Are your “friendly reminder” emails routinely ignored? Get attention – and compliance – with this tip from persuasion science.
In my work as a communication coach, I hear this complaint a lot: “My job is to get people to do X, and they never do it. I send repeated emails, add threatening subject lines like ‘Third reminder,’ and cc their boss. What can I do to make people do what I ask the first time?”
The bad news: you probably can’t turn your audience into a bunch of “Your-wish-is-my-command” yes-bots. The good news: You can get better results by using behavioral research about what motivates people to act.
The simple sentence UK tax collectors used to increase tax payments
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Good Communication Requires Experimenting with Your Language, authors Michael Luca and Oliver Hauser describe a big compliance problem experienced by the UK’s version of the IRS, the HMRC. For years, the HMRC would send tax delinquents a letter saying:
We are writing to inform you that we have still not received your tax payment of $5,000. It is imperative that you contact us.
The letter didn’t have much of an effect. It just didn’t persuade people to pay up. Things changed in 2010 however, when the HRMC got help from a team of behavioral researchers who revised the letter using insights about what motivates people. They added one simple sentence:
We are writing to inform you that we have still not received your tax payment of $5,000. By now, 9 out of 10 people in your town have paid their taxes. It is imperative that you contact us.
The sentence worked. Compliance increased by 5%. It may not sound like much, but it represents millions of dollars in new revenue.
Why did the persuasion experts add those words? Because they knew the power of “social proof,” the principle that people are influenced to do something if they know that other people are doing the same thing. It’s the peer pressure your mother was referring to when she asked “Would you jump off a bridge if so-and-so did?”
Use this one persuasion tip to boost response to your emails
Take advantage of persuasion science when you need to get people to take an action. Try adding one simple “social proof” sentence to your request emails. Of course you’ll want to use language that makes sense for your audience, but here are some phrases to get you started.