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.”
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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.”

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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.
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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.

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

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

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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.

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.

I Don’t Know What You Need To Know Because I Know So Much

This summer I have been seeing a lot of California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer popping up in places like videos of conference talks she has been giving. It has been over a year and a half since I wrote about her Orchestra X project so I figured it was time to revisit and reacquaint people with the work she has been doing.

Recently she had a blog post following up on the conversations her organization has been having with the communities they serve. She mentions a theme I keep seeing in formal survey results and collected anecdotes — audiences aren’t clamoring for a change in programming as much as they are intimidated and confused by the decision and experience of attending a cultural event.

The bigger issue, she says, is that those of us on the inside forget what it was like being entirely unfamiliar with information or an experience. Even when we are faced with a new-ish experience, our past experiences allow us to make logical leaps that total novices can’t.

What we learned was that a “basic” level of understanding about the symphony or classical music does not exist among newcomers. Some people didn’t even know the names of the instruments in the orchestra, which to me, the person who had played an instrument all growing up and who wanted to manage a symphony since age 16, was pretty much unfathomable (remember hindsight bias?). The good news, we discovered, was that this group of smart people desperately wanted to learn about everything related to classical music though. And through the discussion we learned that the way we layout and present information on our website made it very difficult for them to do that.

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Virtually every person in the room expressed the sentiment of “awe” when describing the art they saw and heard. No one said, “I need a shorter concert,” or “I need to hear more movie music.” They very much wanted to learn about all facets of the repertoire and were emphatic that the art is incomparable.

Bergauer says that now that California Symphony stopped stressing about programming mix and started focusing on retention versus new audience acquisition. Last season, their new attendee retention rate was over 30%.

Take a closer look at the post. She talks a little more about how rich experiences make us unable to anticipate what new attendees really need to know in order to enjoy themselves.

Our Market Is Everybody (Just Some More Than Others)

Broadway Producer Ken Davenport is singing my song. I know you know this tune, but based on my experience, it bears reiterating.

He talks about how he often gets pitched ideas for new Broadway shows.

One of my stock questions to anyone pitching me anything is, “Who do you think the audience is for your piece?”

This question not only helps me determine whether the Pitcher and I are on the same page, but it also gives me some insight into the business acumen of the person who wants me to get involved in their project.

The red flag answer to this filtering question of mine?

“This show is for everyone!”

While I appreciate the bullish answer, the fact is . . . no show is for everyone. And the more you try to make it for everyone, the more you water it down and make sure that it’s for no one.

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…Your first marketing exercise when you embark on producing a show or building a career is as follows.

  1. Identify exactly who your audience is.
  2. Find that audience and exploit them and only them.

If your audience spreads to “everyone” from there then great, but it’s much easier to market to a niche than it is to the world.

I am sure pretty much everyone has run into a similar pitch or had staff/board members make a statement about a show being for everyone. What is often frustrating is that many people who say this own or work for businesses which are pretty clear on who their customer base is and isn’t.

Even funeral homes which about 98% of us will likely end up patronizing on behalf of deceased loved ones likely each have a demographics to which they appeal more than others.

Davenport’s advice to have a focus that moves from the specific to the general is a pretty good guideline when it comes to marketing decisions.

I suspect people feel that they are conceding a flaw in the product if they admit it isn’t for everyone. Saying a certain group will REALLY like it and everyone else will probably like it to might provide the psychological out needed to identify those it is realistically for.

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