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Thursday, October 12

Hedonistic Treadmill and Customer Service

I had picked up this book - 'Mind Watching : Why we behave the way we do' a while ago. There I had sampled a concept called 'Hedonistic Treadmill'. As I paid my MTNL broadband bill yesterday, I experienced the theory in action!

Coming back to the H Treadmill. What it essentially says is that 'pleasant experiences increase our level of happiness a little each time they occur.' Therefore, for experience E2 to get the happiness level of E1, we need greater stimulation from E2.

The chapter talked of the story of the 'chocolate addict', who finds a job at the chocolate factory. He is allowed to eat as many chocolates as he can. In the beginning he feels he is in paradise. But a year down the line, even the thought of chocolate ceases to be pleasant!

So, there we are. Happiness and customer service follows the law of diminishing returns.. McDonalds, Wills Lifestyle, Jet Airways, O Calcutta are all my personal benchmarks for good service...And yet with each subsequent visit, the same customer service level gives me a little less joy! They are doing a fine job...It's just me that's weathered a little...

An American psychologist by the name of Harry Helson also talks about a related phenomena of 'Adaptation Levels'. He argues that all of us have an 'adaptation level', a point of neutrality corresponding to what we expect to happen, our expectation being based on our past experiences. If what happens is the same as our expectation or 'adaptation level', we feel neither happy nor unhappy. If what happens is better or worse than expected, its only then we feel happy or unhappy!

Now compare your experience with the following diads - MTNL and Airtel/ Hutch, Railway 3AC and Air Deccan, Inter State Govt. Buses and say Raj Travels, Udipi and McDonalds...Our adaptation levels are quite different for MTNL, Indian Railways, the Udipi and govt. buses!

I feel there are valuable insights for service brands...

1. Maybe marketers need not give their best on 'Day One'. Because then they will face the law of diminishing returns. They need to calibrate their service levels and inject perceptible levels of improvement with regular periodicity.
It's actually possible to get more loyalty by giving less in the beginning.

2. All brands are not equal. Brands with different customer 'adaptation levels' need to focus on different areas of customer service. Taking a stray example, the average customer is not expecting lightning speed service from MTNL. They would be better off giving me better connectivity and honest prices!

3. Last mile and visible customer service becomes very important in this game of hedonistic treadmill! Once again it's a question of doling out surprise and small packets of 'joy' rather than clinical consistency in customer service.

The comedian Dave Gardner had a nice thought in this space - 'Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.'


meraj said...

that was a complex way of stating 'taken for granted' syndrome...interesting, nevertheless.

a good service brand always has a difficult road to travel...continuous efforts to delight the consumers isnt an easy task. thats why the likes of Virgin or Google are always at it.

Manish said...

'taken for granted' was just one aspect. there is a caste system within brand evaluation. where PSU, Indian and phoren brands( especially service brands) are still evaluated a lil differently!

also, customer service, like most things in life is a game of perception management. Underpromise, over-deliver fetches the brand more than, over-promise, under-delivery...

Benn said...

In other words, under-promise and over-deliver.