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The Happiness Halo

The unexpected benefits of applying behavioral science to experience design

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What do you get when you combine behavioral economics, breakthroughs in brain science and healthy doses of armchair philosophy and pop psychology?

A new business mantra.

In other words, emotions matter. They drive decisions. “The brain decides among alternatives by ‘marking’ one alternative as more emotionally salient than another,” neurologist Antonio Damasio points out. Even what we consider “logical reasoning” requires emotion.[1]

Not surprisingly, then, a wealth of research reveals that the emotional component of customer experiences (how customers feel) is a better predictor of loyalty than the cognitive component (functional aspects like effectiveness and ease).[ 2]

More precisely, happiness matters. Customers spend more than double with the brands that make them happy.[ 3] Long-term brand loyalty — the kind of willing stickiness that lasts past transactions — is a gift from a cheerful giver.

So how do we make customers happy? For decades, companies have taken for granted the notion that focusing relentlessly on improving customer interactions will lead to greater loyalty from the people who buy their products and services. The relevant metrics usually pertain to familiar questions: How well am I delivering in the moment? How are customers experiencing my brand across a range of touchpoints — call centers, websites, social media, mobile apps, in-store? What will make customers deliriously happy when they’re directly engaged with my brand?

This focus on improving interactions has not worked. In a Forrester survey, more than 80 percent of leaders say their companies are focused on boosting customer experience through incremental or radical improvements. Yet in 2013, only 8 percent of the companies in the Forrester Index achieved excellent customer experience scores.[ 4]

To resolve this dissonance, we at Lippincott conducted an in-depth study of customer happiness. We learned a lot, most importantly that we’ve been thinking far too narrowly about the “customer experience.” Companies are missing moments when engagement might be more exciting and compelling for consumers: before and after the interaction. Happiness researchers find that upwards of half of someone’s happiness is built in moments of anticipation [5] and remembering.[ 6] Happiness is as much about how we look forward to and look back on an event as it is about the event itself — what we at Lippincott are starting to call “the happiness halo.” Radiant brands exude the joy of anticipation and the warmth of remembering, making them glow in the hearts of customers.

When making decisions, we use our memories. It’s a simple fact pointed out by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who coined the term “Remembering Self.” If we’re deciding whether to return to a hotel, repurchase a shampoo or revisit a store, it’s not the actual interaction we had that guides us — it’s the memory of that interaction. Furthermore, what makes for a great interaction might not necessarily lead to a great memory. Brands need to recognize the power of memories and take distinct actions to earn their favor. Brands need to recognize the power of memories as manifested in Kahneman’s conception of “The Remembering Self.”

Researchers at University College London have developed a corollary of sorts to Kahneman’s Remembering Self. They’ve demonstrated that positive expectations influence a person’s overall happiness as much as actual experiences do.

The interaction exists in between the “before” of the anticipation and the “after” of the memory. All three phases have distinct but interconnected influences.

Let’s break down the three stages of happiness. Imagine you’re planning a party.

We lay out nine scientifically grounded strategies for true customer happiness using our broadened conception of the customer experience.

Tap into the potential joy of anticipation, the delight of interaction, the warmth of the afterglow — and make your customers happier than they’ve ever been with your brand.

If you’ve ever snuck a peek under wrapping paper or accidentally come across a spoiler, you know how deflated anticipation feels.

When it comes to happiness, anticipation isn’t “pre-” anything. It’s a source of joy all its own.* In fact, wanting often feels better than having. Most consumers get more pleasure during the “anticipation” phase of a purchase than during the “acquisition” phase.† And the best brands tease, tempt and treat their customers to build familiarity and joy.

01

Tease

The movie industry has been doing it for decades: Tease with a preview of coming attractions, and they’ll be eager with anticipation. Warner Brothers deliberately kept the image of “Smaug the Terrible” a secret during the first installment of , revealing only an eye and a voice, creating tremendous anticipation within the Tolkien faithful.

Brands, too, can build excitement by withholding information. In 2013, Alexander Wang posted a cryptic message about an event on the High Line, Manhattan’s elevated walkway. It simply said the time and the location, and that “all details will be received upon entry.” Attendees wound up being treated to a big clothing giveaway.

Happiness experts at Stanford have proven that anticipating a pleasurable experience feels as good as finishing an important task [9] (like a marathon or an exam). In fact, we’re hard-wired to prioritize “seeking” over “finding,”[10] lest we go extinct from complacency.‡

What can your brand hide to build excitement during anticipation?

02

Tempt

A variation on tease, the idea here is to highlight the promise of an experience. Consider Universal Orlando’s website, which offers a digital version of its physical “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” attraction for upcoming guests to explore. The Four Seasons “Pin.Pack.Go.” program encourages guests to visualize their dream trip on Pinterest and then connect directly with local insiders who help them make it even better. Finally, the online Fiat Live Store in Brazil gives customers an inside look at cars and features through a live webcam on dealership staff. These first-person perspective programs build familiarity and excitement before tangible interaction.

Scientific evidence supports this strategy. Pioneering social psychologist Robert Zajonc found that “mere exposure” to unfamiliar things — from random shapes to foreign characters — can increase someone’s favorability toward them.[11]§

What can your brand expose to give customers something to look forward to?

03

Make it a treat

Most customer experiences, from hotels to retail, have the opportunity to connect to a “limited resource,” if we simply reframe the experience as something worthlooking forward to. As Robert Cialdini wrote in , everything’s more attractive when availability is limited.[12] From eggnog to Cadbury Creme Eggs, Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies to Benefit Cosmetic’s Advent Calendar (full of 24 mini beauty treasures)— the art of the limited-time treat proves Cialdini’s point.

But how can less craveable brands provide treats? A long daily commute, for example, might be reframed as a special moment for self-enrichment (as Audible advocates). An obligatory business trip might be reframed as a rare chance for an extravagant, restorative sleep (as Westin’s “Heavenly Bed” promotes).

What moments of your brand experience might be a limited-time treat for customers, and how can you frame them that way?

In an interaction, oftentimes the best way to make a customer happier is to intervene. Temporarily get in theirway to help them focus, get them on the right path and celebrate their efforts. Productive interventions canmake interactions much happier because, left to our own devices, we don’t always do what’s best for our ownhappiness. We reach for a donut even though healthy people are happier.[ 13] We constantly multitask eventhough focusing is more rewarding.[ 14] We take control, despite the liberty of surrender being the path of mostcontentment.[15]

Brands rarely help. They love to please us, so they often indulge our unproductivity and need for instantgratification. But, like a friend we love and trust, brands that are in it for the long run leave us better than westarted.

04

Immerse

We’re easily distracted, but we’re happier when focused. New research shows that when people’s minds drift from the task at hand, they report being less happy than when they are fully engaged in whatever they are doing.[16, 17]**

Force customers to stay acutely focused. To this end, Infiniti’s lobby and lounges display cars alongside art and mimic hotel lobbies for their inviting layout, encouraging customers to sit back and fully experience the brand. Brands explore a wide range of tactics to encourage immersion, from the subtle (a transporting and unique entryway at the Comme des Garçons flagship in New York) to the blunt (a 10 percent discount at an Iowa restaurant for customers who agree to give up their cell phones during dinner).

How can your brand encourageimmersion, either through subtle carrots (a transporting and unique entryway) or unmistakable sticks (a technology-free dining policy)?

05

Direct

We want control, but decisions are actually agonizing. Customers claim to want choice, but they’re happier if given direction and personalized constraints.[18]††

Trunk Club delightfully steals decision-making authority from customers by making clothing purchases on customers’ behalf, inspired by customers’ stated style preferences.

How can you focus choice in a way that feels helpful ratherthan limiting, easing decision-making stress and post-interaction regret?

06

Elevate

Happiness is defined in present and relative terms.‡‡ Otherwise, we’d all still be thrilled about indoor plumbing. Instead, we’re bummed that we don’t take as many vacations as our Facebook friends. There are biological underpinnings that drive us to strive for superiority amidst connection: It’s good to be in a group — life is much safer that way — but it’s even better to be king of that pride.

LinkedIn, a brand built on social connections, is dedicated to communicating superiority with emails to customers who are in the top 1, 5 and 10 percent “most viewed” profiles.

How can you makecustomers feel superior, even to other customers?

Whether a person looks back on an experience positively or negatively will be the deciding factor as to whether they return. “Memories are all we get to keep from the experience of living,” notes Daniel Kahneman. “We make our decisions in terms of our memories.”[19]

But our memories aren’t movie clips stored on ahard drive; they are nerve pathways that fire anew (and rewire) each time we remember the event.§§This means that certain moments, like “peaks” and “ends,”disproportionately dominate memory, and memories [20] can change based on subsequent events. Brands need to recognize the power of memories and devote overt attention to getting memories on their side.

§§

07

End strong

“What defines a story are changes, significant moments and endings. Endings are very, very important and,” in the case of a person’s memory of an event, “the ending dominates,” says Kahneman.[21] However, a typical customer experience saves the worst for last. You take a relaxing vacation and then you take a turbulent delayed flight home. You have a great meal and then you pay the bill.

Brands that make a positive last impression win favorable memories. This can take the form of something as simple as Walgreens’ “Be Well” goodbye, which anchors the brand on health and provides a lasting reminder. Wahaca, the U.K.’s fashionable fast-casual Mexican restaurant, is celebrated for its spices. It leaves customers with a clever last impression by giving them plant-at-home chili seeds at the end of the meal. It’s a delightful distraction from the bill and a growing reminder of the brand’s signature flavor. Research validates this type of “last impression” tactic. One study showed waiters who gave mints could get 21 percent higher tips.[22]***

What’s your “last impression,”and how can you make it a happy memory?

08

Surprise

Dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability, and that causes surprises to exert a disproportionate influence on our memories.[23]

Walmart Savings Catcher allows customers to scan their receipt and, if Walmart finds a lower price at another area store, they’ll surprise customers with an eGift card for the difference. The surprise likely has a greater experience boost than even an originally lower price would have. Uber, too, is full of surprises: transporting kittens on national cat day, delivering ice cream in the heat of summer, picking Seattle customers up in Mad Max-themed cars, whisking London riders off to a surprise concert or gifting uberXL riders in Turkey with certificates for experiences like a 50-minute massage or a helicopter ride for two.

What surprises can your brand deliver to bring unexpected joy to the afterglow?

09

Reinforce and rewire

Our memories of an interaction rewire each time we conjure them up, and they are heavily influenced by any new information we’ve received since the interaction. This neuroplasticity can reinforce the good and rewrite the bad.

For positive interactions, it’s important to reinforce happy associations. Intercontinental created a “Kitchen” app that past guests could use to recreate their favorite fancy meals, and Flywheel provides post-ride calorie counts and progress markers to remind customers of their powerful workouts.

If customers have had a negative interaction, there’s opportunity to displace that negativity with new positives. How? Help customers move on rather than vent. The catharsis of complaining is a myth.[24] Controlled studies show that vocalizing rage is more likely to intensify anger than resolve it. But brands in constant search for customer feedback force customers to relive their worst brand moments. Instead of overwhelming customers with surveys, overwrite old bad experiences with new, good experiences.Studies show “exciting” brands recover customer relationships much faster than “sincere” ones.[25]†††

Hallmark, for example, released a barking puppy named Jingle that, to the distress of many children, wouldn’t bark. To recover those relationships, Hallmark sent advance versions of a remedied interactive puppy with a playful note explaining that “Jingle needed to rest his voice.” Displacing works on a smaller scale, too, like the Southwest pilot who ordered pizza for his passengers trapped on the tarmac.

What positive associations should you remind customers of, and what negative associations should you rewrite with new experiences?

Truly delivering impact requires going deeper into human understanding, realizing that happiness is built not just in interactions, but also in anticipation and remembering. Expanding our conception of the “customer experience” opens up a whole new world of possibilities: the joy of anticipation, the immersion of interaction and the warmth of remembering. We’ll drive long-term loyalty and business growth, and all get a little happier as a result.

Cheat sheet

Acknowledgement

Introduction

But love at work? Most people shy away from the notion, leery of romance in the workplace (although we know it occurs often). What we need at work, however, is love founded on caring, concern, and camaraderie. Such relationships are full of trust and generosity, a source of delight, and make work fun.

Too many people believe that if they’re successful, they’ll be happy. That’s backward. The author and psychologist Shawn Achor says it straightforwardly: “Happiness comes before success.” That’s because the positive emotions aroused by being engaged, fulfilled, and valued at work have a host of benefits: Our brains function better; we are more creative and adaptable; we have more energy, make smarter decisions, and better manage complexity. It’s simple: Happy people perform better than their unhappy peers.

It’s time to claim our right to happiness at work. To start, let’s replace outdated beliefs with a new understanding of what we can expect from work—and from one another. Let’s break free of traps that keep us from happiness. And let’s begin the journey to fulfillment by focusing on discovering and living our purpose at work, reaching for a compelling vision of the future, and turning colleagues into real friends. These things will help us create workplaces that honor our humanity and foster common decency and sustainable success, workplaces in which ideas, needs, and desires matter—as does happiness.

A version of this article appeared in the September–October 2017 issue (pp.66–73) of .

Annie McKee is a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program . She is the author of and a coauthor of and

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Comments

6 COMMENTS

Two things really struck me about this work, Annie, and what I've found in my own world. 1) the idea of talking about "love" in a work context is sort of uncomfortable. But, when you CAN talk about love at work - as caring, concern and camaraderie ( as you write) - the results are a whole bunch of good. In fact, LOVE is one of the keys to the social media engagement concepts I consult and write about ((It is one of my 5 "Ls'). I definitely have to clarify when I suggest clients should be "loving up" others in their networks/streams in order to build social capital. But, once they try it, they get it.. and the results are quite noticeable (all from love).2)I work independently and from home, and only within the last year found the sort of workplace "love" you write of in pro bono work I do with KEXP - an incredible music/arts nonprofit based in Seattle. From day one , I found spirit, friendship, care and big picture social impact within its physical doors and throughout its broader global mission. I have found "my people" and see the sort of love you write about in every interaction I have through my work there. And, from that core community, you'll see that love shared globally only reverberates (via livestream and social content etc.) around the incredible programming they develop. They invite in many other nonprofits, to celebrate all music/musicians whether in Seattle or globally. It's incredible - and, yes, they'd make a great case study for thriving nonprofit culture - and yes, being connected with them has only made me happier and more productive in all else I do. I am so glad more research like yours is being done to show that people DO have the tools to change their own lives in this way.

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Katharine is the Publicity Marketing Associate at Island Press.

Jason Mark / November 15, 2015

This post originally appeared onand is re-posted with permission.

President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline marks one of the biggest victories for the U.S. environmental movement in years. Speaking this morning from the White House, Obama–flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry–made one of his most forceful statements to date about the importance of moving the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels.

“Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security,” the president said. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

Then, in a clear echo of the environmental movement’s overarching message, the president said, “Today, we're continuing to lead by example, because ultimately, if we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetime, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Make no mistake: You never would have heard Obama say “keep some fossil fuels in the ground” had the environmental movement not made Keystone XL one of the defining issues of his presidency.

Coming after years of protests, marches, civil disobedience actions, and nonstop political pressure from both the grassroots and the Democratic party’s major donors, the defeat of the pipeline is a clear win for the environment. The president’s decision removes a potential threat to the Great Plains’ groundwater. It stems the sludgy tide of Canadian tar sands, an especially dirty source of crude oil that would, if fully extracted, accelerate global climate change.

Just as important, the pipeline’s defeat represents a major victory for the ideal of citizen action. “People power” is an overused and almost hackneyed phrase. But in this case, nothing else explains how such a political victory happened.

Just four years ago, many Washington insiders presumed that Keystone XL was a done deal. But Native American tribes, ranchers in the Great Plains, and environmental organizations ignored the conventional wisdom and decided to make Keystone XL a symbol for the choices we face in the era of climate change: Will we continue with the anachronistic fossil fuel economy, or make a pivot toward a society powered by clean energy? As author-activist Bill McKibben got in the habit of saying, Keystone was a “line in the sand.” The cynical “wise men” in Washington said the campaign against Keystone XL was quixotic, if not misguided. (Just see,, and.) In the end, they were proven wonderfully wrong. The president’s decision proves that–even in a money-soaked and lobbyist-chocked political system–ordinary citizens can frustrate the best-laid plans of the powers-that-be.

Continue reading the full post .

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Jason Mark

Jason Mark is editor-in-chief of magazineand author of .

Katharine Sucher / December 17, 2015

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