How to make your customers happy TOMORROW


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I read in a recent article at about amazing new research out of Stanf ord and Harvard Business School, which found that concrete goals designed to improve the well-being of others are more likely to lead to happiness for the giver than are acts with large, abstract goals–despite people’s intuitions to the contrary,” and keeping that fact in mind can provide a considerable boost to your well-being.

The pursuit of happiness and … Christmas shopping

The pursuit of happiness has been a never ending game for so many people… especially around Christmas. That’s when we also try to make the others around us happy. That’s why we buy them presents etc. These so called “prosocial acts (in the form of charitable donations) are associated with neural activation in brain regions that are implicated in the experience of pleasure and reward, and this pattern of activation is similar to that which comes from receiving money for oneself. In addition, spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending money on oneself”. That’s why you feel happy when people like your presents. So if to boost our own happiness we need to feel we have made a positive impact on others and how we should approach the task e.g. aim big or set more realistic targets.

The research

The series of four experiments asked study subjects either to try to make others happy or, more simply, to make them smile. It also requested they evaluate which of the two tasks would have the bigger impact on their own happiness. What the researchers found is that people generally aim big; thinking that making someone happy will improve their own well-being more than the paltry-sounding aim of just making someone smile.

But they were wrong. The paper abstract sums up the results:

Participants assigned the goal to make someone smile reported a greater boost in happiness than did those whose goal was to make someone happy. This effect was driven by the size of the gap between expectations and reality. The efforts of those assigned to make someone happy fell short of expectations–leading to less personal happiness–whereas the efforts of those assigned to make someone smile more accurately matched expectations–increasing their happiness.

Not only did the research suggest that small, concrete actions can boost happiness more than lofty, nebulous ones, it also shows that people can be taught this fact to help them maximize their well-being. Simply reminding yourself that small acts of kindness have big impacts on yourself and others can help you recalibrate your thinking to aim for more concrete and effective goals, which in turn make you happier.

Implications for businesses

When I think about this, businesses behave the same way. Many aim generally to make customers “happy”. Some aim even higher and want to “wow” customers… and are looking for the silver bullet. I am not saying “don’t try to make customers happy” or “don’t wow” customers. What I am saying is that you need to break down these high level objectives into smaller, more realistic tasks that are within the realm of your employee’s powers. So if making people happy was your objective you need to look at your various touchpoints with your customers and think of what could make them smile at the peak and end of each interaction (the peak-end rule). Or if you want to focus your efforts and optimize resources, investigate which of the things you do / could do stimulates the most the emotion “happy” in your customers and focus your efforts around those. You can similarly do the same with “wow”. For example Mandarin Oriental, the luxury hotel chain, has broken down the general “wow” to 24 touchpoints at which they can delight a customer starting from the phone reservation, through the airport representation, limousine driver, doorman, bellman, receptionist and so forth.

The second key take away for businesses from this research is that by removing the obstacles and allowing /giving the means to employees to make customers smile (and making them aware of the importance of small acts to the big picture) employees would be likely to feel happier and more satisfied with their job. Many people say “happy employees – happy customers” and there is plenty of evidence to support that statement but this research makes me think that this is something like the chicken and egg dilemma. It makes me question which is the cause i.e. a) happy employees are the reason for customers to be happy with the company or b) seeing customers being happy with their interactions with the company makes employees feel happy as well. I think it works both ways and the true reason for customers and employees to be happy is the understanding of managers and executives of the benefits of making customers and employees to feel happy with their organisation. Gallup data suggests that when organizations engage their customers and their employees, they experience a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes compared with an organization with neither engaged employees nor engaged customers.

The third key take-away is that if you focus on smaller tasks such as to make customers smile, rather than on a big initiative to “wow” customers, you may actually avoid spending big money on the “latest and greatest” CRM system designed to capture all the data about your customers that you could possibly think of and spend countless hours on training staff how to use the new system, or save a lot of money on some false PR initiative to wow a few people by doing something that won’t be replicable on scale. So, smaller tasks to nick a smile from customers are simple but also more achievable. And succeeding in these tasks to make customers smile would make your employees happier, thus more satisfied with your organisation. The more happy customers and more joy at work means less stress and more well-being. According to research from the iOpener Institute for People and Performance employees who report being happiest at work:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
  • Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
  • Take ten times less sick leave
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much

This means less costs and better productivity for the business.

There is also another HBR paper titled “Stop trying to delight customers” which basically argues that many companies wrongly focus on trying to delight customers when a bigger driver of the desired customer behaviour is the ease with which customers can do business with the organisation. The key learning from that and this new research is that you need to break down the big lofty goal into more tangible tasks aimed at your customers’ emotional well-being.

Have you had an initiative to wow customers? What results did it achieve? Have you felt happy after making a small act of kindness to a customer? We’d love to hear your stories.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Zhecho Dobrev
Zhecho Dobrev is a Senior Consultant at Beyond Philosophy with 7 years of management consultancy experience and more than10,000 hours devoted to becoming an expert in customer experience management. He has worked with a wide range of sectors and countries. Some of his clients includeCaterpillar, FedEx, American Express, Heineken, Michelin etc. Zhecho's expertise includes conducting customer research on what drives customer behavior, journey mapping, customer complaints, measurement, training and more. He holds an MBA and Master's degree in International Relations.


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