The 3-Choices Rule: How to Make it Easier for Clients to Decide

There’s a new noodle shop in my neighborhood and I hate the experience of ordering there. There are just way too many choices - and the menu lists the choices in the most complex way possible - that it stresses me out.

First, I have to choose the size of my noodles. Then choose the type of noodles I want. Then, depending on the size of my noodles, I can pick a certain amount of toppings. Sounds like fun, except that it’s difficult to understand how much of these toppings I am allowed to add. Which leads to exchanges like these:

“Ate, ilan ba talaga ang pwede kong ilagay?”

“Depende po. Anong size po ba?”

“Large.”

“Kung large po, 6 toppings.”

“Ate, 6 na po ito.”

“Di po ma’am, 4 pa lang po yan. Kasi yung [Topping A] 2 pieces isa po yung bilang, tapos yung [Topping B] 1 piece, isang bilang, itong mushrooms naman per bunch po isang bilang…etc. etc.”

And so on. Every customer goes through this confusing conversation, which is why it takes too long to order, even if there are only 2 people in line.

Things would’ve been simpler if they limited the way they presented your options.

Give Them 3 Choices. Max.

Imagine what it’s like for a client to go through your service offerings.

There was a time when my project proposals would list more than 10 items. It included everything from blog updates to social media promotion to revising their website copy.

Do you know how long it took clients to get back to me? More than a week. Sometimes, it would even take more than a month.

Since I started cutting that back to just 3 items, I often got positive responses to my project proposals within 2 days.

Why? Because of choice anxiety. If we have too many choices - especially if those choices are very similar - it gets very difficult and mentally taxing to make a decision.

Ever notice that when you’re in a mall when you’re very tired, the harder it is for you to pick a place to eat? Or imagine how much harder it would be to choose a movie to watch if you’re asked to pick among dozens of DVDs versus just the 4 or 5 films that are currently showing at your nearest mall. That’s choice anxiety at work.

Part of your job as the consultant or freelancer is to minimize that anxiety. This is why I came up with the 3-choices rule.

The rule is very simple: always offer your client just 3 choices. That’s 3 choices at most.

This accomplishes 2 things: your client won’t be stressed out by making complex decisions, yet they’ll feel in control and involved because they made a choice. You didn’t just impose your decision.

I apply this everywhere. From setting meeting times to proposing tasks, I make sure that my clients don’t have to think too hard. Picking an option from A, B, or C makes it easier to move forward than picking something from an almost infinite amount of choices.

For example, when it comes to meeting times. Don’t tell your client, “Let’s talk about this on Skype next week. When are you free?”

You’re basically asking them, “Let’s talk about this on Skype next week. Will you be free on Monday at 8am? How about at 8:30 am? How about at 9:00 am? How about after lunch? How about later in the afternoon? How about the evening? How about Tuesday… etc.”

Too many choices!

Too many similar choices leads to confusion and stress. (Image Credit: Flickr user jdhancock)

That’s going to give them a headache. They’re already making hundreds of small decisions each day - from what to eat for breakfast to how to increase profits in their business to what activity they’ll do with their family this weekend - any additional decision-making tasks from you will seem overwhelming. It’s likely that they won’t even respond.

Instead of giving them a wide range of choices, apply the 3-choices rule and say:

“Let’s talk about this for 30-minutes on Skype next week. Just let me know which of these 3 times are most convenient for you, and I’ll be online:
a) Monday, 9:00 am (PST),
b) Monday, 3:00 pm (PST), or
c) Tuesday, 9:00 am (PST).

Please reply and let me know which of the above 3 times is best. Thanks!”

Isn’t that easier to choose from than an almost infinite amount of choices? And you wouldn’t get unhelpful responses like “Any time is fine.” or “Any time in the afternoons, just let me know.” No need for emailing back and forth.

And if your client is busy on the times you suggested, it’s likely that, taking from your example, they’ll make an equally specific recommendation.

This 3-choices rule has allowed me to keep things simple and avoid the time-wasting, stress-inducing nonsense I experience in the noodle shop. That’s why I don’t go there anymore - especially when I’m super hungry.

Instead, my money goes to their nearby competitor, where the only decision I’ll make is whether my burrito will be chicken or beef.

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