Why you don’t want your employees (or customers) to be “happy”

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve fielded multiple calls from speakers bureaus or prospective clients wondering if I could come give a speech on how to make employees or customers more “happy.”

Perhaps it’s because of the monster hit by Pharrell Williams…maybe it’s business books like “The Happiness Advantage” or, “The Happiness Project.”  Heck, maybe it’s even “Happy, Happy, Happy” by reality TV star Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty.”

But, here’s the problem:  I don’t believe you should have a goal to help your employees — or your customers — to be “happy.”

When I read dictionary definitions of “happy,” I see several descriptions of either brief or passing moments that frequently happen of a random nature.  Or, I see other definitions that describe mere “satisfaction” — as in, she was “happy with the level of service she received.”

Maybe this is at the core of my bias — I’ve just finished reading a couple of articles about how lottery winners frequently go bankrupt.  I’m certain they are “happy” beyond description when they discover the numbers of their ticket are perfectly aligned with the results of the serendipitous drawing.  However, given the eventual outcome…do they remain “happy”?  Probably not.

I strongly prefer the word “joy” — or “joyful” — as being infinitely superior to “happy.”

The reason is that “joy” implies both a deeper…and a more sustained and significant…feeling of substantial pleasure and thrill.

The service, for example, at Sullivan’s in Indianapolis makes me happy — however, the reason that I’m a loyal customer is that it is a JOY to eat there.  The individual occasion is one that is happy…but, it’s the sustained pleasure that makes me a repeat and committed customer.

To use a more outrageous example, if the happy lottery winners bought cars and boats with their winnings, those possessions won’t continue to inspire happiness as everything else goes down in flames.  However, if the lucky winners took their gain and contributed to organizations that would continue to do great work even if a personal bankruptcy ensured, a persistent feeling of joy remains a potential outcome.

Don’t get me wrong — individual occasions of happiness are building blocks of sustained joy.  Yet, happiness — at least in the working definition that I’m employing here — can also indicate mere “satisfaction.”  Every study I’ve seen indicates that simply satisfying your customers or employees is a caliber of service that is not high enough to create loyalty and drive retention.

You see, I’m not advocating the point of “not making customers or employees happy” because I prefer an alternative of “making them sad or mad.” 

Rather, I’m strongly suggesting to you that mere “happiness” is a standard that is neither high enough nor prolonged enough for you and your organization.  It’s not enough for you to be endearing…you want to be enduring, as well.

Organizations that create distinction — and deliver an Ultimate Customer Experience ® for both internal and external customers — not only create moments of happiness…they inspire a consistently compelling sense of joy.



(If you’d like more information on this — it will be addressed in future posts, and in my forthcoming book.)

When advancements aren’t accompanied by acceptance…

I was having dinner last night with the CEO of a major company in the automotive industry — I didn’t ask permission to use his name, so I won’t (however, I was VERY honored he brought me in to speak to the best customers of his company, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales) — when he said something that really got me thinking.

I asked him if he thought we would see driver-less cars in our lifetime.  His response:

“Oh, you’ll see the technology in just a couple of years.  What we may not see in our lifetime is the consumer acceptance of the technology.”

driverless-car-technology-googleThen, another startling admission from someone else at our table:  “Which is why it’s so important that Google is involved.”  When I told him I didn’t understand his point, he replied, “People trust technology from Google or Apple a hell of a lot more than they’re trusting technology from, for example, GM right now.”

Let’s back up on that point for just a moment: If you study the financial services industry, you’ll find that banks had a very difficult time getting their customers to use ATMs in the early days.  People just did not trust that they could make a deposit or withdrawal from a machine.  They wanted to talk with a “real person” like they always had.

The potential is there for an airplane to fly itself — but, I wouldn’t board one.  For some reason, the pilot makes me infinitely more secure, especially as a somewhat fearful flyer — even though I read that most crashes are the result of “pilot error” — even to the point that sometimes accidents occur when the human erroneously overrides the technology and causes the tragic event.

The CEO told me that we will soon get to the point of semis being driven by the technology — with a “driver” on board much like a pilot supervising the automated controls.

Part of why this is so fascinating to me is that, to a significant degree, he told me that the technology already exists.  In other words, it’s not a problem with technological advancement — it’s with technological acceptance.

In any highly competitive marketplace, where many organizations attempt to differentiate themselves through increasing their technological advancements and features, this is HIGHLY instructive.  Here are some questions you may wish to consider:

  1. Are your efforts and resources better spent enhancing the TRUST and acceptance that your customers have in the technology you already have, rather than the development of new advancements?
  2. If customers trust someone else outside your industry rather than you (Google vs. GM, for example), why is that the case — and what can you do about it?
  3. An advancement not met with acceptance means little traction (or profitability) for your business. How can you leverage your existing advances better…so that you create distinction?

For example, I pointed out to the CEO that while a “driverless car” might not be an advance that basic consumers (like you and me) are eager to accept, protection against texting, drunk, and inattentive drivers IS.  

Just about everyone thinks they are a safe driver.  Taking decision making away from ME isn’t something that I am seeking.  However, ensuring that some idiot who is paying more attention to his cell phone than his driving doesn’t rear-end my family is something I am more predisposed to support.

It remains to be seen if the automotive industry will take from “Create Distinction” and Cornerstone #3 on how to communicate — however, you can consider these questions…and start positioning your existing advantages for greater acceptance…TODAY!

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