Customers. Are their brains with you or against you?

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Throughout your life, five times every second, 300 times a minute, your brain, as well as everyone else’s brain, is continuously scanning the world around it to determine whether things are dangerous or safe.

It happens in your subconscious mind all day and you don’t even realize it, and the determination makes a big difference, particularly in interactions with others.

If, during this environmental scan, your brain registers things as dangerous, it gets to work ensuring survival, getting ready to fight, flee, or freeze.  Energy and fuel are shunted away from your conscious, prefrontal cortex and things begin happening based on instincts originally set up so you wouldn’t be eaten by a predator. You begin to subtly see those around you as potential enemies, things become black and white, you get tunnel vision, you begin acting automatically and start saying and doing things you wouldn’t normally say and do.

However, if the brain looks around and says things look “safe” here, things turn out very differently, you have more control of yourself and the interaction becomes more collaborative. You feel you’re among friends, willing to share and work together. You are able to see not only black and white but gray subtleties and nuances. And since your prefrontal cortex, your conscious thinking center, isn’t working on minimal power, you’re able to bring your best thinking, attitude, and decision-making skills into play.

So what can we do to make “safety” happen more regularly and influence environments and interactions that are more positive?

Well, thankfully, the work of David Rock and others in the neuroscience realm has shown us some answers.  By examining brain scans, a few critical factors have been identified that suggest an influence on the brain’s interpretation of situations as safe or not. These factors include feeling important, knowing what to expect, having some control, feeling included, and a sense that dealings are fair.  By considering these factors and how our behavior is either making people feel safe or not, we can make adjustments that can inspire more positive relations.  In business, there is nowhere where this is more needed than in customer service.

Customer service interactions can be some of the most difficult since they involve people who are typically strangers relating around products and services requiring the exchange of money.  It is easy in these dealings for trust and safety to quickly fall into jeopardy.  By using the knowledge of brain science outlined above and focusing on four key behaviors, we can promote the perception of safety, and in turn, help to build better interactions; I call these the WALS behaviors.

  • W is for Welcoming, a response to the brain’s need to be included, to belong.
  • A is for Accommodating, an answer to the brain’s need for fairness.  Is this one-sided, are their needs considered or is this just about you?
  • L is for Listening, because the brain needs to feel important, it wants your full attention, it wants to feel it can have input and some control.
  • S is for Sharing, a reply to the brain’s desire for information so it knows what can be expected.

So, if you interface with customers, some key things to regularly ask yourself are:

  • Am I welcoming people? Did I greet them warmly?  Am I demonstrating to them that I want them to be here?
  • How can I be more flexible and accommodating with their requests?  How can I find a way to say “yes”?
  • What questions can I ask and how can I better listen and give them the attention they deserve?
  • What information do they need from me? How can I provide more so they know what to expect and feel more confident?

If you are a manager, teach your team to ask these questions of themselves.  Perhaps, post these questions somewhere so they remain top of mind.

If you want your employees to deliver great service, coach them to make these behaviors habits.  By doing so, you will not only benefit your customers but also those same employees because interactions will get easier and more pleasant.

Regardless of what you do, we all want the human-to-human aspect of life to be better.  It’s always nice to have people, especially customers, with you rather than against you.  So, how can you contribute more to “with” environments rather than “against” environments?

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Emotional Connection. It’s not that complicated.

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Emotion has become the buzzword of the customer experience industry over the last couple of years.  The talk is about how to get customers emotionally involved and connected to business.

As with most of these big buzzword business topics, there is a lot of discussion and theorizing about trends and complicated formulas involving data and strategy.  In the case of customers and emotional engagement, there’s a lot of discussion about delighting at every touch point along the journey and how to make all of the different channels for reaching customers more emotionally captivating.  And while I don’t conceptually disagree with any of this, I often chuckle a bit at how much time and effort is being expended on research and mental gymnastics when it would seem some solutions are simple, and, to me, just plain common sense.

While thinking about this theme of emotional connection, I considered what gets me emotionally connected to businesses and my first thoughts were about employees, not customers.  In my experience, when I get emotionally connected to a business, it comes from the employees, not from marketing or any other construct.  In my mind, engaging customers emotionally is really just a function of the emotional engagement and connection of the employees.

I was recently in a restaurant where I asked my server for their recommendations on the menu.  When I did that, they opened up and got very animated, it was obvious that they loved their job and they loved the restaurant and its menu.  They exuberantly made suggestions about various options and spoke excitedly about what they liked and why.  Their enthusiasm spread to me, I wanted to try everything, I began feeling that I wanted the restaurant to be as successful as they did.  Was it some great service training or new mind-melding spell I was under?  No, I simply fell in love with the server and their enthusiasm.  I was captivated, not with any marketing message or new-fangled “delight” at a touch point designed on a journey map, just drawn in by the passion of the employee.

What this recent restaurant experience proved to me was that you can do all kinds of things to try and manufacture more emotional connection to your business but nothing works as well as a culture that supports employees and makes them passionate about what they do and what your business does.  This enthusiasm is infectious and spreads like a virus to customers.  It makes customers more passionate and makes them want to make the business successful.  That, my friend, is emotional connection.

The formula here seems pretty straightforward and simple.  Management must be passionate about what the business does and about helping and supporting employees in driving that mission.  When employees then align around the goals of the business and feel supported and successful, they get enthusiastic and that spreads to customers.  Simple formula, managers enthusiastically help employees, employees enthusiastically help customers, customers enthusiastically help the company.  It’s not complicated.

So what does your business do that gets you excited? How emotionally connected are you to your business?   How does your menu of products and/or services make you proud and passionate?  How are you sharing that enthusiasm with your fellow employees and with customers?

If you are not emotionally connected to what it is your business does, your customers will never be.  The path to getting customers emotionally connected is simple and it begins with you.

You can make times of struggle easier if you just care a little.

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Flying can be a hassle and airlines seem uninterested in making it easier.  They miss so many opportunities to differentiate themselves and provide a better experience that it would seem they have no interest in doing anything other than providing a commodity.

Take this example.  I was flying to the east coast from California, and, due to a variety of circumstances, had to book a multi-connection flight.  I was going from Oakland to LA to Atlanta and then home.  A crazy trip I assure you.  Anyway, we were late leaving from Oakland because, as our pilot informed us, LA was backed up due to a lack of runways.  You see, one of LAX’s runways was being rebuilt and was causing much disturbance, traffic, and back up in the highways of the air.

After leaving Oakland and arriving in LA airspace, we circled a bit (delaying us even further) and finally landed in LA.  Then, our plane was directed to an open area near some hangars where buses came to whisk us to the terminal.  I am not sure why this had to happen since there were what looked like several gate parking areas that were open but air travel mysteries are many.  Now, while this seems simple and a fair plan to get people where they needed to be, it took forever. Everything in air travel seems to take an inordinate amount of time, in this case, it’s like no one communicated the plan before landing and there was no proactive preparation.  Everything was happening “on the fly” as it were.

Once we got off the plane, the buses took us to one terminal (LAX has several).  There was some confusion among passengers because we were never told that the buses would not be delivering us to each terminal so some of us stayed aboard until the driver told us we had to depart; I guess we were expected to magically read minds.  From there, the mad dash of many dissatisfied, frustrated passengers began.  It was like the beginning of a 5K with people sprinting to find gates and make their destinations.

So, where were the opportunities for making this bad situation better?  Here’s a list starting at the beginning with buying the ticket.

  1. The airline’s website could have had a warning about LAX being such a problem so that unsuspecting passengers could rethink their options and avoid connecting in LA.
  2. When it is known that passengers are aboard who have very, very tight connections, the flight crew could facilitate getting those people off the plan a little faster by asking those with connections in less than 30 minutes to raise their hands. They could then instruct the others to be mindful and let those with raised hands get off the plane first.  I know there would be the jerks who would take advantage of this (there are always ‘me first’ people in any crowd) but I think the majority would be good about it and let the better angels of their nature prevail.
  3. The buses could have been ready and waiting so things could happen in a more efficient manner.
  4. There could have been an announcement to explain that everyone would be dropped at one terminal…or…if they want to be even more service focused, they could have had the buses make rounds to each terminal to lessen the need for passengers to sprint through the airport.

Now I know these things are probably a little costly and take some strategic thinking but I work in the hospitality environment and have seen much more difficult game plans being planned quickly and implemented successfully.  The key is planning, quick thinking, and caring about customers enough to want to make their experience as good as it can be.

The moral here is this, when you know customers could be inconvenienced, make a plan, think from their perspective and find every way you can to make it easier for them.  Contingency planning is one thing I believe businesses rarely think about but something that could make all of the difference.

Where are similar weaknesses in your operation?  Where are areas in your customers’ experience where you know they could be inconvenienced?  How can you better communicate potential log jams?  What is your plan for clearing those inevitable bottlenecks so that customers are not the ones having to do the work?  Ultimately, how can you differentiate your organization from the rest by being proactive, preparing for the worst, and making it all effortless for your customers?

The Customer Perspective and the Mayo Jar

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I am of the belief that no company that makes mayonnaise has ever used their product.  If they have, do they have a magic formula for getting all of the mayo out of the jar?  Maybe you don’t have a problem with it but I struggle when I get to the end.  I simply cannot find a way to get down to the bottom without making a mess of my hands, and/or cannot get a knife, or any other implement for that matter, to bend around that swoop following the opening.  Who thought of putting mayo (or any other substance where you need to get at it with a knife) in this kind of stupid jar?  I can only imagine it was someone who never had to use it.

Who cares, right?  But there’s a valuable lesson here.

We hear a lot about putting the customer at the center of business.  There’s a lot of talk about listening to your customers and seeing things from their perspective but how exactly do you do it?  How do you learn what your customers see and feel and experience?

Well, I think there’s really only one way, and that is to simply go and be your own customer. You have to get out there and experience your own sales process, try your products, and try to get at that metaphorical mayo you put in that tricky jar, and, when it proves to be a total pain, go back to the drawing board and design that perfect, easy jar that makes you and your business stand out.

This is the power of seeing things from the customer perspective; it leads to that next great thing, that innovation that changes everything.  Believe me, if you come up with that perfect mayo jar that will let me get that last smidge of mayo, I will pay more for it and sing your praises.  This is the power of thinking like your customer, increased revenue and increased word of mouth and all by simply experiencing what your customers deal with.

What is your business’s mayo  jar?  What do your customers deal with that you need to rethink?  There’s only one real way to find out.  Get out there!