We’ve talked a lot about chiefs lately—Chief Information Officers, Chief Digital Officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Security Officers, Chief Technical Officers, and so on. Here’s another to add to the list: the Chief Behavioral Officer.

“Chief Behavioral Officer” has a “wait till your father gets home” tone to it, but in reality the role assumes oversight of the customer experience, with a healthy dose of big data and data science thrown in. As many as 20 of the Fortune 500 companies have someone at a C-suite level serving as chief behavioral officer, “bringing behavioral science perspectives to strategic business decisions,” writes John Balz, himself a chief behavioral officer for Opower, in Re/code. “Beneath them are people in consumer research, marketing, analytics and user-experience departments, who work with behavioral science concepts daily.”

Organizations most in need of a chief behavioral officer include those in consumer finance and advertising, writes Balz, who served as a research assistant on the book Nudge. His book helped usher the whole field of behavioral science—sometimes called behavioral economics—into being. Other big names in the field who have written books on the subject and are widely quoted in the media include Dan Ariely and Robert Cialdini.

Behavioral science also ties in to other areas, such as the “quantified self” movement, which resulted in us all getting Fitbits for Christmas. It is also behind the A/B testing popularized by usability expert Dr. Jakob Nielsen (and used with such success by President Barack Obama in his campaigns), and the sort of user experimentation that got companies such as Facebook and OKCupid into trouble, writes Parmy Olson in Forbes. It’s a $7 billion field, she says. “The title of ‘chief behavioral officer’ has become a coveted hire.”

All of these behavioral science efforts—the measurement, the testing—involve getting people to do things. “Consumers have been tracked, measured and prodded into action since the 1950s,” Olson writes. “Now the proliferation of connected devices—smartphones, wearables, thermostats, autos—combined with powerful and integrated software spells a golden age of behavioral science. Data will no longer reflect who we are—it will help determine it.”

How do you use behavioral economics to get people to do things? The “nudge” can be applied through as little as a Tweet, a text message, or a message on a web page that gently suggests to users that they could use your company’s product or service to help achieve their goals. ”Nudges” can be used internally, too, ranging from sending a reminder to users about logging off their systems around the time they usually leave to hints about how to keep their devices secure.

Be warned, however, that as is the case with anything that’s suddenly popular, everyone and his brother is hanging out a “behavioral scientist” shingle, with no real control over who can use the term or what their expertise is. “There's a lot of chicanery being produced by companies trying to ride the current wave of interest in behavioral science without conducting or relying on, well, legitimate behavioral science,” warns Jesse Singal in New York, who goes on to recommend several books on the subject.

Like big data, what you do with behavioral science ultimately depends on what you put into it, Balz writes. “Before moving forward with one model or another, ask yourself: What are your company’s goals? Are you trying to develop experiences or establish thought leadership? What are your cultural norms? Is interest in behavioral science coming from top management or elsewhere in the organization?”

And, like big data, getting the right people involved is important. “If your company does decide to hire a chief behavioralist, practicing good behavioral science is a team effort,” he writes. “Researching insights, scoping projects, engaging clients, building technology, designing tests and measuring results is rarely done by one person.”

Psst. All this nudging has us thinking . . . . Wouldn’t this be a great time to forward this story to somebody else who should be reading Simplicity 2.0?

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