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.


I’m a real boy

Is there such a thing as a fool-proof tell that someone is lying?  The Holy Grail of deception detection.

Body Language, expressions, the use of language and even technology have been used to try to give us a hint at lies.  Sadly, to date, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.

If there was such a thing, imagine what our legal system would look like.  Certainly the time spent in courtrooms would be much reduced and police investigation would be a lot simpler.

When we are looking for deception all we can really is look for a sign that something is not quite right.  Paul Ekman calls these signs that something needs to be looked as a Hotspot.   But a hotspot itself is not a sign of a lie, all it tells us is that there is something outside of the normal operating practice of the person we are looking at.  Something has happened out of context, the emotion displayed does not match the words used, or perhaps the words used are distancing or out of context.  Think of someone yelling at you that they are not angry!  The words don’t match the voice pitch, tone and volume, and it is likely that the facial expression would also be angry.  You can be pretty sure they are angry.  As I have said these hotspots do not indicate a lie, only that something has happened that needs to be investigated further.

Consideration should always be given to “Why?”  It is very easy to jump to a conclusion or think about how you might have reacted in the same situation.  We really need to look at all the possibilities of why something happens before we make a statement.  Consider also that other people may react completely differently to the way you may react in a very similar situation.  Assuming a reason for a reaction based on your own personal experience would only be valid if we all exactly the same.   These are very hard habits to break.

When we jump to a conclusion we are at danger of coming to the wrong conclusion.  Paul Ekman describes this as The Othello Error.  Seeing the emotion but misinterpreting the reason for the emotion.  When Desdemona was challenged over her fidelity she became fearful and begged that Othello check her story with her supposed lover.  Othello announced that he had already murdered her alibi.  Desdemona’s fear increased.  Othello saw this fear and made an assumption that this was because she had been discovered and feared for her own life.  In reality she was in fear of being disbelieved and punished for something that she had not done.   Fear of discovery and fear of being disbelieved in the truth is still fear, and looks exactly the same.

Looking at all the possible alternatives for a hotspot is our only defence against making Othello’s error, and there may even be times were we can’t make a decision especially when you remember that it is unlikely you will ever be in full possession of all the facts.

If someone tells you that they have a fool-proof indicator of a lie, are they lying?

‘Tis much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action, we do sugar o’er the Devil himself.

We are all capable of deceit and of lying,  that is without question, but the reason for the lie could be just as important as the lie itself, especially when it comes to discovering the lie.   Dr. Ekman states that most people lie when there is something to be gained.  That could be financial gain, to prevent punishment, to protect others or even as social lubricants to allow social occasions to be more fluid.

Deceit that is for the protection of others will often be associated with feelings of guilt at the deceit being carried out, but there will be little of shame.  Shame would be apparent when we think of how others view our actions.  But what about when we deceive for personal gain?  The confidence trickster against the mark?

We have a number of issues when we are trying to pin down the deceiver.  When you are looking at personal gain by someone practised at deceiving for gain, very little guilt may be apparent.  They have been able to squash all sign of the subtle sadness from their face, or they have internally justified what they have done so that guilt is no longer felt.  If the possible gains out-weigh the guilt associated with the action in the mind of the deceiver guilt is less likely to show.  Guilt outweighing the gains and it is likely that the act would not have been done at all.  The sweet spot is when guilt and gain are very close to balanced.  The inner turmoil that will keep resurfacing is likely to become quite clear.

Confidence tricksters have usually become very good at what they do.  Think of the professional poker player, they are themselves in a way a confidence trickster.  They bluff and deceive to try to cause you into giving up the game.  Practice makes perfect, and in the case of confidence tricksters of all types this is true.  As they become more successful at what they do, then their risk of discovery starts to decline.  Risk is, as Dr. Ekman says, one of the biggest factors in being able to detect deceptive behaviour.

There are flaws in practised deception though, and one of those is the inability to account for all possible outcomes.  Throw in something unexpected.   Suddenly cognitive load has to increase as they go through the mental gymnastics of trying to work their way around the complication.  As soon as the brain is engaged the emotions can slip out.  Interviewing and interrogation uses some of these techniques to constantly keep the target of the questioning from settling in a comfort zone.  There are elements of the words used and the story told that can also give away signs of the story being constructed as opposed to being remembered, but that deserves a post of its own, or possible a number of posts.

The things to remember about constructed lies is they tend to follow a linear pattern.  They have a start, a middle and an end.  They follow a chronological telling because that is how they were constructed.  This is one of the reasons that random questioning can sometimes be successful. It removes the opportunity for linear stories.   Changing you questions to different parts of the story can be very useful.  This was shown to a degree in the show “Lie to Me”, when a suspect was asked to reconstruct events in reverse order.   Pick something from the middle of the story and ask them what happened before that.

There is an old adage that states “to be a good liar you must have a good memory”.  This is certainly true.  I would also say you have to be able to think laterally too.

People’s success at lying is not just dependent on the quality of the lie and the liar, but also the bias of the target of the lie.  Human nature means that most of us tend to have a truth bias, this is strengthened with people we respect and know.  There are certain professions of course that require a different bias, such as criminal investigators.   We don’t like to think that we have been lied to and sometimes this can be one of the biggest issues.  In a relationship it is usually the deceived partner who is last to know of the deceit; not because the signs weren’t there, but because they have been subconsciously ignored.  We are self deceivers, we lie to ourselves all the time and indeed each other.  Those social lubricants. “How are you?” “oh, I am fine!”

A lie is organic.  It grows and develops and eventually, without care, it can get out of control.  Lies are like scaffolding.  They rely on the strength of the other lies around them, and like chains, they are only as good as the weakest link.

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.