Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting emotional with customers

Science has shown that humans remember information better when their emotions are involved.

As early as 1890, psychologist William James observed that emotions “leave a scar upon the cerebral tissue.”  Since then, the number of studies on the connection between emotion and memory has skyrocketed.

Only a small fraction of the business world, however, applies this widely accepted psychological concept to customer service programs. When a customer has an emotionally pleasing experience, it almost always goes to his or her long-term memory. Of course, the opposite is also true: an emotionally traumatic customer service experience won’t soon be forgotten - service failures stick like glue in customers’ memories.

The link between emotion and memory is critical when we come to Customer Engagement and brand loyalty. Trust plays a huge role in building loyalty, however, trust is one emotion that can be built or lost in a flash. Just one five-minute interaction might be enough to entrust a customer to your company for years to come - or to demolish any trust they had in you, and even drive them to complain about you to friends and family.

So what should companies do to take advantage of the fact that customers never forget? Committing to and delivering on their service promise is critical. This includes having an effective and responsible complaints handling process.

Collecting feedback that seeks to measure customers’ emotional response is useful including how customers are responding to the brand on a real time basis. Net Promoter is a customer loyalty metric developed by (and a registered trademark of) Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix. It was introduced by Reichheld in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article "The One Number You Need to Grow".

Companies obtain their Net Promoter Score (NPS) by asking customers a single question on a 0 to 10 rating scale: "How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?" Based on their responses, customers can be categorized into one of three groups: Promoters (9-10 rating), Passives (7-8 rating), and Detractors (0-6 rating). The percentage of Detractors is then subtracted from the percentage of Promoters to obtain a Net Promoter score.

Proponents of the Net Promoter approach claim the score can be used to motivate an organisation to become more focused on improving products and services for customers. This is something that we use at BIE and it has produced some interesting results.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Being Happy is Hard Work

Some time ago the Government proposed supplementing GDP with a measure of GWB (General Well-being) to measure the nation’s happiness. The Archbishop of Canterbury also suggested that people seek real happiness, above and beyond economic and material wealth. And most organisations would freely admit to pushing happiness and well-being higher up their people agenda, perhaps as an antidote to the depressing financial times.

But one important and often over-looked finding in the psychological research is that being happy takes effort. This may sound odd, but there’s a lot of truth in this.

In 2005, psychologists analysed the mainstream well-being research and identified that about 50% of happiness is inherited – i.e. genetic – while about 10% is down to our economic and cultural circumstances. The remaining 40% is believed to be down to effort. This means investing time in deliberate and intentional activities that will make us happier.

In other words, it is necessary to put effort into maintaining happiness, through activities such as being deliberately optimistic when problems crop up, or being consciously appreciative of our circumstances.
What is really interesting, though, is that psychologists Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) monitored people over a period of several months to identify what impact these activities actually have on our happiness. They found that a change in circumstances, such as gaining more money or moving to a new area, made people happy for a limited time only. Clearly the novelty of the change wears off.

On the flip side, they found that those who invested time and effort in a range of ‘happiness’ based activities led to longer-term increases in psychological well-being. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that ‘both effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness’.

So, when the Government and the Church tell us to be happy, they – and organisations – need to know that this doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work that has to be sustained, supported and measured. In other words, if you really knuckle down and apply yourself, you’ll be a lot happier as a result…

Life Lessons to My Older Self

Reading an article entitled “Life Lessons for My Younger Self” got me thinking about how you can apply time travelling wisdom to your own life in a useful and practical way.  So here is my radical alternative:  “Life Lessons to My Older Self”!

My thinking goes along these lines.  You can shape and influence your Older Self, helping him/her to be happier, more true to himself/herself and more successful. Understanding now what matters deeply to you, allows you to either express yourself fully now or shape your steps to do so in the future.  If you look at what you regret spending time on in the past, it can help you look at how you are using your time today. It helps you understand what more you want for yourself and others going forward.

Nelson Mandela had a very clear picture of what he felt was most relevant to him, saying he wanted his epitaph to read just “Here lies a man who has done his duty upon earth” and no more. Duty for him came before all else.  For others the heart searching questions about how you have lived your life will be different but no less important.

 Those questions may change over time too. In my twenties I acted like the all-important question was “Have you been successful?”  Unsurprisingly, the Rosie Miller that I was then was very earnest and hard working. Today I wonder whether the all-important question might be “Did you enjoy your life?” or “Did you make the best of your talents?”.  With this mindset I am looking at ways of having more fun and laughter in my life and ways to fully express my set of talents. I still want to be successful at work but I am challenging my Older Self to live a different balance in life – one which meets a clearer definition of success on my terms.  

So how can you rebalance your life and focus to enable your Older Self? One way is to run a self-audit every five years or so.  Many of us have 8-9 key life areas to consider (in no particular order): parent, family member, romantic partner, work or career, friends, health/fitness, interests, community involvement and possibly spiritual/faith.  You can adapt these to your own list of roles and priorities. Look at how you are performing across the different areas in your life versus what you would like to be true. It helps you take a helicopter view so that you can identify imbalances and think about what drives them. What would you like to do to help your Older Self have a better audit score? What will it feel like to achieve that?

I found doing a self-audit especially useful a few years ago when I was heavily engaged in a demanding job. The results showed that I was still responding to the same drivers as in my twenties. My work-orientation meant I was only expressing myself and contributing well across half the areas in my life. The much needed change has taken a few years but has paid off enormously in terms of happiness and satisfaction.

What then is my key life lesson to my Older Self? Keep asking yourself these questions:

Are you living a life that helps you fully be what you truly are?  

If not, when will you permit yourself to do so? 

Self-knowledge is the starting point

Work-life balance is a uniquely human concern. It’s not something that animals, living in tune with themselves and their environment, face.  Obvious statements of course – but it’s worth considering that the reason work-life balance can be of concern is that as humans we have the ability to override our natural instincts and feelings, rather than just respond to them as their arise.  It’s our choice, and choice is, after all, what makes us human.

So we can continue working when tired, we can force ourselves to do what we’ve decided it is necessary to do.  We can work hard, sacrificing family and personal time, for the promise of later reward, rather than needing instant gratification of our desires and wishes. All this has been to the good – if humanity had not pushed itself to the limits, our world today would be without the greatest works of art and scientific discovery.

But there is a hidden danger – people can become so good at overriding their instinct, feelings and messages their body is trying to give them that they don’t even hear the message anymore. Many people who are suffering stress for example, don’t even realise they are. Yet you can’t suppress feelings forever. Trying to do so will eventually result in burn-out.

My point in writing this is that the first thing anyone needs to do is to learn to listen to themselves and observe. Taking action is secondary to understanding your situation. It can be obvious things - how much time are you spending forcing yourself on when you’d really rather be somewhere else for example. How much caffeine, sugar and other stimulants do you need to get through a day? Do you suffer irritation or mood swings without always being able to put the finger on why? It can be in simple behaviours too – I once realised I was stressed when I found my hands were saw from continually gripping the steering wheel too tightly!

Listening to yourself does have to be learnt. My recommendation for anyone who thinks they may have work-life balance or stress issues is to keep a diary for a month and simply note your feelings and observations about what you do, and always ask the question “why do I feel what I feel”.  Work-life balance ultimately is about being satisfied and fulfilled in your life – and that begins with self-knowledge.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Working to your natural rhythm

According to a recent survey, over one third of workers are consumed by thoughts of work from the minute they wake, and one in four only stop thinking about it before they sleep. This difficulty or inability to relax and switch off is widely known, and there is abundant advice available on how to relax and unwind after the working day.

What much of this advice misses, however, is that the reason we find it difficult to switch off is that our patterns of work effectively train our bodies and minds to stay switched on and override our natural cycles.  So it’s no wonder then that when we want to unwind we find it difficult.

Let me explain. We all know about the 24 hour circadian rhythms of  sleep and awake, and that if you travel or for any reason change your cycle you suffer the experience of your body clock having to readjust. What is less known is that as well as circadian rhythms there are ultradian rhythms that are shorter than 24 hours.

These were 1st discovered by the sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman in the fifties who introduced the concept of REM (rapid eye movements) to the world. He discovered the basic rest-activity cycle demonstrating that when we’re asleep we progress in 90 minute cycles  through the five stages of sleep.

He also considered that this  90minute ultradian rhythm continued during the day giving a cycle of energy every 90 to 120 minutes.   We all experience this – we are able to concentrate well for a period of up to 2 hours, before our mind starts to wander, or we lose focus. That’s a natural rhythm occurring. The trouble is, many of us override it.  Working without beaks, boosting our energy with caffeine and sugar and so on.  What’s more, to comply with our request to work on, the body releases adrenalin and stress hormones.

Yet, the natural cycle of peak performance is well known by many athletes and concert classical musicians, who organise their training and practice into 90minute sessions with a rest break in between.

The solution then to not being able to relax at end of the day is to learn to follow your own ultradian rhythms. If you can learn to take short breaks regularly and actually go with the cycle, there are lots of benefits – it can actually boost your productivity as well as reducing your stress levels.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Brainstorming properly

We've all experienced brainstorming sessions: a group of people, often chosen largely for political reasons, begin by listening passively as a moderator (often an outsider who knows little about the business) urges you to 'Get creative!' and 'Think outside the box!' and cheerfully reminds you that 'There are no bad ideas!'

The result? Some attendees remain stone-faced throughout the day, others contribute sporadically, and a few loudly dominate the session with their pet ideas. Ideas pop up randomly - some intriguing, many preposterous - but because the session has no structure, little momentum builds around any of them. At session's end, the group trundles off with a hazy idea of what, if anything, will happen next. 'Now we can get back to real work', some whisper.

It doesn't have to be like this.  By undertaking better preparation and providing structure throughout a brainstorming technique, organisations can greatly enhance their chances of generating better ideas that will be implemented.

  1. Know your boundaries:  One reason good ideas hatched in corporate brainstorming sessions often go nowhere is that they are beyond the scope of what the organization would ever be willing to consider or to implement. 'Think outside the box!' is an unhelpful exhortation if external circumstances or company policies create boxes that the organization truly must live within.
  2. Ask the right questions:  Build the workshop around a series of 'right questions' that the team explores in small groups during a series of idea generation sessions. The trick is to identify questions with two characteristics. First, they should force your participants to take a new and unfamiliar perspective. Why? Because whenever you look for new ways to approach an old problem you naturally gravitate toward thinking patterns and ideas that worked in the past. Research shows that, over time, you'll come up with fewer good ideas, despite increased effort. Changing your participants' perspective will shake up their thinking. The second characteristic of a right question is that it limits the conceptual space your team will explore, without being so restrictive that it forces particular answers or outcomes.
  3. Choose the right people:  The rule here is simple: pick people who can answer the questions you’re asking. As obvious as this sounds, it’s not what happens in many traditional brainstorming sessions, where participants are often chosen with less regard for their specific knowledge than for their prominence on the org chart.
  4. Use subgroups:  To ensure fruitful discussions, don't have participants hold one continuous, rambling discussion among the entire group for several hours. Instead, have them conduct multiple, discrete, highly focused idea generation sessions among subgroups of three to five people - no fewer, no more. Each subgroup should focus on a single question for a full 30 minutes. Why three to five people? The usual behaviour in groups of this size is to speak up, whereas the norm in a larger group is to stay quiet.
  5. Brief them first:  After your participants arrive, but before the division into subgroups, orient them so that your expectations about what they will - and won’t - accomplish are clear. Each subgroup will thoughtfully consider and discuss a single question for a half hour. No other idea from any source - no matter how good - should be mentioned during a subgroup’s individual session. Tell participants that if anyone thinks of a 'silver bullet' solution that's outside the scope of discussion, they should write it down and share it later.

    Also, whenever possible, share 'signpost examples' before the start of each session - real questions previous groups used, along with success stories, to motivate participants and show them how a question-based approach can help.
  6. Follow up quickly:  Decisions and other follow-up activities should be quick and thorough. Of course, we’re not suggesting that uninformed or insufficiently researched conclusions should be reached about ideas dreamed up only hours earlier. But the odds that concrete action will result from an idea generation exercise tend to decline quickly as time passes and momentum fades.

Go on – take the first step

The mornings may be getting lighter, but at 6.30am in January, it is still more appealing to ignore the alarm and keep snuggled under the duvet. But today, instead I ignored the lure of a final half an hour of coziness and donned my running shoes for a blast of exercise. Yes, it is a resolution for 2014 – and we all know what often happens with good intentions – but the difference this year, is an attitude of “just do it” (thank you Nike). And of course to “just do it”, I had to stop talking about wanting to run and literally take the first step.

A coach’s job is to help unispring ideas and motivation within their clients – coming from the belief that we all have the resourcefulness within us. So we often know what changes we have to make, whether it is exercise, taking a decision to move jobs or to deal with a non performing team member. The trick is to get started! Sure, discuss your issue at length, build a plan of action, evaluate best routes, think things through, but there will be no change unless you actually do something. Here are some ideas

  1. Break your pattern, do something spontaneous, whether it is going for a 10 minute walk or sitting at a different desk. There is nothing like a change of scenery to change your perspective
  2. Perfectionists beware! Break down your goal into bite sized chunks and then bite off the first one. Overwhelm is the enemy of action. When I realised I could start my running campaign with just 10 minutes – and in that I could walk as well – all of a sudden it wasn’t so hard to start
  3. Identify what is stopping you. Is it laziness, a move out of your comfort zone, fear of the unknown or failure? Face it. No excuses - bite sized chunks of action make your excuses smaller. And remember, if you don’t start, nothing will happen anyway
  4. Get support. If you are truly stuck ask a friend for help – to provide the motivational rally cry, the encouragement from the side of the sports field. Peer pressure works
  5. Shout about it. Hit the social networks and drum up your cheerleaders 
  6. Become accountable. Diarise when you are going to do it. Put it in your diary now
  7. Be mindful. Take some time away from the world of screens and stimulation. Remove your distractions. Use that time to visualise success and recall feelings of success you have had in the past
  8. Change your evening pattern. Ensuring restful periods of time before sleep helps us have a balanced approach to life and helps us to knock through barriers and excuses
  9. Honestly assess the consequences of not getting started. Procrastination can make events spiral into even more complex challenged
  10. Think through your rewards. What benefits and impact will making this change bring to your life?

I love this quote from Martin Luther King which can be applied in any context - “Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”