A double foot in the door: Getting customers to comply

July 17, 2017
Source: J. N. Halm l thebftonline l Ghana
A double foot in the door: Getting customers to comply

Psychologists say that to go about getting people to comply with whatever you are requesting them to do—with minimal or no resistance, there is a need to adopt what they call the “Foot-in-the-Door” strategy. With this strategy, you first present the person with a small request to, sort of, whet their appetite for a larger request ahead.

This is a strategy many parents use on a daily basis to get their children to perform certain chores. Parents know that children need to be gradually drawn into doing a major task by starting from a few small activities.

Recent studies have nonetheless added to the foot-in-the-door strategy. The foot-in-the-door strategy calls for one smaller or “preparatory” activity before the main activity or suggestion. However, there is a call for another strategy which states that instead of one small activity, there should be two smaller activities before the main activity. This is what is referred to as the “Double-foot-in-the-Door” technique.

People, by nature, do not want to have to pile lots of work on themselves. If they sense that they have to exert a lot of effort to do something, the first reaction would be negative. However, when the task is preceded by smaller tasks, the job does not look as intimidating as it did at first.

In an interesting study whose results were first published in a January 2013 edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology, French researchers Lionel Souchet and Fabien Girandola tested the effectiveness of the foot-in-the-door and the double-foot-in-the-door strategies. The researchers sought to find out the better way to get individuals to adopt energy saving behaviours over several weeks.

To carry out their experiment, the researchers selected three groups of 140 individuals each—78 men and 62 women in each group. The first group, the control group, were asked to undertake the target task without any preparatory tasks. The second group were made to do one minor task before the target task while the last group was made to do two minor tasks before the target task. The results were interesting.

It was found that the first group, the control group, was only 30% likely to do the target task. The second group—involving those who completed the first minor task—was 60% more likely to do the target task. However, the individuals who completed the first two preparatory acts were most likely to complete the target task with as high as 75% doing the target task.

One place where I have seen the double-foot-in-the-door strategy put to effective use in our churches—during altar calls. Men of God know that if they are to call people to come straight to the front of the church, very few people will respond to the call to be saved. The strategy therefore is to adopt the double-foot-in-the-door technique. The altar call is broken into three activities.

To begin with, the pastor will start by asking the entire congregation to close their eyes and then he or she will ask all those who want to give their life to Christ to lift their hands. For the uninitiated, this might seem like the only request. However, this is just the beginning. With their hands raised, these repentant souls will be asked to “please, stand up.”

At this juncture, those with the raised hands will be humbly asked to stand up. In the minds of these individuals, this has to be the “last stop”. They will be prayed for and the “ordeal” will come to an end. But what these people do not know is that the standing up is just the medium task. There is still one more activity to go.

Finally, with the most passionate of pleas, the pastor will then ask those standing to “kindly, come to the front.” The fact that public commitments are more difficult to break than private ones means that the individuals who have gone from raising their hands to standing up will find it very difficult to sit back down. They have no choice but to go forward to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal saviour. The Double-Foot-in-the-Door strategy used in this manner can be very effective in winning souls for the Lord. But it does not have to end there.

The strategy can also find uses in the business world, especially when it comes to dealing with one’s customers. Anyone who has had any opportunity to deal with customers regularly knows that there are times when it is important for customers to comply with certain regulations, policies and procedures. To get the customer to fully comply without any hindrance or resistance, it is important to adopt a strategy like the double-foot-in-the-door technique.  Many organisations suffer when attempting to get customers to do something because they fail to adopt the double-foot-in-the door strategy.

A number of banks have been requesting their customers to come over to update their customer information. I recently got a text message from my bankers to pass by the office to update the information on my file. From discussions with some of these bankers, I am well aware that this initiative is not too successful.

Could this be simply because customers see that request as being too demanding?

It takes some effort for customers to stop whatever they are doing to go to a bank to update their information. If the customer happens to pass by the bank in the normal course of the one’s daily schedule, then fine. But if the one has no business in the bank, then that request can really seem intimidating. Therefore, one way to increase the success of such an undertaking is to ensure that customers are “enticed” to go over and update their information by being asked to do some smaller tasks. Organisations must resort to creative ways of getting customers to do what must be done.

Another area where organisations can put the double-foot-in-the-door strategy to good use is in sales. Great sales pros know that the best way to get a customer to buy is to give the one a reason to say “yes” to a smaller commitment before the big deal itself. It is easier to get a “yes” from a prospect after you have already gotten a first “yes” from the one. To go straight to get a customer to sign on a deal without first getting the one to commit to something, no matter how small, can be suicidal for the main deal.

Additionally, when the customer is adequately rewarded for every “yes” along the way to the desired target, action or behaviour, then the final result will eventually be the desired result. This is what scientists refer to as “successive approximations” whereby the rewards end up providing positive reinforcements leading towards the desired or target behaviour.

It is a fact that today’s customers are a lot more sophisticated and have a lot more options than customers of days past. But the fact is that, regardless of the times they find themselves in, human beings will always be human beings. To get today’s customers to go along with whatever requests are made and to win the customers' trust, it pays to get a foot in the customer’s door. If one foot does not work, then you are always free to get a double foot in the door. Come to think of it, doesn’t a “double foot” equal “feet”?


Mr. Halm,

I was recently in a bank on the University of Ghana campus to cash a cheque. When I got there, there was one teller who had no one in front of her so I approached her. However, when she lifted her head and saw me, she coldly told me that she was busy. I stepped back and waited for her to finish whatever she was doing.

It was not long before another man joined the line and from the way he was interacting with the workers in the bank, I believe he must be a worker on campus, probably a lecturer. When this lady, who had earlier claimed that she was busy, saw this man she stopped whatever she was doing to serve him. She just took the man’s cheque and pay-in slip. I want to believe that her excuse will be that the man was just paying in, while I was withdrawing. Boss, do you think this is fair? I know you have worked in banking for a long time. Why do your people do that?

Kofi G.




Hello Kofi,

Sorry for that not-too-pleasant experience you had. The truth is that the cashier should have sought your permission first before serving whoever came after you, regardless of what the one was coming to do—whether just paying in a cheque or if the one was cashing a cheque. The cashier should have just politely, with a smile, explained to you that she would serve you in a jiffy but that this man’s own was not going to take more than a few seconds.

This show of respect for customers, especially for first-time customers or irregular customers, is something that is lacking with many front line staff I have come across. I hope as we share these stories those who have the mandate to make the necessary changes in service quality in their various organisations will take the lessons from these stories to effect the necessary changes.

Once again, thank you, Kofi.