Search the website

Predicting Customer Behavior is not Rocket Science – It’s Harder

by Neil Hoyne, best-selling author of “Converted: The Data-Driven Way to Win Customers’ Hearts”

Re-engage your churned customers with this guide

Why it Matters:

Understanding the complexities of predicting customer behavior is essential for businesses to effectively tailor their strategies and offerings, ultimately driving growth and success in today’s dynamic marketplace.

Key Takeaways:

Successfully predicting customer behavior demands a nuanced understanding of the intricate interplay between psychology, sociology, ethics, and market dynamics.

NASA, the United States space program, has been the launching pad for inventions that have been life-changing—life-changing ones like artificial limbs, the insulin pump, and Lasik eye surgery—and practical ones that have been life-improving, like the dust buster, solar cells, wireless headsets, and invisible braces to straighten our teeth. 

So, a surprise that made me sit straight up was when I met a new colleague, a newly minted physics Ph.D. who abandoned the comforts of a tenured ivory tower to join an engineering team that focused on new ad formats instead. 

I had to ask the obvious question: “Alright, you’re a bona fide rocket scientist, and now you make people click on pictures. Explain that one to me.” 

“Well,” he said. “This is harder.” 

 ”Let me explain,” he went on. “Teaching someone to launch a tin can into space is table stakes at a 100-level university course. You’ve got constants — mass, gravity. Give me the height you want, and I can calculate the energy needed on a slide rule. But you give me some sexy new product and ask how many ads it takes to separate people from their money? Nobody knows. Even if I can figure it out, I know it’ll be different the next time I look.” 

How to prevent churn and reactivate customer

Here’s why predicting customer behavior isn’t merely rocket science—it’s harder: 

Human Behavior is Inherently Complex: Unlike the predictable trajectories of rockets governed by the laws of physics, human behavior is influenced by a myriad of factors, many of which are subjective, emotional, and context dependent. While data analysis and statistical models can provide valuable insights, they often fall short and don’t capture the full spectrum of human motivations and decision-making processes. 

  1. Uncertainty and Variability: In rocket science, variables can be controlled, and precise calculations can be made to predict outcomes with a high degree of accuracy. However, in the realm of customer behavior, uncertainty and variability abound. People’s preferences, attitudes, and actions can fluctuate based on a multitude of factors, including mood, social influence, and evolving external circumstances. 
  1. Evolutionary and Cultural Influences: Human behavior is shaped by evolutionary instincts, cultural norms, and societal influences that have evolved over millennia. While rockets operate according to fixed physical principles, human behavior is subject to historical, cultural, and social contingencies that vary across time and place. Understanding these influences requires a deep appreciation of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other interdisciplinary fields. 
  1. Cognitive Biases and Irrationality: Contrary to the rational agents often assumed in economic models, human decision-making is frequently irrational and prone to cognitive biases. From confirmation bias to loss aversion, individuals often make choices that defy traditional logic and utility maximization notions. Navigating these cognitive complexities requires a sophisticated understanding of behavioral economics and psychological principles. 
  1. Dynamic and Adaptive Nature: Unlike rockets, which follow predetermined trajectories once launched, customers exhibit dynamic and adaptive behavior that can evolve over time. Preferences shift, attitudes change, and individuals respond to feedback and experiences in unpredictable ways. Consequently, predicting customer behavior requires ongoing monitoring, analysis, and adaptation to stay ahead of shifting trends and market dynamics. 
  1. Ethical Considerations: While the pursuit of scientific knowledge in rocket science is generally value-neutral, the quest to understand and predict human behavior raises profound ethical considerations. Businesses must navigate a complex ethical landscape when collecting and analyzing customer data, from concerns about privacy and data protection to the potential for manipulation and exploitation. 

The Guide to Re-Engaging Lapsed Customers

Identify at-risk and lapsed customers and bring them back with this guide.

In summary

In conclusion, while the analogy to rocket science may capture the complexity of predicting customer behavior to some extent, it fails to account for the unique challenges posed by the inherently dynamic, unpredictable, and deeply human nature of consumer decision-making. Successfully deciphering and anticipating customer behavior requires not only analytical rigor and technological prowess but also a deep appreciation of the intricate interplay of psychology, culture, ethics, and human experience. It’s not just rocket science—it’s harder. 

For more insights, contact us at 

Published on

Neil Hoyne

Neil Hoyne is a renowned customer analytics expert and best-selling author of “Converted: The Data-Driven Way to Win Customers’ Hearts,” plus a Senior Fellow at the Wharton School and Chief Strategist at Google.