How Timely Interventions Boost Motivation & Performance

Timely interventions improved the performance of Black or ethnic minority applicants
Image Source: Huffington Post

Timely Interventions Change Behaviour:


We all know that the timing of a request or intervention can have a huge influence on the response we get. This is why timely is an important element of  EAST (EASY, ATTRACTIVE, SOCIAL, TIMELY) and other behavioural change frameworks. EAST was developed by the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) to provide policymakers with a simplified framework for applying insights from the behavioural sciences to develop interventions for changing behaviour.


EAST behavioural change framework
Image Source (PDF):


However, though timely interventions certainly alter behaviour, understanding user expectations and motivations can determine the direction of the effect. The behavioural sciences provides marketers with the framework and language for creating such interventions. The BIT are at the forefront of applying the behavioural sciences to designing interventions to nudge people towards a desired behaviour. Marketers can learn a great deal from reviewing the many successes of the BIT.


Improving Ethnic Diversity:


In one project the BIT were asked to help the UK police force improve the performance of ethnic minority recruits in a crucial online exam. The pass rate for ethnic minorities for the online Situational Judgement Test was around a third lower compared to white applicants.


The BIT thought that motivation and expectations might partly explain the difference. A review of the behavioural literature identified that priming and stereotype threat can significantly influence the performance of ethnic minorities in tests. For example if you remind someone immediately before they take an exam that their ethnic group normally performs poorly in a test this can reduce their performance.


Research by Steele and Aronson (1995) first demonstrated this phenomenon when they conducted experiments with Black college students in the US. These students performed less well on standardised tests than white students when their ethnic background was emphasised before taking the test. However, research suggests that “positive priming” can counteract this effect and reduce any performance gap between ethnic minority and white candidates.


A study by Spencer, Steele and Quinn (1999) indicated that women perform less well than men on mathematical tests when they are made aware of the “women are bad at maths” stereotype. But if female participants are informed beforehand that the test is not expected to show gender differences, female participants perform equally as well as males taking the test.


When To Make An Intervention?


Applicants were invited to complete the test by an email and so the BIT decided to add some extra sentences to the email to encourage candidates to reflect on why they wanted to join the police and why this was important for their community. The revised email was then used in a randomised controlled test using a stratified sample to ensure similar numbers of Black or Minority Ethnic  (BME) and non-BME applicants appeared in each group. The control group were sent the original email and the treatment group received the amended email with the extra sentences.


What was the outcome?


Adding the extra sentences made no difference to white applicants, but it dramatically improved the pass rate of BME applicants by between 40 and 60 per cent. This completely eliminated the difference between BME and white applicants. There was no change in how long it took applicants to complete the test and so the intervention didn’t increase reflective deliberation. The timely intervention appears to have made applicants more comfortable with their gut instinct when answering the questions in the test.


Image of result of intervention for police Situational Judgement Test
Image Source: Behavioural Insights Team


Indeed, the improvement in scores was most marked with regards to two sections; communication and empathy and customer focused decision making.  This appears consistent with the nature of the intervention which asked candidates to imagine themselves as a police officer. The experiment did not see any significant improvement in the other two competencies; openness to change and adaptability and relationship building and community.


Conclusion for conversion optimisation:


Small and timely interventions can have a big impact on behaviour and user performance. In the rush to meet deadlines and achieve targets this is often forgotten.


People’s motivations and expectations can make a huge difference in user performance even in cognitively demanding tasks like online tests. Imagine the impact on your conversion rate of a compelling and well communicated value proposition compared to a weak and confusing proposition.


Words matter. Use language that is easy to understand and communicates reasons why your customer should take action.


Ensure you remind visitors about key benefits  and psychological motivations at important steps in the user journey. If your Google search entry mentions some kind of offer make sure you repeat this at regular intervals. Even if you are going to automatically apply an offer it is wise to communicate this in checkout to remove any doubt in the customer’s mind.


The BIT’s experiment also shows how important email marketing can be at influencing online behaviour by setting expectations and highlighting underlying motivations. Ensure you spend time carefully designing and drafting the content of your emails.  Think about your product or service from your prospect’s perspective and reflect this in your email marketing. Such an approach is more likely to grab a reader’s attention and encourage them to take a profitable action.


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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as,,, and He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.

By Neal Cole

Neal is Chief Optimisation Consultant at Conversion Uplift Ltd. He has over 10 years experience of A/B testing and improving conversion rates for major international brands across multiple sectors, including gaming and financial services.