Are your employees hooked yet?

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Recently when I was looking for a new book to read my husband recommended “Hooked” written by Nir Eyal, a Stanford professor and a prominent contributor to Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch and The Atlantic. At first I was skeptical because I thought to myself - “not another how-to business book”, but still decided to give it a try. I must say the book is very concise and to the point. Nir builds a robust model for getting consumers hooked on your product based on a series of scientific studies and experiments. I’m not a literature critic and am not qualified to give reviews, but I have come across a big revelation while reading “Hooked” that I would like to share with you.

Nir describes the Hook Model in 4 major steps: Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment. A product designer who can get his customers to follow these steps is promised to see his product being used habitually. Trigger is a mechanism by which you create a promise that would scratch the itch of your customer. Action happens when you ask your consumer to perform a simple task to engage with your product. Upon making an action she has to receive a reward. She then should be asked to invest her money, time, energy into your product which in turn will generate a new Trigger and restart the addiction cycle.

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Nir provides many examples that show how exactly his model works in real life. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tinder and Zynga are among many tech companies who succeeded in cracking the code of human manipulation by going through the never-ending cycle of the Hook Model. As I was turning one page after another, I was getting more and more fascinated by the magic of turning rational people into tech addicts. Of course, as it happens to many books, the Hook Model uncovered a recipe to eternal wealth after the Gold Rush of 2010s was over and not before, but hey, I didn’t expect to learn how to make a billion dollars in a book that costs a few.

However, one idea especially stood out. Even though “Hooked” provided many examples of successful companies making users habitually engage with their product, none of these businesses were targeting other businesses as customers. They were all consumer-centric, B2C companies. At first, I thought to myself that this makes perfect sense because B2B products aren’t supposed to be addictive. They are very often dull and boring but companies have to use them if they get the job done.

Or maybe not? This is when it suddenly hit me – this is precisely the reason why many B2B products often suffer from irregular usage and lack of engagement. The product becomes quickly forgotten but the problem this product was supposed to fulfill still remains. Executives who sponsored development/purchase of that tech product move on to a new role and new executives start working on another technology to meet the same need.

This is unfortunate because a company spends hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on products that make a bold promise and get built only to be later labeled as “not meeting the need”. In reality many of them do meet the need but do not attract user engagement. Sadly, these are often thought to be the same problem. An executive who worked on a shiny new product has been promoted before everyone realized his product failed and a new executive who came into the role decided to build another one because… well, that’s how you get promoted.

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So, assuming we are not optimizing for a promotion but instead are focusing on making our business more successful, how about we apply the Hook Model to the B2B products? Would it work? Would we even need our customers to use our product habitually at work? Let’s find out.

Suppose you are a COO of a retail business, say, a supermarket chain. You have a great product placement team, a crew of experienced managers who know where to put the products so they sell faster. Your business faces fierce competition from retail giants who can afford lower price tags like Jet or Amazon and don’t even have a need to figure out how to best place their products. You realize that you too need to downsize your placement team but how would you manage that? You talk to your tech guys and they tell you that in this day and age you could build a tool that could tell you exactly where to place your product to minimize the time it stays on the shelf and maximize the profit. You are thrilled because your tech team can build this tool in 6 months for $500K. In return you would get intelligence equal to or better than experience of 7 placement managers, so that you can lay off 4 of them. As a pleasant bonus, this tool doesn’t take vacation, doesn’t need a benefits package, doesn’t have a family or gets sick. This is a dream come true. You find these $500K and put your team to work. Over 6 months they work closely with you and build an automated tool that solves all your problems. You do a reorg and only keep 4 placement managers who are supposed to use the tool to make smarter and faster decisions. Your tech guys even showed you how using this tool would keep your competitors at bay and bring more cash to the bank. A grand day comes, the company cheers and rips a huge red bow off of the tablet that has your new tool installed and ready to fire up. There is a party thrown for the whole ops department and the future seems bright.

After a few months, you check with your CFO and he tells you that not only did the sales not increase, there have been major inventory losses due to expiration. How is this possible? You go straight to your 4 placement managers and ask them what had gone wrong. They run around like chickens with their heads chopped off and keep telling you that they don’t have enough people to keep up with the workload.

But you were supposed to use the shiny tool I have just built for you? – you ask.

Yes, we used it for a while but, you know, it’s pretty confusing and often gave suggestions that didn’t make sense to us. We figured, since we are short 3 people we should just do it the old way to make our timelines – your chief placement person says.

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The real reason why your placement team didn’t use it was because they had no habit of using it before and didn’t see any reason to change their behavior to develop such habit.

Why? Let’s try to find the answer in the Hook Model.

Was there a Trigger?

You explicitly told your placement guys that you built this tool for them and even paid for the party to celebrate. Your tech guys could even prove that their software increases productivity and sales. Your placement team was down 3 people and they were given a magic software that could effectively do their job for them.

Was there an Action?

Let’s say your tech team had a celebrity UX designer (doesn’t happen for internal product development) who made the interface of your tool very simple (almost never happens in real life). All your placement guys had to do was log in to start engaging with the tool.

Was there a Reward?

Nir stresses the importance of a variable reward – the user should never be able to predict whether she would get a Reward for her Action and what Reward she would get. The mystery of it will keep making her want to come back for more.

Assuming your tool is easy to use, effective and clear, does it provide your team a reward once they start using it? This is where most B2B products break down. A business tool is supposed to be effective and look professional. Any game-like experience, including rewards, is looked upon as childish and subpar. It may also look unnecessary because your team HAS to use it. In reality, even if you make the tool mandatory, your employees will look for any excuse not to use it.

Finally, was there an Investment?

The most interesting part is that professional products require users to invest time and a lot of information before the tool can start to become useful; and users more often than not are willing to do it. Unlike consumers, employees are getting paid to use these tools so they are much more receptive to invest in a product you put in front of them. 

So even though the product your IT team has built is capable of solving an important problem, is easy to use and is getting input from your placement employees, it still struggles to get adopted and, as a result, leads to productivity losses.

Your employees were not bought into this tool because they never saw a Reward. A feeling of instant gratification (especially prevalent in Millennials) offered by many consumer products is something everyone expects these days. And it is not just limited to their social lives, a job is also seen as a game that should first and foremost be fun. A job should give your employees a “fix”, else they would look for a new one.

Does your corporate product get your employees as “high” as Instagram does? Because if it does they will be engaged, feel rewarded and drive efficiencies for your business.