert in an area
  • Acting for you against their interests
  • Higher in the hierarchy

 According to Cialdini, we are more likely to trust people who have one or more of the characteristics above.

Let your experts do the talking

Are you planning a demo or presentation about your self service portal? Make sure that the colleague doing the talking is an expert in the area of service provision and self service.

And ensure that your customers know they are listening to an expert.

 For instance, Cialdini discovered that if psychotherapists display their degrees on their office walls, they can persuade more patients to start treatment. And people are more likely to give change for a parking meter to a complete stranger if the request comes from someone in uniform.

At the same time, it’s important that your colleagues don’t literally introduce themselves as an authority. This principle doesn’t work as if they do. What’s the answer? Have your director, for example, introduce your speakers as real experts.

4. Liking

According to Cialdini, people prefer to say ‘yes’ to someone they like. Liking a person involves three important factors:

  • Are they similar to us (wearing the same jeans or glasses, having the same name or hobby)?
  • Do they pay us compliments?
  • And are they cooperating with us to achieve a mutual goal?

Tell a friend

Make sure that your customers themselves can easily share your self service portal. Needless to say, tips from a direct colleague can be very hard to resist. Monitor the use of your self service portal. Are there customers who return frequently? Compliment them and ask them to invite their colleagues to use the portal.

5. Commitment & Consistency

Our behaviour is largely determined by what we have said and done in the past. And this is true for everyone. People like to be consistent.

We take into account not only what we say ourselves but also what others say about us. Do people tell you that you’re a helpful person before making a request? Then you’re more likely to want to help.

This mechanism of consistent behavior also works as a persuasive technique. If you start by getting a person to make a small, no-big-deal commitment, it’ll be easier to persuade them to make larger commitments in the future because you’ve already got them into the habit.

How do you use this principle for your self service portal? Well, start with a small commitment. For example: ask your customers if they’d like to watch a video about your self service portal.

Next invite them to give your portal a short practical test run. Requesting a forgotten password, for example.

Have your customers or colleagues used the portal? Ask them to take the next step by posting a review of their experience. Were the reviews positive? Place emphasis on their experience next time you send them a follow-up email. And don’t forget to tell them about all the other uses of your self service portal.

Do you want to apply the commitment & consistency principle even more forcefully? Make sure that your customers state actively, voluntarily and publicly that they want to use your portal. According to Cialdini, we then feel under even more pressure to remain consistent. It’s very easy to tell yourself you want to lose weight and then cheat by eating a packet of chips. But if you share your weight-loss plan with others, you want them to see you sticking to your goal.

6. Scarcity

Do you believe that something is in short supply or hard to get? Your brain will tell you only one thing: you must have it.

This is the scarcity principle at work and you can get fantastic results when you use it to promote your self service portal. Sounds crazy – a self service portal is the exact opposite of scarce. It’s available 24/7, bursting with knowledge items and you can access it anywhere.

But scarcity is definitely useful, especially if you are about to launch your self service portal. OnePlus’ marketing strategy made it the most desirable phone in the world. How? The phone could be bought by invitation only. By making it so hard to get, everyone wanted one.

Are you about to launch your self service portal? Start small and invite a select group of users. Make sure that the invitees know they are part of an exclusive group. This will motivate them to actually use your portal.

Fear of missing out

Is your portal live? Tell your colleagues or customers about all the advantages your self service portal offers. But don’t forget to point out what they’ll be missing if they don’t use it. One of my favourite Cialdini examples explains how this works in practice.

In the 1980s, audio equipment manufacturer Bose launched a new sound system that was much better than the competition. But it hardly sold at all. Bose turned to Cialdini for help. He examined why sales had been so disappointing. His findings included the following. The advertising campaign centred around the word ‘new’ but that didn’t trigger a fear of missing out in people. Instead of announcing the new, Cialdini suggested: ‘Hear what you’ve been missing.’ Sales increased by 45% percent.

Limited gift giveaway

Once customers are using your self service portal and have experienced the advantages, they are likely to continue using it. So tempt them to give it an initial try-out by offering the first 50 or 100 new users a free limited gift. For example, a T-shirt with a catchy self service slogan. You’re using scarcity to make your offer irresistible. What’s more, your free giveaway enables you to profit immediately from the principle of reciprocity.

7. Unity

Thirty years after publishing his 6 principles of persuasion, Cialdini came up with the seventh: unity. What had he discovered? We are more easily influenced by someone with whom we experience a feeling of shared identity.

Cialdini believes family ties are the strongest form of unity. But there are countless others, including: background, age and nationality. Or shared norms and values, or even a shared hobby.

Imagine yourself queuing to use the washroom at your favourite football club’s stadium. Someone asks if they can go ahead of you. Are you more likely to say ‘yes’ to someone wearing your club’s shirt or the opposition’s?

Invite customers to a pilot trial

One way of using the unity principle is by optimally involving future users when designing your self service portal. This will make them feel connected to the project and they will develop a strong bond with it. 

The more direct the connection, the better it works. You could use test groups or set up a pilot programme. But unity also works on a smaller scale. For instance, ask customers for their opinions or recommendations before, during and after the process. And use their words in your communications. Asking people what they think is another way of creating a sense of belonging.

Giveaways for someone else

Do you give away useful or novelty gifts to promote your self service portal? Consider also giving away gifts that the user can’t really use but can regift to their children or partner. This might be the best option in view of unity and family ties.

Use the right tone

You can also use family ties by choosing words that relate to family. A famous example is the letter Warren Buffet sent to shareholders. The subject matter of the final part was tricky: the way forward for Berkshire Hathaway. How did he start?

“I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future.”

When using the unity principle you don’t always have to fall back on family ties. Find the things that you share with your customers. Emphasize these factors in your communications and a feeling of shared identity will follow automatically.

Don’t forget the content

Use Cialdini’s principles of persuasion in your communications and potential users will be more likely to turn to your portal. But how do you keep them there? It couldn’t be simpler: make sure your self service portal delivers what your customers expect from an online channel. Ensure your visitors have a great customer journey: let them experience the advantages for themselves and they’ll never go elsewhere.

Alongside the right content and clear support, it’s also important that customers find your self service portal easy to use. Imagine that at a webshop after a few clicks you still can’t order the jeans you’ve chosen. You simply move on to the next online shop. Find out how to build a user-friendly self service portal here.

Like more tips on making self service a success

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