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.

There Is Creative Conflict And Then There Is Creating Conflict

Last Monday I wrote about how intrinsic motivation can often be more effective than external motivators like rewards and punishments, but suggested non-profit workers not allow people to use that finding to insist they will be more productive if they are poorly paid.

I fear I may need to reiterate that point having read the following in a recent Harvard Business Review piece, (my emphasis)

Consistent with these famous case studies, scientific research shows that creativity and innovation can be enhanced by reducing team harmony. For instance, a recent study of 100 product development teams found that two common disruptors of team harmony, namely diversity and task uncertainty, were positively associated with creative performance. Likewise, a review of theoretical and quantitative studies showed that teams are often more creative when they have fewer rather than more resources (for example, time, money, and people). Furthermore, teams that are able to engage in productive task conflict — expressing disagreements, negotiating between different views, and working under a certain amount of tension — tend to be more innovative.

Actually, I only call attention to that phrase as a segue to the major topic of the piece which is that too much harmony may inhibit creativity.  This doesn’t imply a laissez-faire approach to team management is the way to profitability.

Just as we don’t want people suggesting that under funding and under resourcing groups is for their own good, this passage shouldn’t be read to suggest that fomenting dissension or creating hostile work environments will increase innovation.

There are some suggestions for leaders in the piece about how to introduce a moderate amount of conflict and tension, but I want to focus on the section of the article that emphasizes the necessity to have a team composition which is able to process the tension to constructive ends.  Employing or introducing a degree of discord has to be deliberate and considered rather than randomly tossed out with the idea that uncertainty will get people’s blood pumping.

Make sure that the team has the right personality characteristics. While one size does not fit all, teams with higher aggregate levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness will be better equipped to manage diversity and conflict. Team members will be more likely to hold themselves accountable to agreements, will try to smooth over relationship conflicts, and will ensure that the task focus is not derailed by personal dramas.

Increase psychological safety. Psychological safety creates an atmosphere of participation and trust that allows members to actively engage in risky social behaviors such as disagreements and criticisms, as well as nondefensive and open responses to those risky behaviors. In a recent study, intragroup trust was found to be the best predictor of productive task conflict, without creating relationship or personal conflict.

Give the team a chance to settle. Sometimes there is no substitute for the passage of time. Teams that develop sufficient familiarity create both emotional connections and precedents that allow them to productively work through tensions. For example, a NASA study found that teams with a shared working history made half as many errors as newly formed teams. Loyalty is a powerful source of resilience, as religious groups, movements, and families have always known. And in the absence of a shared history, team members with similar values are more likely to put up with tension and turn task conflict into a positive outcome.

You are likely to recall situations in your own experience when you witnessed groups thriving under similar conditions where conflict and tension helped drive the effort rather than derailed it.  Artistic pursuits by their very nature revel in embracing challenges and solving problems.

But as the article suggests, while it might be self-perpetuating once established, this environment is one that needs to be monitored and maintained because it exists in a balance between unmotivated satisfaction and destructive conflict.   While you might be able to recall experiences where groups thrived in a tense environment, if you have worked in non-profit arts and culture long enough you are even more likely to recall toxic, resentment filled environments and/or organizational cultures which seemed paralyzed by avoiding any appearance of conflict.

And Don’t Be The Person Using Their Passion Against Them

It seems appropriate during this Independence Day week to recall the words of The Mission Paradox’s Adam Thurman which I wrote about back in 2009. In a post dealing with issues of over work and burn out, he offered this valuable advice:

3. Don’t let them use your passion against you. Consider this:

Imagine you were a lawyer. What if I told you that there were some law firms (not all, but absolutely some) that didn’t get a damn about their employees? What if I told you that some firms were designed to bring in people and get as much out of them as possible before they burned out?

Would you believe me?

Of course you would. Hell, because it’s the legal profession you would expect such behavior.

Here’s da rub:

Some arts organizations are the exact same way.

Just because the end product is art and not a legal brief doesn’t mean the place automatically values their employees. Just because the place is a non-profit doesn’t automatically make it a nice place to work.

But here’s the really messed up part. At some of those arts orgs, if you complain that the hours are unreasonable, or the pay is low, or your input isn’t valued . . . they imply that your commitment to the “cause” is low. They convince you that if you really were passionate about your work, you would put up with the sub par conditions.

Don’t fall for it. It’s a trap. Remember point 1, it doesn’t have to be like that . . . you deserve better.

As I wrote in my original post–don’t be the person who uses people’s passion against them either.

Does Intrinsic Value Of Art Derive From Intrinsic Motivation to Create It?

Traveling a bit this week and will be occupied with trying to beat my nephews in squirt gun battles. As is my custom, I am reaching back to the archives for some bits of wisdom.

Back in 2009 I pointed to a TED talk by Dan Pink discussing how for most tasks facing companies today, extrinsic carrot and stick motivators are less useful than intrinsic motivators at yielding effective results.

As I wrote in my post back then:

He provides some interesting findings about motivation, namely that when it comes to performing creative tasks conditional rewards (if you complete X by Y, you will receive Z bonus) are not as effective as intrinsic rewards in obtaining results. The conditional rewards actually get in the way of creative thinking. This may explain why arts people are able to create in the absence of monetary reward.

I wouldn’t let this get around lest people insist that paying you more may rob you of your creativity.

He makes a link to our current financial difficulties saying that there is a disconnects between what science has known for over 40 years and what businesses does, which is essentially the carrot and stick approach.

Pink says the new operating model should be based on:
“Autonomy- Urge to Direct Our Own Lives
Mastery- Desire to get better and better at something that matters, and
Purpose- The Yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Among the opportunities a non-profit arts and culture work environment affords is for autonomy, mastery and purpose as Pink defines them. There are times that people need to come together as a team, submitting themselves either to the authority of an individual or the will of the team, but what they bring to the table at such gatherings is often the result of intrinsic motivation.

In the context of my recent consideration about separating the intrinsic value value of art from its utilitarian value, I wonder if the intrinsic value of art may be heavily informed by the motivation in its creation.

Of course, this opens up a whole can of worms about the purity of the creative motivation the arts and culture community frequently becomes mired in.

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