Spotlight: The Secret Revolutionaries

A particular customer segment has been rising in prominence. This group of people seeks to define themselves, independent of what the society prescribes. If this is the fourth industrial revolution we have just recently entered, then these people are the beneficiaries, movers and shakers, also known as the “secret revolutionaries” in an experience-driven society[1].

I note some worthy examples to showcase how businesses are catering to this segment.

Travel Immersions

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Airbnb recognizes that its customer base is not necessarily and primarily motivated by cost. A portion of its customers pines for an authentic travel experience to learn about the local culture. It is more than just about creating a personal itinerary. It is the desire to immerse oneself in the foreign environment while remaining true to one’s intrinsic motivations. A traveler driven by the need for physical activities is able to sign up for a local high intensity experience as easily as someone driven by idealism and wants to fight for a social cause.

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At the first glance, the trend looks like the result of the wish for a personalised experience. When we delve deeper into the propositions, we notice how these customers are actually keen on having human guides whose role and qualifications have evolved in this economy. The acceptance of the peer-to-peer marketplace model means that businesses such as Withlocals can connect locals with travelers easily. The locals provide not only the translation help, but also the assurance to let the travelers enjoy a local and unique experience.

Design Immersions

That the journey is an accompanied one should make us curious and ask if the secret revolutionaries are perhaps not self-confident or self-sufficient. A start-up business Modsy gives the hint.

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Modsy operates on the premise that customers are capable of expressing themselves but limited by self-confidence and experience. According to the CEO of Modsy, “We feel that people are innately talented, creative and have their own unique tastes and opinions”. To overcome the limitations, Modsy separates creativity from craft[2], providing personal style profiling, visualisations and a purchase ecosystem to empower the customers from the beginning to the end of conceptualisation and design.

Lessons for the Financial Services Industry

The secret revolutionaries want to co-create value with businesses. They are intelligent and participative but would appreciate that businesses help raise their confidence and make up for their lack of experience. They want to pursue hands-on activities but organisers who understand only the literal meaning of “hands-on” create an irksome experience. The hearts and minds must be engaged.

The financial services industry has to develop a granular understanding of its customers – are so many customers truly disinterested in advisory or can it be that by engaging a segment in respect of their values, they would be motivated to pursue a holistic financial planning? Can it be that they distrust the industry because they cannot visualise intangible products or have not understood the fundamentals of risk? If taking a personal finance course in school has no impact on savings behaviour and financial literacy[3], how can the industry help people immerse to learn?

[1] The Personalities by USM Book. Hatje Cantz Verlag. October 2015.



Help your Customers cope with Choices

We struggle with choices. Some say it is good to have options but in several instances, we have so many choices that many among us postpone, avoid or even delegate decision-making.
This struggle is costly to the consumers and the businesses. “50% of consumers spend 75% or more of their total shopping time conducting online research…as the current state of online and mobile shopping yields a time-consuming, inefficient experience.”[1] Things do not get better after purchase either. Buyer’s remorse creates negative emotions at the post-purchase stage – a poor way to complete the customer journey, risking customer retention.
Behavioral research offers a tactical solution. Based on the concept of emotional closure, customers who make the physical act of ‘closing off a choice’ report satisfaction.[2] For example, it would be better to make customers close and return a menu booklet than to have them leave menu cards on the table. The human being’s thinking activities operate pretty well on an “out of sight, out of mind” basis.
The tactical solution benefits user experience but it does not steer the decision-making process, especially in big purchases or those of long-term consequences e.g. insurance contracts.
Motivational psychology research offers a fundamental solution. Given that intrinsic motivations are recurrent and generally stable in nature, businesses can not only help customers make decisions by recommending products and services which are in sync with their intrinsic motivations, but also can predict their future behavior and customer lifecycle. American psychologist, Steven Reiss, outlined 16 universal motivations which are empirically validated across more than 60,000 individuals over 4 continents – Asia, Australia, North America and Europe[3].
This intrinsic solution may well be one of the critical keys to overcome the respect issues customers report to have with financial services. A Harvard Business Review article commissioned an annual Customer Quotient study[4] to measure “how people feel about companies and the experiences they provide”. In particular, it investigated how much people feel they are respected and understood by the companies. Although two firms from the financial services industry were listed among the top 20 companies customers feel most respected by, financial services ranked low on the list of industries.
By uncovering customers’ intrinsic and personal traits, the insights would benefit businesses which apply the understanding to help customers trust them and feel understood. Customers may not be able to articulate the exact form of the product they want but they can express their personal values. These values drive the intention behind the behaviour, consciously or unconsciously.
When customers’ intrinsic preferences and personal traits are actively utilised, three dominant benefits are apparent. The conversion rate increases as customers feel more confident about their choice. This confidence about own choice is important especially on self-directed journeys. Sales efficiency increases as time spent on ‘window shopping’ reduces significantly. Customer value increases – sticky relationships develop over time as the business ‘gets’ the customer.
Businesses today invest in data mining tools to obtain customer insights – but it is not certain if the impact has predictive validity and reliability over the customer lifetime. Such insights are really based on observed behaviour in the context pre-set by the firm’s business and operating model. The insights offer no ‘what-if’ scenarios and even if these scenarios are simulated, their relevance is not engineered to tap on what truly matters to the individual customer.
How then can businesses uncover their customers’ intrinsic motivations? As with many instances in life, the best way is to ask. Ask the customers the right questions. Ask them to engage them. Ask them to give them back value. However as with many instances in life, the fear to ask looms over businesses.

Natale, J. (2014, April 23). IBM Watson Group to transform the consumer shopping experience. Retrieved from
[3] Reiss, S. (2000). Who Am I? The 16 basic desires that motivate our actions and define our personalities. New York: Tarcher/Putnum
[4] Trevail, C., Austin, M., Schlack, J.W. & Lerman, K. (2016). The Brands that make Customers feel respected. Harvard Business Review.

See the big Picture

Albert (a fictional character) took a mandatory risk profiling questionnaire with his banker. He was profiled as someone with very high willingness and ability to take risks. He also had substantial investing experience. Accordingly, he was deemed suitable to take on very aggressive portfolios.

If you are Albert’s banker, what would you do?

  1. Follow the questionnaire results and recommend him very aggressive portfolios
  2. Have further interaction with him to understand his natural behaviour

Realistically, we expect most people to choose option 1. It is after all a compliant process. Option 2 may even be viewed as unproductive for sales.

However, let’s say you now spend more time to interact with Albert before recommending any portfolios. You uncover more personal information about Albert.

It turns out that Albert values independence very much. He likes to travel alone because he does not like to follow others’ plans. Of his own accord, he is a freelancer.

Does this new piece of information change your investment recommendation for him?

Albert assures you that he is a very decisive person. In his words, he does not like to over-analyse and believe that in life, one should “just do it”.

Would you still stick to the aggressive portfolio recommendation?

It takes an astute advisor to caution Albert of his multiple blind spots in his investments and recommends preventive measures. Being independent, he is self-confident of his own judgement and insists on his own way. Not a fan of deliberation, he tends to act (almost) instantly. In stressful times such as a stock market crash, he can be expected to become too impulsive and stubborn for his own good.

We have made some very important assumptions in this story. We assume that you ask Albert the right questions to elicit relevant insights about him. We also assume that you have managed to piece the clues together to form the big picture. Lastly, we assume that you have the gut instincts and/or experience to realise the investment implications.

Without these assumptions, you would still be a compliant banker for Albert by choosing option 1.

However, a systematic tool-supported process to uncover Albert’s intrinsic values would have helped you fulfil our assumptions with confidence to deliver value to him.