Positive Psychology Meets Customer Experience


See webinar with Bruce Temkin and Aimee Lucas:
Infusing Customer Experience With Positive Psychology


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Last week, the Temkin Group leadership team attended the World Congress on Positive Psychology in Orlando. Kudos to the International Positive Psychology Association for putting on such a great event. It was inspirational for us, as it confirmed what we fundamentally believed; positive psychology can be an incredibly valuable tool within the world of customer experience.

What is Positive Psychology?

Before we go any further, I want to make sure everyone understands what positive psychology is all about. Here’s the definition from the Positive Psychology Center:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

It’s a new branch of psychology where the emphasis is not on fixing psychological ailments, but on helping people “flourish.” You may want to read the book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman, who many consider the godfather of the positive psychology movement.

Highlights from the World Congress

Seligman was one of the keynote speakers at the event, which included the who’s-who list for positive psychology. Here’s a small dose of highlights from the keynote speakers:

  • Martin Seligman, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania. The latest research is showing that helplessness is a natural reaction in the brain and rather than trying to unlearn it, it is possible to create a “hope circuit” in the brain by building an expectation of control or mastery of the situation. In the World Well-Being Project, positive psychologists are now monitoring world wellbeing by creating word clouds based on millions of social media from around the world. What emerges is a clear picture that positive and negative emotions each have their own lexicon. The question this research raises: if we can change the words people use, can we change their life satisfaction?
  • Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.: When it comes to understanding and helping people through change, rather than studying a “sample of the average,” study the “growing tip” where individuals or organizations are performing at their best. This shift to focusing on peak performance can help to “democratize excellence” and push through what Goleman has referred to has the “honeymoon effect,” where after some initial success the change is not sustained over the long term.
  • David Cooperrider, Ph.D., Case Western University: Flourishing enterprises support the development and engagement of their people and have a culture and identity based on sustainable values. As he put it, “human beings are not a resource that gets used up, but are a source that can intensify and increase in value and contributions.” These sorts of organizations can be agents of world benefit, and Cooperrider put the spotlight on efforts like Google’s Balloon Project, that brings Internet connectivity to extremely rural areas lacking infrastructure through the use of large balloons. To discover and design positive institutions, we have to view organizations as solutions and use techniques like appreciative intelligence to bring out the best in the system (and the people within the system) in order to drive change at the scale of the whole.
  • Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., New York University: Haidt put forth that capitalism is the most transformative force since the domestication of fire. And in order to “increase the total tonnage of happiness around the world,” capitalism can be a means to create the right kind of happiness. Rising prosperity brings rising security in society, which lets the attention shift away from simply surviving. With that shift comes a change in values away from the traditional, a push for greater freedom, investments in education (especially for women), and additional powerful benefits for society.
  • Tom Rath, Gallup Consulting: To have the energy they need for sustainable performance, people require three things: meaningful work, quality interactions, and energy. Meaningful work aligns our interests and natural talents with the needs of others. Quality interactions are those relationships with people we enjoy being around, which can have a profound impact on individual health and wellbeing. Energy comes from recognizing that how we eat, move, and sleep work in parallel. Across all three elements, small wins can generate meaningful outcomes when it comes to individual wellbeing.
  • Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Institute of Heartmath: Of the four energy domains—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—the emotional domain is the primary driver of physiology and is the biggest way to lose or gain energy as a result. Researchers have identified a nerve center within the heart that sends signals to the brain to help regulate emotion. It is possible to apply some specific techniques to control variable heart rate and self-regulate emotion in order to build capacity for resilience and sustain energy over time.
  • Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., University of North Carolina: The center of this presentation was the Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change, still a work in process in the research world. Early findings show that the more you enjoy a wellness behavior you undertake (swimming, meditation, etc.), the more you will have spontaneous positive thoughts about that activity resulting in an increased passion for that behavior. In short: you are more likely to stick with a wellness behavior over time if you enjoy it from the start. With the upward spiral, wellness behaviors become more rewarding over time and our motives to pursue them also increate over time. When it comes to prioritizing positivity, people should be proactive about arranging their day to incorporate activities that increase their positive emotions rather than trying to “will themselves happy.”

Infusing Positive Psychology Into Customer Experience

Hopefully this brief introduction to positive psychology has made it clear why there is so much potential value for customer experience.

To make the connection explicit, here are three of the many themes from positive psychology that we will be infusing into our work:

  • Positive emotions support sustained behavior change. People are more apt to continue an activity if it results in positive emotions, which supports more sustainable results than sheer personal willpower.
  • Positive emotions increase human capacity. People are more thoughtful, creative, and adaptive when they experience positive emotions, and it also improves their physiological health and well-being.
  • Meaningful work amplifies positive emotions. People experience more positive emotions when they find meaning in their work, and this can be heightened when their work and efforts are appreciated.

We believe that these themes can affect every aspect of customer experience. Here are some of the many ways that they connect with our four customer experience core competencies:

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Positive Psychology Within Temkin Group Research 

We plan to increase our focus on positive psychology within Temkin Group’s research and advisory services, but positive psychology is not a new theme for us. You can see elements of it across many of the things that we’ve already published, including:

The bottom line: Positive psychology and customer experience are a natural fit.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 Responses to Positive Psychology Meets Customer Experience

  1. nastfamily says:

    WOW, Bruce takes good notes when listening to speakers…IMPRESSIVE >

  2. Jeff Toister says:

    Thanks for sharing this great summary!

    The last of the three themes you shared was particularly interesting: “Meaningful work amplifies positive emotions.”

    Too many companies focus on employee motivation. I think we’ve got it all wrong. Employees are highly motivated when they’re doing meaningful work. We just need to help keep it meaningful.

  3. Thanks for sharing Bruce, this is an area that I keep coming back to as I study companies that have mastered customer experience. It always comes down to a deep meaningful connection at a human level: Employees who really believe that the work they do is making the world a better place (however they define better – cooler, hipper, easier, etc) and customers who are really connecting in an authentic human way to having their core desires met.

  4. Cynthia Lait says:

    Bruce, I love this line of thinking! Thank you for sharing.

    We tend to get bogged down in the details of exactly what is a strong customer experience, we try to define a specific, repeatable process through detailed scripts, forms and systems. However, people are individuals and there needs to be some flexibility to provide a meaningful experience for each customer and employee.

    Finding ways to connect positive psychology with customer experience results in employees who are happy to serve every customer. I’ve recently been listening to calls from customers who are canceling their service with us. Most of these calls are filled with anxiety, both from customers and from our service people. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and everyone wants to get off the phone as soon as possible.

    What if a cancellation were just a temporary break in service? In those cancellation calls, I heard one service rep with a fabulous attitude cheerily help the customer cancel their service, then go on to tell the customer ‘rates change all the time, we’d love to have you back, so please do check back with us when it’s time to renew’. The customer left happy and our service rep left the door open for the customer to reconnect with us. This didn’t come from a script, it came from an enthusiastic and happy service rep. What if all of our employees felt this good every day and delivered that kind of service to every customer?

    Love the direction you’re going with this, bravo!

  5. Heidi Stone says:

    Hi Bruce, I’m a Positive Psychologist and I’ve worked in the Customer Experience domain for over 10 years now, great to see this is getting wider audience attention.

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