The Best Customer Is The Emotionally Satisfied Customer

Back in 2009 I wrote a series of articles on the book Human Sigma after I had heard someone at a conference remark that arts administrators were often so emotionally satisfied with their work that they didn’t feel the need to keep up on current literature and attend to professional development. I had asked the person where he heard that and he directed me to Human Sigma.

Human Sigma is actually more about interactions between customer facing employees and customers than professional development so what the authors, John Fleming and Jim Asplund, have to say is pretty applicable to arts organizations.

Emotional connection and satisfaction are very important when building a relationship with customers. As I wrote about one of my biggest revelations I received from the book:

What surprised me was that those who are rationally satisfied “behave not any differently than customers who are dissatisfied.” They use the example of a credit card company. Those who were emotionally satisfied spent an average of $251/month and used the card 3.1 times a month. Those who were rationally satisfied spent an average of $136/month and used the card 2.5 times each month. Those who were dissatisfied also spent $136/month and used the card 2.2 times.

What informs people’s emotional satisfaction is often tied to a perception of fairness. While the definition of fairness can differ from person to person, one thing that is true for pretty much everyone is that anything that appears to make the interaction easier for the business than the customer is perceived as unfair.

I wrote prime example of this,

…is the phone queue with the recorded message about your call being important leaving you to reconcile how this can be if the place is so poorly staffed the average wait time is twenty minutes. What the authors say about this really struck me, (my emphasis) “From the customer’s perspective, any process or system whose primary purpose is to solve a business problem rather than a customer concern is unfair.”

They also note that treating people equally can appear unfair. If your customer service staff follows the exact same scripted process with customers not recognizing that the script can’t cover all eventualities, the result may make you look incompetent and patronizing for asking questions or suggesting solutions which obviously do not apply to the situation.

In the third post of my Human Sigma series, I devoted the whole post to the authors’ suggestions about how to handle customer complaints. I will list them here. Check out the post for more detail.

The importance of handling complaints well is extremely important. As the authors write,

“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.”
[…]

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.”

[…]

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.

Here are the six steps to addressing customer complaints they suggest as I first wrote in my post:

First is to acknowledge the problem exists. Second is to apologize. They are quick to add that apologizing is not accepting the blame.
[…]

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.

[…]

Suggestion four is to handle problems on the spot rather than bumping it to a supervisor.

[…]

Their fifth suggestion is have a process which quickly brings the problem to the attention of a supervisor or manager.

[…]

The last suggestion is to leave people better off than they were before the problem occurred.

In the next post I wrote, I noted that Fleming and Asplund said the best way to achieve this is to empower the employees to find the best way to solve customer problems rather than create a formal process/decision tree. Essentially, tell the employees the end goal and then let them figure out how to get there. Employees are evaluated on achieving the end goals rather than how well they adhered to processes.

A Decade Later, Same Stuff Appears On A Twitter Feed

Apropos of my post addressing arts education yesterday, I also stumbled upon an old post where I cite Richard Kessler’s The Things I Hear About Arts Education.

His post is from almost a decade ago so maybe people aren’t still saying these things,…but I wouldn’t count on it. Some of it reads like the Twitter feed of Shit Arts Administrators Say.

Here is a sample of his list:

[…]
Children are transformed by simply walking into ____________ (performance venue–you can fill in the blank).
Famous Artist and Board Member of Unsaid Institution

The integration of the arts cannot be done at the high school level.
School District Administrator
[…]

We like arts because there are no wrong answers.
School Principal

We do not like the arts because there are no wrong answers.
CEO

Parents are the key to arts education.
Foundation Staff Member

Parents are a waste of time.
The very same Foundation Staff Member

Parents in low income areas don’t care about the arts.
Arts Education Consultant

Parents in low income schools understand that the arts are part of a well-rounded education.
Grass Roots Organizer.

Low performing students shouldn’t be required to have the arts.
School District Official

[…]

There would be no arts education without cultural organizations.
Arts Administrator

There is no arts education in our schools.
Elected Official

This year is going to be another great year for arts education.
City Official (in the same school district as the elected official)

[…]

We must do something about ensuring that artists entering schools have basic training.
Director of Arts Education/Cultural Organization

After all the training artists have already received, why should we have to receive additional training? We’re not teachers; we’re artists.
Teaching Artist

I’ll Settle For Arts Education Helping People Recognize Their Creative Capacity

I am in the process of moving so I am shifting in to “throwback” mode for a week or so.

I thought I would look back at a post I made about one of Ian David Moss’ contributions of a blog salon.

In his contribution Moss wrote took the view that arts education put children on the track to careers that the socioeconomic environment couldn’t support. (my emphasis)

Much of the literature that advocates arts education as a strategy for cultivating demand for the arts assumes that students who have invested thousands of hours of their lives in perfecting a craft during their formative years will happily set all of that aside as soon as they turn 18 and 21, become productive members of society with skills that they somehow picked up while practicing piano for four hours a day, and donate all of their expendable income to their local arts organizations. Really? Don’t you think that some of them might be a little bitter about having to leave their dream behind? Don’t you think some of them might continue on and spend their parents’ life savings on three graduate degrees in a quixotic quest for fame and glory that never materializes? Is this the best use of our collective human capital?

In my post at the time, I disagreed with the view writing,

Or rather, I don’t think operating on the assumption that not everyone will become an arts practitioner completely nefarious. No one expects every kid who participates in Little League, Pop Warner Football and various soccer leagues will go on to become a professional athlete after all the time they have invested in practicing. Though certainly a situation where a college athlete isn’t expected to devote themselves to their studies is not something to be emulated.

In a comment on my post, Scott Walters wrote,

Your analogy to Little League sports is a good one. Sure, some of the participants dream of being professional football players, but most simply enjoy playing and the experiences they have with friends. For some reason, artists don’t recognize that this is the case for the arts as well. There are other reasons to do it than going pro — reasons that are just as fulfilling (I’d venture to say, in the current arts climate, oftentimes MORE fulfilling)… what an arts education promotes is a rich life that includes the possibility of creative expression as an end in itself, not a means to an end. This was the message of the “Gifts of the Muse” report, for instance: the INTRINSIC value of the arts. Lets not get lost in arts education as existing solely for the creation of professional artists or the creation of paying audience members. There is a more active and vibrant alternative to those roads.

In the intervening years, as I have begun to really think about the intrinsic value of art vs. the instrumental value, I have grown to appreciate Scott’s comments all the more.  Reading this old post, I feel like this might have been a formative moment when I started thinking about arts education and making people aware of their capacity for creativity.

However, there is a lot of validity in Moss’ argument that universities and conservatories are taking the money of a lot of people with mediocre ability and preparing them for a traditional career path in the arts. This problem has been recognized for quite awhile now.

But also note my intentional use of “traditional career path” because there are an ever broadening array of ways in which creative abilities can be applied. Training programs aren’t doing the best job of preparing students to pursue those options.

More Thoughts About Culture Vouchers

In the last few months, I wrote about how the EU was offering free Euro-rail passes to 18 year olds this summer to encourage them to broaden their horizons. Two years ago I wrote about the Italian government giving €500 culture vouchers to 18 year olds.

Just this week I read a CityLab piece about another voucher program that people who are at least 18 years old can participate in –voting and political campaigns.

Based on the success Seattle has seen with their Democracy Dollars program other cities like Albuquerque, NM and Austin, TX are looking into handing out campaign finance vouchers as a way to get a broader segment of the community involved with the political system.

…eligible residents vouchers totaling $100 to donate to the local candidate of their choice. Candidates who opted in to the program had to agree to strict guidelines on how to spend the money they received. The idea behind the pilot was that giving the equivalent of money to constituents who don’t usually have the resources to support their candidates—pensioners and the homeless, for example—would spur greater political participation.

These stories got me thinking that having a similar voucher program that people could use to donate to their favorite arts organization might inspire a broader range of the community to become involved with arts organizations. It may even help bring funding to organizations that have been marginalized or don’t have the resources to apply for formal grants.

According to the CityLab article, studies conducted on Seattle’s program did see participation by a more economically diverse segment of the community. However,”…voucher use was greater for older, white, and middle- and high-income voters.”

Surveys have shown similar results during free admission days for museums. Rather than attracting people who don’t normally visit the museum, most free admission days are patronized by those who are already visiting the museum.

The fact that voucher use was greatest by older, white, middle/high-income voters doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential to involve a broader range of people. It just may take more time and effort to help people feel empowered to participate.

“Yet low-income voters who did participate said they appreciated the opportunity: “It feels like I’m more a part of the system,” one voucher user told the Seattle Times in 2017. “People like me can contribute in ways that we never have before.”

While I express optimism that vouchers would help spread funding around to arts and cultural groups that don’t normally receive it, I imagine some government entities might require groups to officially register as approved recipients. This type of requirement potentially poses the same barrier to organizations as needing a grant writer.

It obviously doesn’t need to be that way. The Italian government’s voucher scheme was intended to be used for a wide range of things like buying books, taking classes and admission to events.

Though admittedly since they distributed the funds via an app, being able to accept the voucher funds may have required registration and paperwork. On the other hand, just as cell phones and tablets have lowered the barrier to being able to accept credit cards through a simple swipe, the same app that displays a voucher’s QR code could also be employed to scan codes and accept payment. All of which is probably less work than writing a grant.

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