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The Positivity Effect - Part 1

You hang up the phone with customer service, feeling good. They have solved your problem, and the atmosphere felt constructive. Even if the solution was not 100% what you expected or hoped for, you felt the honest effort on the other side. And the will to help. You’ve just experienced service delivered with a positive attitude.

Carried by positive emotions and attitude, these situations have the power to turn one-time customers into regulars and regulars into fans. In this newsletter, we talk about the 'positivity effect' - how it works and how it helps create loyal customers. Read more…

Positivity has an extraordinary influence on us. "When people experience positive emotions," Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading experts on positive psychology says, "their minds broaden, and they open up to new possibilities and ideas.” Other studies describe an increase in creative problem solving and cognitive flexibility when we are led by positive emotions. Positivity is a superpower.

Nevertheless - from an evolutionary perspective, positivity is a risk. Our ancestors could not just happily walk out of the cave in the morning. For self-preservation they had to carefully check their surroundings first, making sure there was nothing out there that wanted to eat them. Even if they encountered other homo sapiens from a different tribe, it wasn't guaranteed that those were friendly. That other group might have just been on the hunt for a human sacrifice to honor their spirits. Fortunately, that is different today. Mostly. We're typically safe from harm, unless we are on a hike through the deep woods of North America's Rocky Mountains - think Grizzlies or Mountain Lions - or have the unexplainable desire to take a stroll through the Bronx at 2 am in the morning.

Why is that important? Our ancestors' healthy skepticism still resides in us. It's the reason we are still here, and it still guides our behavior more than we realize. For example, most of us don’t enjoy standing on a stage in front of people. Stage fright is a real thing. For our ancestral brain, it's no difference if we face a hungry lion or a crowd of angry parents on a school night who rail against mask mandates. Both want to 'eat us' alive. Slight skepticism is much better for self-preservation than unchecked positivity.

Yet, we crave positive experiences. They induce the production of dopamine, our 'happy hormone' and also one of the most powerful drugs, our body chemistry has to offer. That makes us go on repeat once we found a source of positivity. Like going back to dinner at an amazing restaurant, or shopping at a specific store. Over time, with continued positive experiences, this restaurant or store will be anchored as a 'safe & rewarding space' by our ancestral brain. We start to trust, let our guard down, and even become forgiving when the experience is lacking on occasion. We know from customer surveys that the positive experience often outweighs price and product. As consumers, we are happy to pay more, demand less, and are more forgiving, when our ancestral brain has given us a green light.

Now, how do companies create the positivity effect? It's important to notice that there is a fine line that separates authentic positivity from “toxic” positivity. The “look at the bright side,” “everything is going to be OK,” or “stay positive,” even if well-meant, creates disconnection and may even feel anger and frustration. A script for your sales- and service people that has all the positive words, but is not 'carried' by a positive attitude underneath is - honestly - not helpful. When people don’t fully embrace what they say and customers sense that disconnect (they usually do!), they feel rather betrayed than uplifted. Those experiences don’t make it on the 'safe list'. The guard will stay up.

The Positivity Effect only kicks in when the experience is genuine. The call center script with the right words and the 'love your customers' posters on the wall are just reminders, not the actual thing. Positivity arises from within. The good news is that positivity can be learned and cultivated. It’s a skill that requires planning, dedication, and work every day. It's a journey and starts on an individual level but needs to become a shared philosophy for teams and even the whole organization. You might have already created your customer journey, set up surveys to measure feedback, and installed the best CRM system in the world. It’s the common positive spirit that ties it all together.

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