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Beeline Labs, Deloitte LLC and The Society For New Communications Research recently partnered to conduct a first-of-its-kind study of how more than 140 organizations are employing online communities dubbed “Tribalization Of Business.”

Francois Gossieaux (Marketing 2.0 and Beeline Labs honcho) sent me this pretty killer summary of the report last week, and I am just now getting to it. Fantastic stats and insights for any company, large or small, looking to incorporate community interactions into their business model. (Customer communities, user communities, thought leadership communities, etc.) You really owe it to yourself to click on the links and read up on this. It won’t take a lot of your time, and you will learn some pretty interesting (dare I say actionable ?) stuff in the process.

The report and summary also include some pretty killer best practices, so take note.

The summary: http://www.beelinelabs.com/files/TribalizationStudyrelease.pdf

The Tribalization report’s web page: http://www.beelinelabs.com/tribalization/

Additional reading:

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!

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Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Also, via Tom Asacker:

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

– Donald Sull (Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

Do you see where I’m going with this?

So… your new mission every day is to keep things fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep things fresh.

And go read Tom Asacker’s post on that very topic. It’s very good.

Have a great Monday, everyone.

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So, this weekend, the family and I decide to have lunch at a local Asian fusion restaurant, and because I have a cold, I order some green tea with my meal.

As the tea arrives, I pour myself a cup and notice that a strange greasy substance is beading all across the surface. A strange… bright yellow greasy substance. Kind of like… chicken grease, only thicker and shinier. Hmmm. Weird.

I lift the filter cap off the tea pot, and notice that the tea inside the pot also has a lot of the weird yellow stuff floating around. Perplexed, I stir the pot a bit, and that’s when I realize what the yellow stuff is. There’s something floating around in the tea. A rectangular piece of paper. No, a YELLOW rectangular piece of paper. No… a yellow rectangular piece of paper with letters printed on it: CRAYOLA.

The waiter brings us our food, and politely I jokingly ask him if he can please bring me a pot of tea without a dissolved Crayola marker inside. At first, he thinks it’s a joke, but he looks inside and starts to freak out. Apologies start flying. He takes the teapot to the kitchen, and the manager gets involved. From what we can hear where our table sits, the teapot incident is now the topic of discussion in the kitchen, and the manager is NOT happy. Minutes later, the waiter emerges with a fresh pot of tea, apologizes a half dozen times, and tells us that our entire meal has been comped.

The poor kid got a good tip, and we’ll be eating there again.

I would tell you what the restaurant is, but I don’t want to give them bad publicity. The Crayola marker in the teapot thing is not the sort of thing that a restaurant wants to be known for. It’s unfortunate, because they responded to the crisis perfectly, and I would love to give them their well-deserved props.

And Crayola markers are non-toxic.

The point of this post is this: Sometimes, businesses make mistakes. How they react when these mistakes pop up is perhaps more telling about them than the fact that someone in their organization made a mistake in the first place.

This business made a mistake, but corrected it immediately. The manager enacted new mandatory tea pot inspections within minutes of the incident. The kitchen was immediately briefed. The restaurant didn’t only apologize, it also paid for our entire meal. We didn’t have to argue. We didn’t have to act angry. We didn’t have to threaten… not that we would have. I wasn’t all that bothered by the Crayola marker. I would have been happy with a fresh pot of tea and an apology. Frankly, the free meal was unnecessary… but not everyone is as laid back as yours truly.

Perhaps out of pure professionalism or out of fear that a customer could sue them or give them the kind of publicity that could gravely damage them, they didn’t try to blow it off. They didn’t try to pass the buck. They didn’t offer us a free dessert. They didn’t give us 25% OFF coupons for our next visit. They took care of the problem right away, and treated us like valued customers.

Well played.

If only more businesses did damage control and customer service as well as this restaurant, the world would be a better place.

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Via Jennifer Rice’s What’s Your Brand Mantra, Mark Hurst‘s brilliant little primer on the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience:

“Customer service is the job of front-line workers, servicing customer requests for help – via an 800 number, e-mail, or a retail desk. It’s important to invest in good customer service, but that’s just the tiniest sliver of the customer experience.

“Customer experience is the job of everyone in the company. My customer experience was bad because the product, and the refund policy, are both broken. Everyone from the CEO and CFO to the product designers and manufacturing facility contributed to this bad customer experience; and as a result, they’ve lost a customer and generated bad word of mouth. The good customer service I received didn’t – and couldn’t possibly – fix the overall experience.”

Go read the rest here and here.

Update: Marc points us to a cool little site called measuredup.com, where you can write and read reviews (positive and negative) about businesses, customer service experiences, etc. Great stuff.

Have a great weekend. 🙂

(As always, to leave a comment, go to the main page.)

Image by The Pack.

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It’s Friday and I have a ton of things to do before the weekend hits… but I didn’t want to finish out the week before posting one more little bit of marketing goodness. John Moore – over at Brand Autopsy – gave me exactly what I was looking for, and it’s this:

“Astonish employees and they will, in turn, astonish customers.”

Simple enough, right? (So how come so many companies only remember to do something for their employees around Christmas time, or when they’ve had a decent quarter?)

We aren’t talking about a $25 gift certificate to Blockbuster, or your choice of a company pen, T-shirt or flashlight.

The term John used is “astonish,” which implies a little more effort and attention than just giving your employees an empty token of “gratitude” that is as bland as it is… kind of insulting.

Note to all department managers: If you’re going to reward your staff with T-shirts, make them the types of T-shirts that you want your employees to actually get excited about. (Hire a hot local graphic designer to design something unique or fun or cool . It’s cheaper than you think.)

But enough about T-shirts. We’re talking about “astonishing” your employees – not merley giving them a perfunctory nod, which is exactly what the folks at Macintosh did recently when they surprised all of their US employees with a brand new iPhone.

In John’s words:

“Giving every full-time employee a $600 (retail value) iPhone is an astonishing act that will only help to feed the already vibrant evangelical corporate culture within Apple. (…)At Starbucks, we would also spend marketing money on employees. We knew if we could get Baristas jazzed, they would get customers jazzed.”

Think back to an experience you’ve had recently (or not so recently) when you walked into a store or dealt with someone who was absolutely in love with either their job or the company they worked for. How was your perception of that company affected by their enthusiasm? (How likely were you after that experience to a) recommend that business to friends and peers, and b) do business with that company again?)

Now think back to your last experience with a bored, apathetic grocery store cashier, or with an unqualified telephone customer service rep, or with a passive-aggressive waitress who REALLY needs a vacation. How different might your perception of that company be? How likely is it that you will make that business your first choice? How likely is it that you will speak well of this business and recommend it to friends?

All things being equal: Pricepoint, quality of the work or food or product, product performance, cool packaging, etc. – the quality of the experience surrounding human touch-points becomes primordial.

Two average grocery stores can have a radically different image or reputation based SOLELY on the way their employees behave. The same is true with any business in which people (employees) interact with other people (customers): Restaurants, banks, retail establishments, medical offices, auto mechanics shops, etc.

Employee behavior can be radically impacted by their managers’ positive or negative treatment.

Therefore, customer experience can be radically impacted by the way a company treats its employees:

Average treatment of employees = average customer experience.

Good treatment of employees = good customer experience.

Great treatment of employees = great customer experience.

… And so on.

So rather than tossing the occasional cheapo bone to your employees to maintain morale (or whatever,) start thinking of ways that you might make them feel special. Think of ways of rewarding them, or of saying “thank you,” or making them feel truly appreciated that kind of… well, stand out. Get them jazzed about working for you. Make them feel proud and excited and vibrant.

Every once and again, make them feel that they aren’t just easily replaced pawns.

Make them realize that you truly understand their value to the success of the brand they help shape in the public’s eye every single day.

The way you treat your employees is the way your customers will be treated.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉

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Recap: 2 weeks ago, Sticky Fingers dropped the ball while I was in one of their restaurants. A few days later, I blogged about it. Several days after that, I was contacted by Sticky Fingers’ local supervisor and he promised to make things right.

And by “making things right,” he didn’t mean give me 20% off my next visit or refund my meal. Nope, making things right meant earn my business again.

And did he ever.

He and his restaurant offered to cater lunch for 10 people anytime, anywhere. I took him up on it, and several days later, the Sticky Fingers folks delivered our lunch.

It was as gargantuan as it was delicious. Food for ten people? More like 30. Delicious ribs, pulled pork, BBQ chicken, slaw, beans, tea, lemonade… the whole works. The manager of the store that had dropped the ball delivered it personally and made sure I knew that the food I was eating was from his restaurant.

Rather than having SF deliver the meal at an office or at my house, I opted to have them deliver it at a client’s retail store in downtown Greenville, to give them a chance to not only win back my business, but also score some points with dozens of people. (Customers marveled at how good the food looked and smelled.)

The store shared some of the food with its customers, and gave away most of the coupons left behind by the Sticky Fingers team.

Leftovers were fought over the next day. Both the area supervisor and the restaurant manager contacted me several hours after the delivery to make sure I was happy.

The verdict: These guys scored big with the way they handled the situation. Here’s how:

1. They didn’t blow it off.
2. They didn’t make excuses.
3. They immediately offered to make it right.
4. They didn’t just settle for a token gesture. They REALLY offered to make it up to me.
5. They so completely overdelivered. The lunch they brought over was a feast. Everyone was impressed.
6. Rather than give me money back and send me on my way, they opted instead to fight tooth and nail to earn back my trust and my business.
7. By offering to cater an abundance of food, they invited at least a dozen people to the table… and that’s nothing short of brilliant. Why spend so much time and effort turning one guy into a happy customer again… when they could use this event to turn ten or twenty people into excited, happy customers as well?

Everyone who had some of their food heard the story. No one dwelled on the fact that something negative happened at one of their restaurants. What people focused on were a) how incredible the food was, and b) how unbelievably cool it was that Sticky Fingers would take such good care of its customers.

Every single person who came into contact with this free catering event walked away with a terrific story to tell about Sticky Fingers, a new appreciation for their brand, and a rekindled taste for their delicious food. (I expect at least half will be having a meal there inside of the next two weeks, myself included.)

These guys did everything right. Heck, they went so far beyond making things right that they set a whole new standard of customer service for everyone in their industry.

Or any industry, for that matter.

If I had to sum it all up in one word, it would be this: Bravo.

1000 thanks to Sticky Fingers. You guys rock.

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