Incorporating the Behavioral Science Toolkit into your Customer Research

Sanjna Kirtikar

Why does McDonalds use red and yellow as their brand colors?

Why does Apple health send automated notifications?

Why does Amazon use scarcity based messaging like: “Only 4 left in stock”?

Why does Starbucks write names on their cups?

Ever wondered what these seemingly unrelated situations could have in common?... They all use applied behavioral science elements to appeal more closely to their customers.

What is behavioral science?

Customers are human, and being human comes with its fair share of quirks and complexities. This makes it difficult for organisations to predict how people will react and respond to new strategies or decisions. Behavioral science digs past the assumption that humans will act in a logical or rational way.  Instead it aims to uncover how cognitive patterns influence decision making and actions. It takes a closer look into biases, emotions, environmental triggers, and past experiences that creep into our mind when making decisions. 

By conducting research through a behavioral science lens we can better understand why people behave in particular ways and use this knowledge to augment customer experience.

Uncovering human irrationality - System 1 vs System 2 

Why does our rationality seem to fade when making spur of the moment decisions? To understand why, we need to take a closer look at our decision making systems.

What are the systems used in decision making?

Our decision making is controlled by a two system model known as system 1 and system 2. System one is the quick, automatic approach which includes instinctual habits. System two is the slower, analytical process which requires higher levels of effort. Research has shown that 90-95% of our daily decisions are made by System 1 and made on instinct rather than calculated reasoning. The impact of system one leads to discrepancies between how we expect customers to act and how they actually behave.

Why is it important to understand the differences between System 1 and 2 thinking?

Let’s say you’re interviewing customers about a new food delivery app.

You might ask them how they like the current layout, what restaurant options they want to see, and what discounts might prompt usage.

With this wealth of information we have everything we need to build a perfect app right? Not exactly……

Unfortunately, humans are not as reliable or rational as we might like to think… in fact a lot of irrationalities can pop up due to environmental triggers, emotions, and biases. 

Most market research is conducted with the assumption that customers use a system 2 meticulous, analytical approach when making purchase decisions. However, in reality most purchase decisions will be made using system 1 thinking, which is hard to articulate or predict. So while we may conduct thorough detailed interviews with customers that uncover valuable insights, in a real world setting a customer might act in a completely different way.

How to improve research methods to capture the effects of both System 1 and 2?

Matching research environment to the real world

When it comes to determining what people need, it is most beneficial to observe them in a natural environment rather than relying on what they say they want. While we can’t follow and observe customers around all day, we can bring the real world to interview settings by collecting feedback on visual or auditory stimuli. Similarly we can observe them as they navigate through mock websites or set up demand tests that collect key data in a non interview setting. Setting up an iterative interview process can also help to collect feedback at different phases of the customer journey, which helps form a more comprehensive view.  This helps to observe how system 1 decision making will actually manifest, rather than asking participants to self report on hypothetical situations.


Catching cognitive biases as they creep in

So now we know that System 1 plays a major role in our decision making. Let’s take a closer look at the cognitive biases that affect it.

What are cognitives biases?

Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that emerge when the brain tries to simplify information processing. These amplify human unpredictability and make it difficult to validate what people say they would do and how they will actually react to a situation in real life.

Why is it important to identify cognitive biases?

Knowledge of these common biases can be beneficial when interacting with research participants. When hearing them share past experiences and feedback on new ideas, you can begin to see if and how any biases have crept into their decision making process. You can then dig deeper to understand at what stage these biases were triggered and to what degree they influence the customer journey. 

How can knowledge of cognitive biases take our research to the next level?

Augmenting JTBD interviews with Behavioral Science elements

The Jobs to Be Done framework is a very useful tool to understand customer motivations and behaviors. It is an effective way to dive deep into what outcomes people strive for and how they want to feel. While using this framework during interviews you can pay closer attention to what cognitive biases have been present. Focus can be given to discovering particular habits and the biases that might be at play. What emotions have triggered struggling moments? How are past experiences influencing reactions to new ideas?

While JTBD aims to determine in what ways customers want to make progress, adding a behavioral science lens to it can help fill in how they feel about this progress and what is holding them back. 

The beauty of choice architecture and nudging

So now we know that humans have a tendency to be irrational and are victims of biases that sway decision making. How can we guide people into making wiser decisions?

Let me introduce you to choice architecture.

What is choice architecture?

Choice architecture is the process of organizing a context where people are given different options to choose from, thereby maintaining consumer sovereignty. However, nudges are put in place as subtle interventions to gently guide decision making without restricting it.  They aim to disrupt the unconscious biases that influence decision making.

Why are nudges an important tool?

None of the nudges mentioned above are strict mandates, they are merely a means to push a person towards a particular choice. When it comes to communicating new ideas to customers, using nudges can be valuable additions that counter the effect of biases and help steer customers back on track. 

How can we utilise nudges to improve research and user journeys?

Nudging Customers to Make Progress

Once the JTBD of customers have been uncovered and your value proposition has been polished, it's time to communicate your new offering back to customers. This is when you can use choice architecture principles to set up a context that makes decision making easier. This is your chance to incorporate nudges into marketing material to make your proposition shine and become the path of least resistance.  

As researchers, we can also incorporate nudges into our own experiments to collect valuable insights. For example, we can ask participants questions during their user journey to get a more accurate account of the triggers. One example is adding a box on the checkout page asking ‘Is there any reason why you almost didn’t buy today?’. This is a more natural spot to pose a question rather than later on a survey. 

A deeper look into behavioral science, can help researchers augment their techniques to be able to decipher participant patterns and capture unsaid feedback that fills in the gaps. It also can be utilized to provide better recommendations on how to speak to customers in a meaningful way.

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