Emotional Satisfaction

A two years ago I had been entranced by a comment Neill Roan made about arts administrators being so emotionally satisfied with their jobs, they didn’t feel the need to keep current on the latest literature and theories about arts administration. Earlier this year, I was in touch with Neill on another matter and asked him about the source he had cited. The book was Human Sigma by John Fleming and Jim Asplund.

Human Sigma and Emotional Satisfaction
I had assumed Human Sigma would be about psychology or the biological factors which emphasize or inhibit our actions. Instead, the book is a response to the Six Sigma process which the authors feel is detrimental to employee and customer interactions. Six Sigma seeks to reduce inefficiencies in the workplace. The authors note that human interactions, especially those with customers, are inherently inefficient and trying to make them otherwise can be alienating.

Biology does actually wield a lot of clout in our decision making processes. The authors cite NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux who,

“has argued that it is much easier for emotional responses to influence our thinking than for rational responses to temper our emotions. This is because the neural pathways that extend from the emotional system to the cognitive or thinking system of the brain are wider and faster than those that extend from the cognitive system back to the emotional processing areas.”

This is a contributing factor to the field of behavioral economics which examines why people don’t always behave rationally in their own best interests. The book mostly focuses on employee and customer interactions. My intention is to talk about some of the things that caught my interest in this and future entries.

Even though the book doesn’t explicitly address how high emotional satisfaction can cause people to–well, it is difficult to find the right word because most either connote willful or unconscious neglect or incompetence, let’s say overlook—the need to keep abreast of latest developments, there is a lot be learned about how people make their decisions. In fact, some of this might help explain why people choose to devote themselves to causes with low material rewards like the arts in the first place.

Satisfaction Ain’t Enough
About 10 years ago I went to a session on customer service where the speaker said that satisfaction and competitive price doesn’t contribute to a long term relationship with a customer. She noted that people who were satisfied with the service they received would still defect to a competitor. The book breaks this down on a finer level distinguishing between those who are emotionally satisfied and those who are rationally satisfied. Those who are emotionally satisfied with a company have a far greater investment in the company than those who are rationally satisfied.

What surprised me was that those who are rationally satisfied “behave not any differently than customers who are dissatisfied.” They use the example of a credit card company. Those who were emotionally satisfied spent an average of $251/month and used the card 3.1 times a month. Those who were rationally satisfied spent an average of $136/month and used the card 2.5 times each month. Those who were dissatisfied also spent $136/month and used the card 2.2 times.

The authors make the point that tending to a person’s emotional satisfaction can actually enhance their material value to your company. Investment in relationships is an investment in the financial health of your organization. We in the arts should understand this because of our constant efforts to woo and maintain relationships with donors. Even though we have a list of benefits we provide for different levels of support, we will go above and beyond to stay in a donor’s good graces.

The example of the credit card company was really apt in my case. I just canceled the card I had for 20 years because I felt the card company violated our relationship. I started the card with a $500 limit in 1989 and had gradually built it up to nearly $30,000 after the last two decades. After the fiscal crisis in 2008, they cut my limit by more than half despite my excellent credit. I never needed anywhere near the limit, but it was a point of pride for me that I had built it up to that level. Not an easy thing to build excellent credit while working in the arts.

There was also some deceit a couple years back when Bank of America bought the credit card company. They sent me a letter saying my card number had been compromised. When I called to find out who had been lax with my card information so that I could avoid the company, they gave me the run around before finally admitting everyone got the letter as an incentive to move to the Bank of America card.

That episode made me leery, but it was the credit limit cut that sent me into the arms of my credit union. I tolerated all sorts of rate hikes and the suspicious changes of payment due dates, but when they attacked the source of my pride it was over.

When I called to cancel the card, they didn’t even try to stop me. I have heard stories about companies being willing to reduce interest rates and do other things to keep customers, but they didn’t even ask me to reconsider after I told them my reason. I wonder if they have received so many calls they have learned that there is no use in talking people out of it.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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