What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on youtube.com these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.

 

Get out of my face!

Personal space is very important to us.  We have boundaries, imaginary fields of the acceptable and unacceptable.  Some are socially adaptive changing their frontiers depending on where we are at the time, some are emotionally adaptive based on trust and acceptance.

Standing on the concourse of Euston Station you can see excellent examples of both situations.

In the UK we are very clear on our personal space.  In most cases, with people we don’t know, our personal space usually extends about two feet from our body.  However, in Japan this can be three feet or more.  In the UK a handshake is an acceptable greeting, it allows that two feet distance to be maintained but is an acceptable invasion of space.  In Japan the formal bow remains distant, it is considered inappropriate to touch.

Most of us maintain comfortable safe distance but we easily adapt to the current situation.  In a crowded railway station the two feet barrier almost disappears.  Even some  elements of physical contact almost become acceptable.  Cram all those people onto a train and personal space becomes restricted to literally just around the head and face. Something that the professional pick-pocket relies upon to ply their trade.  Moving out of the train and back into an open space and our personal borders re-assert themselves.

Emotional barriers work slightly differently, adapting over time and situation.

Two people meeting for the first date usually have their borders firmly in place, but as time goes on these barriers are either reduced, or reinforced depending on the response of the individuals.  Subtle shifts in position and posture, leaning forward, moving the hands into the no-man’s land across the table top are all signs that the barriers are being removed and an invitation to personal space.  Social grooming is the sign of trust and acceptance.  Reaching out to brush lint from a shoulder.

Do not assume that once a boundary has been relaxed that it will stay as such.  These psychological barriers can be very quickly re-established if trust is lost.  Stepping away,  refusing to meet the eyes, flinching away from the grooming hand; all very clear social signals that trust is not given.

Remember, different cultures have very different social rules for personal space, and there are always individual differences.  Don’t assume that someone accepts the same approaches that you will.  Look for the responses to your actions and behaviours.  Don’t assume.

Isn’t it all a bit…

Isn’t just looking at body language a bit pointless?

I had a discussion over this with a friend a while ago.  We were discussing body language, micro-expressions, she asked “Don’t you think it is all a bit pointless, if you are spending so much time looking at the body language, how are you meant to do anything else?”

How right she is.  Not about it being pointless, but more about the effort of will that is required to focus on so many things happening at the same time.

When we are making an assessment of someone for credibility there are five channels of communication that we need to focus on.  Focussing on five very different areas for the minutia of information and then comparing that with the signals you are getting from the other four channels, it could give you a headache.  Making sure that the questions that you are asking are pertinent and then listening to the response while also thinking the next question up.  Is the response appropriately worded, at the right speed and pitch, is the language distancing?  At the same time what is the posture like, what are the emblems being shown and do the expressions match the details of what is being said?

But if we restrict ourself to just body language, as many practitioners do, we are missing a lot of information.  It would be like looking at a tapestry down a toilet roll tube.  You would only see a tiny part of the image and wouldn’t get the whole picture.

Assessing someone is like driving a car.  You have to control acceleration, gears, clutch, braking, monitoring the instruments, steer and keep an eye on everything that is going on outside the car.  When we first learn to drive, all of these things take a huge amount of concentration, but as we become a lot more accomplished, some things become second nature.  It can be the same with the assessment process.

Some people have an advantage where they have a natural talent, just like some formula one drivers have a natural ability in driving in comparison to your average road driver.

There are ways that you can make this easier on yourself.  Work in pairs or teams with one person asking the questions and listening to the answers, and the other person focussing on the non-verbal elements.

But remember,  before all you must try to establish a base line – the normal operating level of the person.  Without the baseline it makes it difficult to spot the deviations from normal that give us something to focus on.  Baseline does not just happen, and should have some time devoted to it.  Establishing normal operating levels but also what a genuine emotional response looks like.  Take your time and become familiar with normal.

This is something that is nearly always missing in job interviews.  A couple of minutes chatting about inconsequential things can make a huge amount of difference in finding out what is really going on with someone.

 

The Truth

Terry Pratchett stated in his book ‘The Truth’, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has its boots on!”

From our earliest years, right from the moment we start to communicate (from as young as 6 months old it is believed) we develop the ability to deceive.  There are so many reasons to lie:  to protect ourselves, to protect others, for some personal gain or to spare someone’s feelings.  But is there ever a reason that a lie could be justified?  Could the motives for the lie excuse the lie itself? And can we always be sure someone is telling the truth?

Firstly, let us remember one of the key tenets of the lie catcher:  There is no single indicator for a lie.  What you do get are hints and pointers that something might not be quite right, what Dr Ekman calls ‘hotspots’.  Individually these do not indicate a lie, merely that there is something happening that justifies a further investigation.  When you put these hotspots together you get a clearer picture that something is leaking out that they may be trying to keep hidden.  Again this may not be a lie, just something they don’t specifically want you to know.

Lies contain thoughts and feelings, but in order to make a lie work a lot of thought needs to take place.  This extra work is often called cognitive load; when your mind is heavily focussed on thinking, feeling starts to show through, and the feelings shown may not match the story being told.  This is emotional leakage.  The more consequential the lie, the more likely you are to leak information.

Paul Ekman tried a number of experiments around lying and detecting lies.  How people lie and looking for that holy grail of a sign of lying.   Needless to say he didn’t find his single indicator, but did find some other interesting facts.   His experiments initially were flawed, he realised quickly that people being asked to tell a lie in a lab setting had no consequence to their lie and as such were more difficult to detect.

When a lie has no consequence to it or a risk in its discovery, the emotional load is reduced.  The makes is much harder to spot.  The risk could be personal such as a loss of liberty or freedom, a risk to health or even personal gain.  If a lie doesn’t matter it may not show unless someone’s own personal moral compass is set in such a way that lies are considered taboo.

In order to increase the tension in the situation Dr. Ekman added some factors to the test.  He offered financial reward if they could successfully get a lie past him.  He left his students in a room with an envelope that contained a sum of money.  He told them that they could take the money or leave it.  If they took the money they would have to convince him that they hadn’t.  If they were successful they would get to keep the cash.  Secondly he also told them at the start of their interview that he would be able to tell when they were lying and he has never failed.  He had just increased the apprehension about being caught and there was a financial risk in place.   Suddenly the emotional leakage increased and the lies became significantly more obvious.

To detect a lie you increase the chances when there is some risk to the liar.

People also find it more difficult to lie convincingly if they have an emotional connection to the subject of the lie.  Dr. Ekman further emphasised this with another experiment with another study group.  The group was told to describe a pleasant scene that they saw on a film.  Half of the group were shown a film of flowers and gardens and asked to describe what they saw.  The second group was shown a film of a rather involved surgical procedure but were still asked to describe a scene of flowers and gardens.

In the experiment nearly all the people asked to lie were spotted.  They all leaked a very fast, subtle expression of disgust despite their more over demeanour of happiness.

We know that someone who feels no emotional connection to the subject and fears no consequence of being discovered is more likely to escape their lie being discovered.  This is also one of the failings of the lie detector test or as it is more properly known the Polygraph.  Lie detector itself is a misnomer as it does not detect lies.  What it does measure are changes in the Autonomous Nervous System.  Heart rate, body temperature, respiration and perspiration.  All of these are signs of Emotional Arousal, not lies. Fear of being discovered and fear of being disbelieved look exactly the same.  Excitement and fear look very similar to the polygraph.  The advantage of the human over any machine so far created is we can determine the emotion being felt and probe appropriately.

Some people say that the eyes are a good sign of a liar, that they will avert their eyes from you while they are lying.  Others maintain that a liar is more likely to hold your gaze to see if a lie has been believed.  At the moment there have been no confirmed studies that prove one way or the other, regardless of what the body language books tell you.

There are also other theories that rubbing the nose is a sign of a lie.  Again not strictly true.  The nose contains erectile tissue that expands when extra blood flows to it.  This happens during moment of emotional arousal causing it to tingle.  The key here is emotional arousal not lie. and you need to understand what emotions are causing this any why.

A lot of body language books put great store in illustrators and manipulators.  Illustrators are the visual punctuations to verbal statements.  The visual way of exclaiming and underlining.  Think back to the film footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.  He used a lot of illustrators.   When speaking from memory or something you passionately believe in illustrators tend to be visible.  When cognitive load increased illustrators tend to decrease.  Again not necessarily a sign of a lie, just that a lot of though it going on.

Manipulators are the comforting gestures.  Many exponents of body language cite these as reliable signs that someone is uncomfortable.  Yes they do appear more with discomfort; however, they are very easily controlled and suspended.  They can be reduced with very little effort.

A lie can sometimes be very difficult to spot because as Sir Terry said, it can get around the world before it has its boots on.  Detecting a lie can take time and patience compounded by the fact that most of us are biased to accept what we are told as truth.

 

Flirt, Flirt, Flirt

“She/He is just flirting with you to get what she/he wants!”  Sound familiar?  Are we all guilty of using sex as a weapon?

Well, yes, actually we are, and we are probably not even aware that we do it.

Sometimes a flirt is so full on that the phrase “Throwing themselves at him/her” could be used.  But there are more subtle flirts that may no be consciously noted.  The touch of the arm in conversation, the slight bite of the lip, the focussed gaze on the mouth.  They may not be noticed unless you are looking for them, but on a subliminal level you have probably already reacted to them.

Probably the most obvious flirts are things like the touch, or the grooming. Picking lint from someone’s shoulder.  One of the more common ones and not often noticed is the head dip.  The slight angling of the head to one side while listening and the subtle enlargement of the eyes.  The act of exposing the neck in ingrained in us as a passive gesture that we can find it very hard to control.  It demonstrates vulnerability, passivity and submission. This can be very subtle and is more common in women than it is with men.  There are some body-language guides that suggest this posture is a great way of building rapport as it is like lending an ear.  I disagree.  Remember that this head dip is a sign of vulnerability.  If someone is coming to you for advice and support they want strength and positive attitude.  This head dip could be interpreted as a weakness in this case.  Add to that cognitive load while listening and you come off looking confused and weak.

Flirts can be used successfully, as long as they are not overdone, but you need to ask yourself is it appropriate to manipulate another like this?

Sales people can make use of the flirt, they can cover and divert away from concerns.  When selling a product you are also selling yourself. These little flirts are making little insincere promises. The lean of the head, the lick of the lips, hair tucked behind the ear and the tilted head with a ghost of a smile.  Or for the men the posturing Alpha.  Hand on the hips and chest thrust forward,  head held high.  Hands in the pockets with the thumb showing or thumbs tucked in the belt line are all great alpha flirts.   Timing a flirt well if it is received can have a very positive effect.  However, if the flirt is not received well… you have just distanced yourself.

The use of the flirt may not be particularly ethical but as I have said we tend to do it without even realising it.  This can increase with “reflective empathy”

As a race we humans are a tribe.  Before we used words, posture and facial expression was our way of communicating and this is still ingrained into us these days.  We still mirror other people’s emotional signals as an indicator that we are aware of their current feelings.  Being interested in someone else’s flirt will naturally cause a flirt response or a rejection.

The danger comes when the flirt progresses too far.  Over do it and suddenly what you are offering is not really on the table.   You then have the situation of developing rejection that could completely undermine any progress you have made.

I try to avoid flirts if at all possible.  They are too easy to misconstrue.  I am a firm believer that if you are going to sell something, do it on its own merits, not by offering yourself up into the bargain.

Personal space is very important to people, especially here in the UK.  Invading someone’s personal space can be very intrusive and leave people feeling very uncomfortable especially when it is not invited.  Think of how you feel stood in a lift when suddenly a lot of people get in.  All people you are unfamiliar with pressed in close to you.

Touching is generally taboo unless it is invited; certainly in the UK where a handshake is about the limit of acceptable with someone you have never met before.

Flirts can be fun and exciting, but I would heartily recommend that you keep them out of the business world.  Unless of course you are a prostitute.