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Stuff to Ponder: Quality Vs. Emotional Satisfaction

Back in 2005, I wrote about a study by the Urban Institute dealing with attendance at cultural activities. Looking back at the study, The Diversity of Cultural Participation, I am still a little puzzled by one of the results. I’d love to know if there has been any additional insights developed since that time.

What they had found was that the majority of attendees went expecting an emotionally satisfying experience but far fewer felt they had one. Yet few people entered performance halls expecting a high quality experience but more left feeling they had one.

I make a number of assumptions and guesses about the reasons for various findings in my post, but as I say, I have no idea if I am anywhere near correct. The only thing I could think to add is that people see a lot of movies they feel are poor quality but are emotionally manipulative and bring those expectations to performance halls and museums. I would love to hear what other people think or have discovered.

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Can Devotion To The Arts Be Considered An Addiction?

Since I tend to travel to China every other year or so, I have started taking a class in Chinese.

The class has taken over my life.

It used to be that the rule of thumb for college classes was 3 hours of home work for every hour in class. In recent times, it has been scaled back to 1-2 hours per hour in class. My Chinese class seems to be old school because I spend about 10-12 hours a week doing the homework. I usually finish home work for Tuesday on the Saturday before and then start the homework for two Tuesdays hence on Sunday morning. Every morning, I wake up and do 1-1.5 hours of homework before heading off to work for the day. Saturdays I usually do several hours of work.

I figure I have to keep this schedule because our production season is starting very soon and will keep me from completing the homework before Monday or Tuesday unless I start 8 days early. What is slowing me down is writing everything in Chinese characters. It is like reproducing pictures rather than writing letters. If you write the letter J and don’t dot the lower case or cross it as an uppercase, no one will care. You leave a dot or line out on a Chinese character and it is a different word.

The thing is, I love it and anticipate taking the more advanced class next semester. While my pronunciation of the tones is probably off, I can grasp the vocabulary and grammar rules pretty well.

But it has gotten me to wondering– can I afford another time and energy consuming obsession alongside my career in the arts? I also wonder if my enthusiasm for learning the language comes from a similar place as my enthusiasm for the arts. While I was a good student when I was younger, I was never as diligent as I am with this class.

I have written a number of times on the idea that people in the arts are sustained by the emotional satisfaction they get from their jobs. This can lead to decision making which values devotion to the arts to detriment of their professional and personal development, financial situation, relationships and health.

Now given I actually have time to have something non-arts related monopolize my time is probably a sign that the amount of time I devote to my arts career may be at a healthy level. Or that I have merely displaced other portions of my life to accommodate both activities. (The pile of dirty laundry and unwashed dishes does seem higher lately…)

My brain may be releasing chemicals into my pleasure centers in relation to both arts and Chinese class, but I don’t think it comprises some sort of addiction. Still, I wonder if there is a tendency among arts people to exhibit personality traits common to those prone to addictions. If anyone has seen any studies, about arts people having addictive personalities, I would be interested to learn more.

In any case, it is something to which I will have to give more thought.

After I finish my Chinese homework.

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Gulp! Let Employees Set The Rules

So getting back to my Human Sigma discussion in this entry. There is quite a bit I am skipping over generally because I have discussed many of the concepts before in other entries. For example, the idea that customers can develop an emotional investment with a company based on how different factors align with how a person identifies themselves. The surroundings and other customers conform to their idea of cool and upscale and so they develop an attachment with it.

One thing authors Fleming and Asplund mention that evoked an “ah-ha!” connection for me was the importance of having design empower customers. People want to feel competent in their relationship with your organization and design contributes to that. This is why many chain stores have standardized layouts. Nothing erodes the confidence of a do-it-yourselfer like not being able to find what they seek in a big box hardware store by yourself.

This made me think of the need to have easy to navigate websites and voice mail systems, but most importantly for the arts—an easy to navigate season brochure. How many season brochures have you picked up and couldn’t figure out how to buy single tickets much less fully subscribe to a season? The fact that people aren’t subscribing much any more may be a partial blessing for organizations’ relationships because negotiation of many a brochure has been the bane of arts patrons.

One study finding I alluded to in earlier entries is that Human Sigma isn’t just about getting customers highly invested in the company. According to their research, even within the same company, the branches that were most profitable had high emotional investment by both customers and employees. Having one group actualized but not the other is good, but having both improves success exponentially.

Now you may be thinking this is great and your organization is about halfway there because arts people almost by definition are highly emotionally invested in what they do. But they aren’t necessarily invested in promoting and interacting with patrons. If you recall the list of quotes in yesterday’s entry, at least one artist wondered why he/she needed extra training to be an arts educator given all they had received in their discipline.

Employee-Customer interactions contain the most terrifying suggestions in Human Sigma because Fleming and Asplund urge instructing employees about the end goal but leaving it to them to achieve it. Because a standard script of responses can’t cover all eventualities, the authors essentially propose using one as a FAQ document rather than as part of a set procedure. This is pretty scary because it requires giving up a lot of control. Though I should note, it doesn’t mean relaxing standards, just re-evaluating how those standards are measured.

Instead they suggest creating a series of strategies employees can use to improve their interactions with customers. Rather than rewarding people on the basis of how many people they can process in an hour, the focus is on engaging in conversations to assess their needs. “The uncomfortable truth here is left on their own, employees will develop their own strategies for interacting with their customers and their fellow employees, whether you play a constructive part in that process or not.” They posit that you are better off involving yourself at the start to keep it constructive.

The process is more than I can explain here so you will have to read the book if you are interested. In summary though, they say that the best environment to help people develop new strategies for customer interaction is one where they are held accountable for their mistakes and high quality feedback is provided. What they aren’t suggesting is that each person does their own thing, but rather that employees be allowed to develop new approaches by group consensus.

One of the things that popped out as I read the book was the concept of decision making silos. These silos emerge when decision making is compartmentalized rather than shared throughout the organization. The example they use was an airline whose advertising arm promised much better service than the front line service personnel had the resources to deliver. In fact, each had been provided with contradictory guidance. Advertising was tasked to improve market share, the front line was instructed to ruthlessly control costs. Neither consulted the other to discuss how to resolve an essentially mutually exclusive set of expectations.

I have talked about how marketing isn’t just the job of that department before. The authors go a step further by suggesting the position of a Chief Human Sigma Officer who will watch out for such conflicts and has the authority to move an organization toward more interactive decision making. They suggest consolidating all marketing and human resource responsibility into this executive position. (Though acknowledge other configurations are possible.) I don’t know how this might manifest in many art organizations. Though given that disciplines like theatre are merging artistic and management executives into one position, maybe merging marketing and human resources isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

I am nearly done with my discussion of the book. Next entry- Assessment and Reward

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That You Care Is What Matters

Yesterday I alluded to the research findings presented by Fleming and Asplund in their book, Human Sigma, that how you handle customer problems is more important to your relationship with them than actually solving the problem. (I should mention, HumanSigma is a program of Gallup so they have a lot of experience in surveying.) They say that “customers who encounter a problem and are extremely happy with how the company handled the problem often have levels of emotional attachment equal to—and in some cases exceeding– those who have no problem at all.”

The Means, Not The End That Matters
They say that customers don’t expect a business will always resolve a problem to their liking, “but they do except the company to handle them in an exemplary way.” There is also the issue that not everyone has the same expectations of a solution to contend with. They use the example of receiving an undercooked meal at a restaurant. Some people may be content with having the meal cooked properly and the offer of complimentary dessert. Others may feel the whole meal should be free. You are likely to be more successful creating good procedures to address problems than you are at creating solutions that will please everyone.

They have found that people who have a high emotional investment are likely to give a company the benefit of the doubt when a problem arises viewing it as an honest mistake or even pondering how they may have contributed to the situation. Those with low engagement are more likely to place heavier blame on the company for the problem making it more difficult to please them.

Steps to Resolution
Fleming and Asplund suggest six steps that should be part of resolution procedures.

First is to acknowledge the problem exists. Second is to apologize. They are quick to add that apologizing is not accepting the blame. Lawyers warn clients not to apologize out of fear it can be used against them in lawsuits. But according to a NY Times story, policies of apologizing have cut malpractice suits and legal costs for the University of Michigan and University of Illinois hospitals. People who feel wronged view the refusal to apologize as a lack of empathy for the situation and so they escalate matters in an effort to gain acknowledgment.

Good resolution processes can actually strengthen a relationship with people who have experienced a problem. According to Fleming and Asplund, people who have encountered a problem and have been extremely satisfied with the way a bank handled it were 51% full invested in the bank versus 26% full investment by people who never experienced a problem. They say that apologizing validates a person’s trust in the company and reinforces their value as a customer.

The third step they suggest is “Take ownership of the problem and follow up, even if the problem is unresolved.” Promising to follow up by a certain time or date is better than a vague “as soon as possible” because the customer may feel they have to continue checking in on your progress. Even if you haven’t solved the problem by the appointed hour, it is better to contact the customer with that information than leave them wondering or in the position of having to track the contact person down again.

Suggestion four is to handle problems on the spot rather than bumping it to a supervisor. This means empowering front line service people to respond with a solution appropriate to their position. If the customer is not satisfied, then someone higher in the chain can be contacted. They use the example of a hotel chain that generally had managers resolve problems with free nights’ stays. Among the steps they took were to empower housekeeping to offer gift baskets, robes and bouquets of flowers and only refer a problem to the manager if a person was dissatisfied. Because they weren’t defaulting to free accommodations to resolve their problems, their costs dropped and satisfaction rose.

Their fifth suggestion is have a process which quickly brings the problem to the attention of a supervisor or manager. The mention a logging system which alerts managers if a problem remains unsolved after a certain period of time. Most arts organizations are small enough that a computerized system is not needed to communicate complaints to other staff. Just the same, there is plenty of opportunity for the complaint to lie dormant on someone’s desk and never be brought to a supervisor’s attention so the importance of communicating a complaint needs to be emphasized. The authors warn to be wary that your system not make people feel their responsibility in addressing complaints ends upon handing them off to someone else.

The last suggestion is to leave people better off than they were before the problem occurred. Even if the solution is not the one they desired, they should still be in a better position than they were before. Presumably this means gaining intangible benefits such as feeling more valued as a customer and perhaps having a specific contact person who can address future difficulties if the current problem hasn’t been completely resolved.

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