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Think RFM for Behavior Change

Posted by Sandeep Jain, ACC | July 7, 2020 | Comments (9)

As somebody whose work straddles between strategy consulting and coaching, I am always intrigued how concepts from one domain find applicability and add tremendous value in the other area.

One of the oldest and a very valued concept in customer analytics is RFM. The acronym RFM stands for three actionable parameters to analyze and segment customers:

  • R for Recency of customer’s purchase.
  • F for Frequency, i.e., how often did the customer buy?
  • M for Monetary Value, i.e., how much did the customer spend?

The interplay of these three parameters across customer cohorts can help you understand the robustness of the customer base of any business and design customer engagement interventions.

An equivalent of RFM can be applied to any behavior change initiative, to develop new habits, or to add new skills to one’s repertoire. For brevity, let’s refer to all of these as behavior change. Behavior change is at the heart of the desired outcomes coaches work towards. Also, we all are aware that bringing about behavior change, especially adult behavior change, is a challenging task. For behavior change to take place, we need to teach ourselves to react differently to the same stimuli. We need to relay our neural path and reinforce the same consistently to the point that the desired behavior becomes our natural response instead of the old one.

As said, “What is not measured, doesn’t get done,” hence, it is essential to put the measurement metric in place. To hold the subject accountable, it is vital that the action plan is granular enough and the measurement metric is smart enough to measure RFM.

As you work on behavior change, ask yourself whether RFM is being tracked and measured.


When was the most recent time you practiced the new behavior or habit? More importantly, which was the most recent time where you had the opportunity to use the new behavior, but you reverted to your old self?

The more recently the new behavior has been exhibited (obviously accommodating for the context), the more the chances are that the new behavior is being internalized. Another element of Recency is the lag between planning a behavior change and executing this change. The shorter this period, the more likely the change will indeed take place. More intervening time lets our motivation slip and gives us more time to rationalize why it can’t be done!


Did you set for yourself the frequency (how many times), at which you will exhibit the new desired behavior? How would you measure yourself on the frequency in specific terms?

If we reflect, we will realize that when we ask the subject these questions, the very likely response is “often,” but often is not good enough as it has a very subjective interpretation.

Monetary Value

This one I would tweak to “maximum engagement,” as this is an attempt to measure how much effort the subject put in. Here it is more about quality than quantity, which can help the subject move faster on the change continuum from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

What was the duration of the time spent on the new behavior? How engaged were you? How motivated were you? What were your feelings? This is especially important if the new behavior is about acquiring a new skill which needs hard and devoted practice. What was the environment? Did you isolate yourself enough not to be disturbed?

Putting the above in practice, let us say that the subject has decided to work on being “more fit” and decided to hit the gym every day for 45 minutes. In the subsequent coaching session, a month later, the subject mentions that they visited the gym 23 days of the possible 30 days. This 75% hit rate may sound like quite a reasonable frequency for someone who is beginning with a new habit.  However, if a follow-up question around recency reveals that the last time they hit the gym was a week ago, it could be an indication that the motivation is waning. The coach may need to dig deeper to re-build motivation.

From a maximum engagement perspective, it is important to understand if every visit was indeed 45 minutes and how those 45 minutes were spent.  Was the client fully engaged, or did they just spend the time socializing with friends at the gym? How would they rate themselves on the quality of effort (and not results, at this early stage)?

Let me know what you, as a coach in your specific niche, feel about the above. How do you think RFM can be deployed in your self-change interventions or in your coaching engagements?

sandeep jain headshot

Sandeep Jain, ACC

Sandeep Jain, ACC, spent 25+ years in various finance and business leadership roles across Asia Pacific, and he is now based in India, working as a strategy consultant and Leadership Coach, while also mentoring startups. He is a chartered accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor by qualification, and he has pursued various executive management education programs. Sandeep is an ICF Credentialed-coach Member, a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach, an NLP practitioner and a certified Hogan assessor. His firm Value-Unlocked partners with organizations and people to help them own change and create a better version of themselves.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (9)

  1. Gaurima says:

    One of the best piece in terms of usefulness 👍
    And thanks for keeping it very clear and simple.

  2. Great reminder and simple how i could use this in my coaching practice

  3. Felipe Ramos says:

    Hi Sandeep, I suggest for you to read about tiny habits. The more you tell all coaches to begin building habits from a tiny behavior, one that doesn’t require high levels of motivation, the behavior has a better chance of becoming permanent in the life of their patients. As a result, the behavior will be easily replicable, and as you know, habits are repeated behavior, thus creating a habit from a low-motivational first behavior. Its really interesting and is exactly from where I am building my coaching practice.



  4. Sandeep says:

    Hi Felipe, Couldn’t agree with you more, it all starts with tiny habits!

  5. Amy Doss says:

    My logical brain loved the linear and simple structure. Brilliant. And I can see how to tweak it in a way that will fit with all individuals regardless of their learning styles. Behavior change is extremely difficult and we need many tools! Thank you for sharing. Really impactful.

  6. says:

    Hi sandeep,

    This is very useful write up and great reminder. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sudha Krishnan says:

    Extremely useful, simple yet very powerful. Thanks Sandeep Jain

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